Tomorrow I will build a house here… — first reading at Harvard

IMG_20140303_014323At 11:30 this Saturday morning at Harvard University, my duo for flute and cello, Tomorrow I will build a house here, if I can hold still, will be presented by Jessi Rosinski and David Russell of the Callithumpian Consort as part of my and fellow first-year PhD can­didate Kai Polzhofer’s jury ex­am­in­a­tion. Our pieces will be per­formed and dis­cussed with fac­ulty and peers. Despite its odd timing, the per­form­ance is open to the public and all are welcome!

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Two Pietàs: Bouguereau & Streich

The most re­cent edi­tion of the CeReNeM Journal, run by post­gradu­ates at the University of Huddersfield, con­tains an art­icle I wrote about the painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Swedish com­poser Lisa Streich, ex­ploring the trope of the Pietà in their works. Thanks go to Pedro Alvarez for in­stig­ating the pro­ject and editing this volume, and to Tim Rutherford-Johnson for his eagle-eyed proof-reading.

Lisa’s music is won­derful, you should go listen to it, and as a small bonus if you are reading the art­icle on­line, you can refer to this se­lective timeline of Bouguereau’s paint­ings, which I cre­ated as an aid to my research.

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Hand Werk Incredulous in Harvard

HGNM Hand Werk PosterOn Saturday, 8 March, Cologne-based en­semble hand werk are giving the first of the Harvard Group for New Music’s con­certs for the year. In a mam­moth pro­gramme that in­cludes works by my col­leagues here Sivan Cohen-Elias, Marta Gentilucci, Justin Hoke, Tim McCormack, Manuela Meier, Marek Poliks, Ian Power, and Sabrina Schroeder, they will play my trio The Incredulity of St Thomas. Many thanks go to Heather Roche, Niklas Seidl, and Jonathan Hepfer for all their hard work and also to the HGNM team for making this happen.

Listings: Facebook | Venue


foot­note: In past years on this day I have posted some­thing to mark International Women’s Day. As I haven’t had time to put to­gether any­thing this year, suf­fice it to say it’s a pleasure to be marking the day with a sur­pris­ingly bal­anced con­cert for once!

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Bruno Mantovani on female conductors

Christoph Weigel (1698) Ständebuch Page title: Der Kantor (Dirigent)The ques­tion of gender in­equity in clas­sical music is hardly a new one and just a few days ago, Alex Ross posted in the New Yorker in­cluding some more re­cent up­set­ting com­ments from Russian con­ductors about their fe­male coun­ter­parts. Meanwhile in the fran­co­phone world, there has been heated de­bate about re­marks made this week by Bruno Mantovani, composer and — more im­port­antly in this con­text — dir­ector of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, in an in­ter­view with France Musique:

I won’t elab­orate on my own feel­ings here, I’ve done that enough in other fora, but in the in­terest of this being avail­able to those who don’t speak French, here is a trans­lated tran­script of his re­marks (with thanks to Fabienne Séveillac for the French transcription):

I am a tiny bit… dis­turbed by all the talk about parity, or about pos­itive dis­crim­in­a­tion. Er, there are few fe­male con­ductors it’s true; there are few African conductors…

If we begin to deal with cat­egories, we will have dif­fi­culty re­specting the fact that there are stand­ards, com­pet­i­tions and also am­bi­tions that can be very dif­ferent for a man or for a woman.

As you know, the aims of an or­chestra dir­ector, of a con­ductor are com­plic­ated. We ob­vi­ously en­courage everyone to apply to join the con­ducting class so that we have as many con­ductors as pos­sible to provide for French and in­ter­na­tional or­ches­tras, but women aren’t ne­ces­sarily in­ter­ested, and neither can I put a bay­onet be­hind every fe­male stu­dent at the con­ser­vatoire, whether com­poser or in­stru­ment­alist, who might have the ca­pa­cities for con­ducting, to force them to choose this career!

There is also the problem of ma­ter­nity that raises its head; a woman… erm… who wants to have chil­dren… erm… will have a hard time having a ca­reer as a con­ductor, which can change tack ab­ruptly overnight for sev­eral months…and then after having dealt with… I was going to say taste­lessly the after-sales ser­vice of ma­ter­nity, that is to say, raising a child at a dis­tance, it isn’t simple, so you tell me that men are in the same situ­ation, but des­pite everything, the re­la­tion­ship of a child to its mother is not that of a child to its father.

