Friday, March 08, 2019

In praise of IWD

It's International Women's Day, and you know it. You couldn't not know it, really. The astonishing thing is that ten years ago, you wouldn't have. The annual event on 8 March has rocketed in public consciousness, becoming a calendar landmark in a few short years, chiefly thanks to a certain number of people making a great deal of noise about it and programmers in crucial places looking on and thinking "Y'know something? They're right. Let's do this."

It's especially so in the music world, where the chance to make restitution for centuries of neglect and, frankly, the squishing of women artists has been embraced by concert halls, broadcasters, conservatoires and more.

You'll find fantastic things happening today everywhere - but IWD has become, hearteningly, about far more than just one day. BBC Radio 3 has a week of celebration and an all-female schedule of composers today. The conservatoire Trinity Laban is running its Venus Blazing programme all year, putting music by female composers in the spotlight, and a special lunchtime concert today features, amongst much else, Errollyn Wallen singing some of her own songs. At the Southbank there's the annual Women of the World festival, and at Kings Place Venus Unwrapped is a splendid series running the length of the season with a series of marvellously and meticulously programmed concerts highlighting music by women. The seriously buzzing trade fair Classical:NEXT is themed around women in music this year and its innovation award is devoted to this field - come to Rotterdam in May if you can. There are Clara Schumann festivals galore: Classical:NEXT has homed in on her bicentenary, and there's plenty to hear in London and a festival in Leipzig in September just for starters. Conductors are on the rise at last, perhaps fighting an even more difficult battle, but again with key decision-makers thinking: "Y'know something? They're right. Let's do this." One result is the marvellous work of the Royal Philharmonic Society's RPS Women Conductors training and similar programmes springing up around the world, from the Southbank (with Marin Alsop) to France to Texas.

I could go on, but you get the idea. This stuff is happening, so strongly, when ten years ago it wasn't. Things have changed. Things can change further. Things will change further. And in an era when so much around us is being changed for the worse, in political terms, it is more heartening than ever to see positive developments in the artistic world.

And it makes sense. In 2019 gender equality should be simply a no-brainer. We may deplore the fact that it's taken so long to happen, but now there's no excuse for it not to - and every chance to celebrate. In the end, with more music and more artistry to develop and enjoy, it enriches everybody, regardless of gender.

Brava bravissima to all!

Here are four of my top choices to listen to today. I've gone for historical figures this time, just to show that there's a massive hinterland of super music to explore...

GRAŻYNA BACEWICZ: Concerto for String Orchestra

Tasmin Little and John Lenehan's new recording of violin masterworks - just out on Chandos.

World premiere recording of Viardot's operetta on a libretto by Ivan Turgenev - yes really, at long last, with an all-star cast - Eric Owens, Jamie Barton, Camille Zamora, Michael Slattery... I jumped for joy when I saw this one!

The legendary Russian pianist and friend of Shostakovich was a heck of a good composer in her own right, but who knew? Here she is playing three of her own Etudes.