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Report Findings Show Diversity Improvements Needed Within Orchestral Programming

Read our full summary of Donne’s 2021-2022 Equality and Diversity in Global Repertoire Report.

Published: 13 October 2022 | 10:41 AM
Old bass viols on stage.
"The top ten overall was entirely comprised of canonical and historical white, male composers". Image credit: Shutterstock.

Donne, Women in Music (a charitable foundation dedicated to achieving gender equality in the music industry), have recently published a report outlining the findings of their global orchestral programming analysis for the 2021-2022 season.

The Equality and Diversity in Global Repertoire Report outlines an audit of composers’ works programmed by 111 orchestras across 31 countries, presenting a snapshot of programming by gender, ethnicity, and whether composers are living or ‘historical’ (i.e. not living).

Donne’s own Big List (a database of more than 5000 women composers) and the Composer Diversity Database (listing over 1450 living composers) were used to help identify living composers.

In summarising their findings, Donne said:

How can we move beyond tokenism for political correctness and aim for comprehensive and genuine inclusivity to permeate through the layers: the artists we see on stage, the repertoire presented in concerts and in our educational syllabuses, the personnel leading organisations and the audiences we are trying to reach?

Women, non-binary and global majority composers are still severely underrepresented

A total of 20,400 scheduled pieces were counted in the analysis, 92.3% by male composers and 7.7% by female composers. Less than 0.1% of all works were written by non-binary composers.

78.7% of all programming was by historical composers – that is, composers who are no longer alive. Just 13.5% of programmed composers were living.

The analysis shows a tiny increase in the representation of women and composers from the global majority compared to Donne’s 2020-2021 season analysis. However, both groups are still severely underrepresented.

The list of top 49 performed composers is entirely male

Florence B. Price was the most performed woman in the analysis, but was only the 50th played composer overall – making the top 49 performed composers an entirely male list.

Price’s works were performed just 61 times, compared to 971 performances of work by Beethoven (the most played composer overall). The top ten overall was entirely comprised of canonical and historical white, male composers.

Historical white male composers overall accounted for 15,582 of all performed works covered by the research study – just over three quarters of all works (76.4%). The second largest category, living white male composers, tallied in at 2,311, contributing to the total proportion of white male composers reaching 87.6%.

The combined total of historical and living white women composers made up just 7.7% of all works performed. There were more than twice as many living white women’s works performed by dead white women, a possible indication that focussing on living composers does improve representation in programming.

MU comments

MU General Secretary, Naomi Pohl, says:

“While it’s really great to see that some orchestras are doing well on programming with more diverse representation, it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go, particularly to increase the number of living composers who are women, non-binary and/or from the global majority.

“It’s also important to recognise that all living composers could directly benefit from a boost in income and profile from having their works programmed.”

The report includes a breakdown of representation in the 2021-2022 season programme for each individual orchestra whose programming was analysed in the study, highlighting those with the most and least diverse representation.

Find out more and read the report in full via Donne’s research page.


The MU can assist organisations in developing EDI policies to address issues such as representation in programming, contact us to find out more. Members can also join our Women in Music and Musicians who Experience Racism networks below.

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