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Blog » Illuminate shining a light on the work of women composers and performers

5 Mar  

The classical music industry in notoriously unbalanced in its representation of women musicians in all areas: performing, conducting and composing. There are many unfortunate figures and statistics that highlight the underrepresentation of women composers as highlighted in articles by Susanna Eastburn such as We need more women composers… and Why are there so few female composers? Despite some changes, there is still a long way to go before reaching more equal representation, a point highlighted by Women in Music’s 2017 BBC proms survey. It showed that the overall programming of women composers accounted for 7.5% of composers, 22% of living composers programmed, and 30.8% of BBC proms commissions. Female conductors also only accounted for 11% of conductors at the 2017 proms, a strikingly low figure. This is a familiar story from across the years and is a markedly more positive set of numbers than only a few years ago! Although there have been some wonderful strides forward in some areas, there is still a lot of work to be done before women truly have the same musical opportunities as their male counterparts.


There are a number of initiatives that have emerged over the last few years to begin to rectify this unjustifiable imbalance, including one of my own. Recently I have established the Illuminate project, which has been setup to highlight and celebrate the work and music of women composers and performers from the past and present. In 2018 Illuminate will be staging a concert series across the UK, programming new music from living women composers – Angela Elizabeth Slater, Gemma McGregor, Blair Boyd, Sarah Westwood and Carol J Jones.  These women composers have written several pieces drawing on the instrumental forces of performers Késia Decoté (piano), Cassie Matthews (Classical guitar), Sabina Virtosu (violin) and Gemma McGregor (shakuhachi and flute).


Angela Elizabeth Slater, Composer, Founder and Director of Illuminate

The concert series will start in London at Goldsmiths University of London on International Women’s Day (Thursday 8th March) and continues across the weekend and beyond visiting Oxford, Stafford, Birmingham, Cardiff, Brighton, Liverpool, Nottingham and then returning to London. Illuminate will be programming and celebrating the music of women composers and bringing their music to wide range of audiences across the UK. 


Illuminate is also passionate about celebrating the works of historical repertoire by women composers that has been all but forgotten and only programmed by a few dedicated performers. We will be programming works by Morfydd Owen (1891-1918), Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), Amy Beach (1867- 1944), Bacewicz Grazyna (1909-1969), Louise Marie Simon (aka Claude Arrieu) (1903-1990), Hilda Jerea (1916-1980) and the more well-known Clara Schumann (1819-1896).  This wonderfully rich repertoire is rarely heard by the broad concert-going audience, a legacy of the historic and cultural suppression of women’s music across the ages. This has led, in turn, to a lack of knowledge about these composers and also the music being more difficult to source than traditional repertoire from the canon.  As a result, these composers tend not to be considered for programming and the cycle of reproduction continues, where audiences no nothing of these composers existence. Lack of a fair hearing leads to unjustifiable neglect. 


There’s a wealth of female composing talent out there just waiting to be heard, so I hope you will come and join Illuminate in some of our concerts this year to celebrate the music and work of women composers and performers!


© Dr Angela Elizabeth Slater 


For more details about Illuminates upcoming concerts and blog series please visit: 



Here are the first five concerts that are taking place in March:


Illuminate London Concert Thursday 8th March 6.30pm at Goldsmiths, University of London

Illuminate Oxford Concert Friday 9th March 7.30pm at St Michael’s near Northgate

Illuminate Stafford Concert Saturday 10th March 11.00am at St Mary’s Church

Illuminate Birmingham Concert Saturday 10th March at 7.30pm at St George’s in Edgebaston

Illuminate Cardiff Concert Sunday 11th March at 2.00pm at University of Cardiff Concert Hall

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