There is also some­times even a physiolo­gical re­straint… erm… the pro­fes­sion of a con­ductor is a pro­fes­sion that is par­tic­u­larly testing phys­ic­ally; some­times women are dis­cour­aged by the very phys­ical as­pect: con­ducting, taking a plane, taking an­other plane, con­ducting again… is quite chal­len­ging, … so there is ab­so­lutely no neg­ative dis­crim­in­a­tion, and it is for this that one might at­tack the con­ser­vatoire, the Opéra de Paris or I don’t know which in­sti­tu­tion, but I don’t know if there should also be a pos­itive discrimination.

For me, the only dis­crim­in­a­tion, no matter in which dis­cip­line, is the en­trance exam or com­pet­i­tion.

This short clip sparked a lot of de­bate and today, feeling it ne­ces­sary to ex­plain him­self, Mantovani used the CNSMdP Facebook page to issue a de­fensive, cla­ri­fying state­ment, which I trans­late below:

Where are the women in clas­sical music? Continuation and end

Just as ‘there is no love, only demon­stra­tions of love’, I think that there is no mach­ismo, only demon­stra­tions of mach­ismo, or better still, that there is no anti-machismo, only demon­stra­tions of anti-machismo. The in­ter­view I gave to France Musqiue as dir­ector of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse on the pres­ence of women in the con­ducting pro­fes­sion has been cre­ating con­tro­versy on so­cial net­works. It is first in my role as a com­poser that I would like to re­mind all those who are ready to par­ti­cipate in such easy public con­dem­na­tion, that the au­thor of these lines has ded­ic­ated four works to Laurence Equilbey, has re­corded a CD with Susanna Mälkki, has re­quested that the Opéra de Paris en­gage this latter for his first stage work at the Bastille opera, and is cur­rently working on a me­lo­drama with Claire Gibault. There are only demon­stra­tions, I said, and here are some ir­re­fut­able demon­stra­tions, that should already be enough to si­lence the ill-informed prosecutors.

That being said, the idi­otic and un­founded con­tro­versy con­cerning my­self should not dis­tract from an in­ter­esting de­bate, and here the dir­ector of the Conservatoire will be able to ad­dress the re­marks ex­citing the blo­go­sphere. (I take the op­por­tunity to men­tion that the CNSMdP is one of the rare in­sti­tu­tions of higher edu­ca­tions where one finds an ab­so­lute bal­ance between male and fe­male stu­dents.) I gave the journ­alist from France Musique around twenty minutes of in­ter­view time, of which they re­tained only one minute, and if it is im­possible to have ac­cess to the en­tirety of that ex­change, here is ap­prox­im­ately what we touched upon.

The ques­tion of quotas of women in the con­ducting class was raised. First of all, I said that the con­ducting class has not been ex­clus­ively mas­cu­line for a long time. Several fe­male stu­dents have com­pleted their studies re­cently (most re­cently, Alexandra Cravero bril­liantly com­pleted her mas­ters dip­loma in 2011 and was em­ployed on an opera pro­duc­tion at the CNSMdP the fol­lowing year). In my opinion, a system of quotas in neither de­sir­able nor ap­pro­priate at a school. It is the quality of can­did­ates at the en­trance exam that is im­portant, not their sex, or their geo­graph­ical origin. (Incidentally, people seem re­l­at­ively rarely upset about the al­most total ab­sence of black or North-African con­ductors, some­thing I for one find troub­ling.) It would be in­ac­cept­able to put in place the least dis­crim­in­a­tion at the en­trance exam stage, be it pos­itive or negative.

That said, I am de­lighted by the en­trance into the pre­par­atory class for con­ducting (known as ‘ini­ti­ation’) of two young women for the aca­demic year which is be­gin­ning, and I really hope that they will be able to enter the ad­vanced class at the end of their cur­rent course.

During the in­ter­view, I also stressed the fact that many women are not in­ter­ested in the con­ducting pro­fes­sion, and that the en­cour­age­ment of an in­sti­tu­tion has its limits. One cannot force a person to en­gage with one ca­reer or another.

