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What lies beneath?

Tutu's Macadam Building Strand Campus
17/10/2014 (18:30-20:30)

Part of the Arts & Humanities Festival 2014: underground.

Presented by the Department of Culture, Media & Creative Industries.

What lies beneath?: exploring the hidden currents of the classical music world

A panel discussion and performance with Anna Bull, Jessica Duchen, Alice Farnham, Beverley Mason, Christina Scharff and Ayanna Witter-Johnson.

Western classical music, like other cultural sectors, is often seen as a field where talent, merit and self-application are rewarded. Of course, it is widely known that musicians, like many other artists, do not earn much and have to cope with increasingly casualised working conditions, involving low pay, the risk of playing related injuries and job insecurity. While the precarious aspects of the classical music profession are sometimes discussed, less is said about the on-going inequalities of the profession. Women, people from working-class backgrounds and ethnic minorities continue to be underrepresented in classical music. In 2013, the conductor Vasily Petrenko questioned women’s ability to conduct orchestras by stating that orchestras ‘react better when they have a man in front of them’.  And while education and outreach programmes work to engage new audiences, classical music remains a cultural form that is mainly enjoyed and performed by the white middle-class. 

This event, featuring musicians, academics and cultural sector partners, will ask how it is that classical music remains so unequal. If talent and self-application matter, why is it that those in positions of power tend to fit into quite a narrow - mainly male, white and middle-class - demographic? And given that there’s strong support, at least theoretically, for more inclusive practices, why is it that racial, class and gendered inequalities prevail? By excavating personal stories, research data, and musical tales, this panel aims to dig deeper into the underground of the profession to explore why demographic background, rather than talent and hard work, matters. 

This event follows the conference 'Classical Music, Critical Challenges'. For further information on the event, please see here.


Anna Bull has worked as a pianist and cellist in New Zealand and Scotland, with a variety of ensembles and programmes including the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the New Zealand Chamber Orchestra, Live Music Now, and Scottish Opera Education. She is now engaged in PhD research, funded by the ESRC, examining the pathways of young classical musicians to illuminate questions of class, authority, and bodily practice in classical music.

Jessica Duchen is a classical music journalist, novelist and playwright who writes regularly for the Independent.

Alice Farnham is Course Director of Women Conductors at Morley - a programme to encourage women into the profession. She recently conducted the RPS Award winning Paul Bunyan for Welsh National Youth Opera. Recent guest conducting includes St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, Singapore Lyric Opera, and Grange Park Opera, Royal Ballet Covent Garden, Danish Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Ballet. Since 2005 she is on the Guest Music Staff at the Royal Opera House and is Director of Morley Opera School.

Beverley Mason, Director at medar pysden international, is a consultant researcher and advisor in the cultural and creative industries. Her professional background spans the development and leadership of various cultural and media business programmes, leading on research, evaluation, marketing, facilitation, business and board development. In one of her consultancy projects, she has been leading on research into the effective practices supporting musical progressions for ethnic minority young musicians into ensemble music making. She is also leading new research with Diaspora, the UK Music not-for-profit organisation and CREME, University of Birmingham around entrepreneurship, business support and access to finance for ethnic minorities in the music sector.

Dr Christina Scharff has recently won the prestigious ESRC Future Research Leaders grant to conduct extensive research on the working lives of classically trained, female musicians. She is Lecturer in Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King’s College London and has previously conducted research on engagements with feminism amongst young women, and in the media. With a PhD in Gender Studies, issues around gender and the ways it intersects with race and class are close to her heart.

Ayanna Witter-Johnson is a vocalist, cellist, pianist, songwriter and composer. Nominated for a 2012 MOBO award, her live shows chronicle her experience as a woman in the 21st century. Having graduated from Trinity College of Music with a first class degree in Classical Composition, she won a scholarship to complete a master's degree in Composition at the Manhattan School of Music. Ayanna's subsequent portfolio has included, amongst others, participating in the LSO's Discovery Panufnik Young Composers Scheme and becoming an Emergent Artist in residence at Southbank Centre. As an orchestrator and arranger, Ayanna has worked with the LSO on Belief and the BBC Symphony Orchestra on Urban Classic.

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