The Philadelphia Orchestra is getting its female-composer groove back.
Partially in response to national criticism for assembling a 2018-19 season without a single work by a female composer, the orchestra Wednesday issued a revised season schedule augmented by two works by female composers. A few more female guest artists of various types have also shown up on the season roster.
Critics piled on when the orchestra announced its 119th season in January with not a single work by a female composer. The lineup struck many as particularly tone-deaf coming at a time when institutions are reassessing contributions from, and slights to, women in all sectors.
New Yorker music critic Alex Ross tweeted: Number of female composers programmed by the Chicago Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra for the 2018-19 season: 0
It seemed uncharacteristic of an ensemble with a historic track record of opportunity for women, and the orchestra called it an "oversight."
Even before social media and the music press called out the orchestra, both Clyne and Brown were already being discussed as composers the orchestra wanted to perform in future seasons, said artistic planning vice president Jeremy Rothman. But once the deficit of women drew criticism, they were inked in for the 2018-19 season.
"We wanted to recognize what was pointed out as a shortcoming in our programming, but we didn't just reach into our grab bag and pull out pieces, absolutely not," he said. "These were pieces that Yannick knew or played and were already part of the conversation about when to schedule."
The orchestra has a decent history with female composers, conductors, and soloists. It maintains a long-standing relationship with the Philadelphia-based composer Jennifer Higdon and has performed the works of dozens of female composers both on the main stage and in chamber music concerts. It hosted female guest conductors early on in the 20th century.
The ensemble itself is about one-third female, and has several female principal players, including a hornist and tubist.
Wednesday's further details for the season also noted a number of other female performers previously unannounced, though Rothman said their appearances were already scheduled before criticism of the season mounted.
Another project well underway before this season was announced is with composer Gabriela Lena Frank, already known for having written a piece for Nézet-Séguin's inaugural season as music director. She will be writing a major new commission tentatively expected for the 2020-21 season, and will be in Philadelphia for residency work during its creation.
Rothman says that even with the addition of two female composers to next season's roster, "we acknowledge there is still a great imbalance. Including two composers on the season doesn't address what is a much larger conversation. At the same time it's certainly more productive than ignoring the conversation, so we wanted to address that through some revisions.
"When it's pointed out, we are right to be responsive."