Dead, white and European men dominate orchestral music, survey finds

MSO was also the only orchestra to feature works composed by First Nations musicians and one of three, including QSO and SSO, to perform CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) Australian works.

John Davis, managing director of the Australian Music Center, said some Australian and diverse voices were “hidden” from Mr Frame in orchestral development and education programs, “but not on the main stage and it raises questions in themselves “.

Mr Davis also warned that such content can vary widely from year to year: the coronavirus shutdown and Beethoven’s birthday could ‘completely skew’ the 2020 numbers.

But overall, he said, “dead white European men are the ubiquitous sound we hear from the country’s biggest cultural structures.” He agrees with Mr. Frame that the closure, while an existential threat to live music, is also an opportunity to reinvent programming and make classical music “a living and meaningful thing”.

Ben Northey, Principal Conductor-in-Residence at MSO, is a driving force behind the inclusion of more Australian works. Last week, he led an online livestream that sandwiched Australian composers Peter Sculthorpe and Lisa Illean between works by American Aaron Copland.

He said having Aboriginal soprano Deborah Cheetham as composer in residence was a “big step forward” that has helped them learn to integrate both his music and a more integrated approach to reconciliation. Beethoven’s 9th concert this year featured Cheetham’s musical response to the choral symphony.

“The challenge is to make people fall in love with (new and Australian) music, and we have to play it to make that happen,” said Northey.

“The arts are at their best when they are able to integrate our living voices and be relevant to the life of a country, state or city.”

A spokeswoman for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra said she commissioned, premiered and recorded “countless works by Australia’s greatest composers.” Earlier this year, they announced the 50 Fanfares project which will commission 50 emerging and established Australian composers to perform live performances over the next three years.

Mr Frame does not compose orchestral music himself – “nobody ever asked me”. His work is more obscure: he recently spent time in the far north of Finland, north of the Arctic Circle, programming a computer to generate music from the lichen structure.

It is not certain that this can be called, according to its rules, Australian or Finnish music.

“The music was written by the lichen and I organized it, I guess,” he said.

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