Regarding the po­ten­tial reasons for this lack of in­terest (and I stress the ad­jective ‘po­ten­tial’, be­cause — not being a woman my­self — my re­marks are at once a per­sonal opinion, but also a syn­thesis of state­ments made by women), I men­tioned ma­ter­nity, a ques­tion that often poses it­self at the same time as a conductor’s ca­reer is be­gin­ning (between 27 and 35 years old). With the ‘ser­vice après-vente’ [after-sales ser­vice, or cus­tomer ser­vice] of ma­ter­nity (an un­for­tu­nate turn of phrase, I admit, but it is also ad­miss­ible to have a sense of hu­mour when dis­cussing ser­ious sub­jects), I said that only with dif­fi­culty could a mother com­bine an in­ter­na­tional ca­reer as a con­ductor (very dif­ferent from the level of in­volve­ment of an in­stru­ment­alist, be­cause playing a con­certo or a re­cital does not in­volve a week of re­hearsals) with a re­cent birth. The re­la­tion­ship of a child to its mother is not the same as that to its father and denying this from be­hind an an­gelic egal­it­ari­anism is rather dis­tant from reality.

Finally, and this is surely the most im­portant, I re­peatedly stressed the fact that the situ­ation has already evolved a lot. Who could have ima­gined 20 years ago that one day it would be a woman (Marin Aslop [sic]) who would con­duct the closing con­cert of the Proms? Likewise, the fact that having con­ducted my ballet Siddharta, Susanna Mälkki was asked back to the Opéra de Paris, shows that the old, macho habits of cer­tain or­ches­tras have com­pletely dis­ap­peared. Of course, we are far from parity, but once again, this idea has no rel­ev­ance for me in the cur­rent state of af­fairs, and it is too early to be able to en­visage it. But the op­timism is real.

Putting me on trial for mach­ismo (which gives rise to quite vile opin­ions con­cerning my person on so­cial net­works and which do no honour to those who hold them) is sim­ul­tan­eously un­just and un­jus­ti­fied. France Musique, a sta­tion in the Radio France group, is a channel linked to two won­derful or­ches­tras where we cannot say that the bal­ance of in­vited con­ductors is par­tic­u­larly well re­spected. This is normal for the time being, and the situ­ation will no doubt evolve with time. In any case, whether it as a com­poser or as dir­ector of an in­sti­tu­tion of higher edu­ca­tion, I hope to par­ti­cipate in the emer­gence of fe­male con­ductors with ef­fi­ciency and ap­pro­pri­ate­ness, far from the eph­em­eral pas­sion that ex­cites sterile de­bates where any­thing goes, even the basest tawdriness.

Bruno Mantovani
Director of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et Danse de Paris

While on this topic, com­poser Clara Iannotta draws my at­ten­tion to the fol­lowing doc­u­ment pro­duced by the Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques: ‘Où sont les femmes ?’ (PDF). It is an im­press­ively com­pre­hensive survey doc­u­menting gender (im)balances in a variety of theatre and opera con­texts in France. Collaborations with fe­male artists at various French in­sti­tu­tions reg­u­larly ac­count for less than 15% of that organisation’s work.


6 October, 8pm: The trans­la­tions have been re­vised in a couple of small de­tails after some feedback.

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All the time that you have in Venice

Biennale di Venezia - Altra Voce - Altro Spazio banner

Unfortunately, I’m not get­ting any time at all in Venice, but this Sunday, 6 October, my All the time that you have what we have. / All the time that you have. will be part of a con­cert at the Biennale di Venezia cur­ated by Italian blogger-composer col­lective /nu/thing.

The per­formers are sop­rano Laura Catrani and vi­ol­in­ists Georgia Privitera & Laura Bertolino of Quartetto Maurice. The pro­gramme also in­cludes works by Kristian Ireland, Emanuele Casale, Valerio Murat, Simon Steen-Andersen, Aurélio Edler-Copes and Mario Diaz de León. Wish I could be there!


foot­note: I’m happy to be in­cluded, but I should note that it’s al­ways dis­ap­pointing to be in­volved in a con­cert of only male com­posers or­gan­ised by a col­lective of only male composers.

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  • Microbiography

    Chris Swithinbank is a British-Dutch com­poser who works with both acoustic in­stru­ments and elec­tronic sounds. He is cur­rently a stu­dent at Harvard University with Chaya Czernowin.
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