Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Born for opposition


Sometimes I fear that certain themes are overplayed here. Yes, I mean the treatment of musicians of colour, the death-wish of the major labels, ageism, the neglect of female musicians and other minorities, the role of the musician in dissent and the idiocy of the BBC. Maybe I should devote more space to the latest wunderkind signed to Universal Music. But then I have one of those moments and I realise that, like Byron, I was born for opposition.

Just such a moment occured this morning. When writing posts I try to confirm facts from at least one independent source. Yesterday I found plenty of confirmation that Odaline de la Martinez was the first woman to conduct a BBC Prom. But I could find no confirmation of my memory that it was a 1994 concert performance of Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers. Something felt wrong with the date - could almost 99 years of Prom concerts really have passed before male supremacy was breached?

A comment posted by a reader to my article supported my suspicions, but confirmation of the date of Ms. de la Martinez's first Prom remained elusive. So I went to Norwich's excellent central library and consulted 'The Proms - A New History'. This is a lavish coffee-table volume published in 2007 under consultant editor Nicholas Kenyon who happened to be Proms director from 1986 to 2007, and who also famously presented a full season without any music by female composers.

Surely 'The Proms - A New History' would tell us when the first woman conducted one of the concerts? You don't need to be a fully paid-up feminist to want to know, the slow and painful progress towards gender and racial equality is a key sub-text of exactly the period that the Proms have spanned. But I'm afraid the answer doesn't seem to be in this history of the Proms. I haven't read every one of the 307 pages in the book, but the index contains not one single reference to Odaline de la Martinez, nor to 'women conductors' or 'feminism' .

Now, about that immensely talented conductor Universal Music are signing ...

Header image chimes nicely with my Byron quote. It is from the poster for Costa-Gravas' film Z opposing the Greek military junta and was first used in my Songs of freedom post.

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1 comment:

rogerm said...

I found this recollection of the 1994 Proms performance of The Wreckers using Google:

http://www.curvemag.com/Detailed/854.html

Michael Smethurst is working on an online database of Proms data but it is frustratingly incomplete at present.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2008/09/taking_the_proms_to_the_semant.html

This is Ethel Smyth's page.

http://bbc-hackday.dyndns.org:2840/people/651