International study highlights striking lack of diversity in classical music performance

A new study sheds light on the lack of diversity in orchestral music programming around the world. According to Equality and diversity in concert hallsjust under 90% of concerts worldwide exclude the work of female composers.

Despite some momentum in the programming of women’s work and minority songwriters in the early years, the COVID pandemic has done so much damage to the live music industry in general that issues of equality are easy to brush off. .

This is what makes the report and its message so important at this time, say its authors.

Essentially it’s a call to move beyond symbolism — schedule the work of female composers once or twice a year for the sake of political correctness, or the work of black composers each year during Black History Month. True inclusion goes beyond gestures and aims for holistic representation at all levels, from the musicians to the music offered to its diverse audiences.

DONNE, a charity focused on tackling gender inequality within the music industry, led the 50-page report. The study was funded by Olga Ivannikova, as founder and director of Private Goodness, an organization whose mission statement is “Helping companies improve their impact and their relationships with employees, communities and investors” , in particular through social and environmental impacts.

The data collected is in addition to two previous studies completed in t in 2018/2019 and 2019/2020. This year’s report includes for the first time data on Black and Asian composersseparated for women and men.


The data was extracted from 100 orchestras distributed 27 different countries, and focused on music that was scheduled during their performance season, including galas, special events and the like as long as the orchestra members were playing. The list of orchestras covers everyone from the Academy Of St Martin In The Fields to the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, Europe, the Middle East, North and South America, Oceania and Asia. From Canada, it includes data from the TSO, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Considering the timing, both live and digital performances have been included in the count.

How often has the work of female, black and Asian composers been included? The numbers don’t paint a pretty picture.


  • 4,857 concerts in total
  • 4,301 or 88.55% scheduled performances with zero female composition
  • 556 or 11.56% which included compositions written by women


  • 14,747 different parts programmed
  • 14,010 or 95% were written by men
  • 358 or 2.43% were written by Black and Asian men
  • 747 or 5% were written by women
  • 1.1% were written by Black and Asian women

It should be noted that Asians (in the United States) make up about 9% of the musicians in the orchestra.

The usual suspects

The list of top ten most performed composers will come as no surprise to anyone who attends classical concerts anywhere.

  • Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Wolfgang AmadeusMozart
  • Richard Strauss
  • Johannes Brahms
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
  • Robert Schuman
  • Gustav Mahler
  • Maurice Ravel
  • John Sibelius
  • Antonin Dvorak

The work of the giants of Western classical music will never be forgotten; it is time to open the door wider to composers who represent modern society in all its diversity. As the authors of the article point out, to grow audiences and maintain a thriving industry, musicians and music must represent the audiences they want to engage with.

Discover a treasure

The problem is not that there are no such compositions to program and play. James Murphy, Director of the Royal Philharmonic Societyis cited in the report.

“Music can enliven and empower us all. But people are less likely to engage with it if they can’t see it. It risks marginalizing and diminishing something that should be universally cherished. The story has done a great job of making us think that classical music is white and masculine. It’s not. There is so much wonderful repertoire past and present by underrepresented composers who are just as good as the established masters. It is not only our responsibility to dig it and share it: there is immense joy and reward in discovering such a treasure.


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Latest posts by Anya Wassenberg (see everything)
Latest posts by Anya Wassenberg (see everything)