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Classical music, critical challenges

The Council Room (K2.29 King's Building)
17/10/2014 (09:30-17:30)

Registration is free but places are limited, allocated on a first come, first served basis. 

Please email to reserve your place

The conference is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant Reference: ES/K008765/1): ‘Young, female and entrepreneurial? Exploring the working lives of young women in the classical music profession’.


This one-day conference builds on the success of the conference on May 23, 'Classical music as contemporary socio-cultural practice: critical perspectives. This event drew on expertise from sociologists, musicologists and practitioners to bring to offer critiques of inequality and discrimination in the classical music industry; analysis of ways in which classical music education can sometimes entrench existing exclusions; and the enabling as well as the constraining influence of existing cultural norms, institutions, and modes of practice. 'Classical music: critical challenges' aims to continue providing new perspectives while also offering challenges to existing practices, and discussion of ways forward. Similar to our previous conference, the discussion will involve academics, practitioners and cultural sector partners. We hope that this dialogue will allow existing debates to shift in new directions, particularly in relation to analysing existing power inequalities.

We have an exciting interdisciplinary line-up of speakers. Please see below for the detailed programme, and the abstracts.

Public Event: 'What lies beneath?  Exploring the hidden currents of the classical music world'

The conference will be followed by a wine reception, after which conference delegates may wish to stay on for a public event taking place as part of the Kings College London Arts and Humanities Festival, 'What lies beneath?  Exploring the hidden currents of the classical music world'. Conference attendees are required to book separately for this event. Booking for the Festival is now open and further information can be found here.

This public event 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 is strong support, at least theoretically, for more inclusive practices, why is it that racial, classed and gendered inequalities prevail? By excavating personal and musical stories, research data, and musical cultures, this panel discussion aims to dig deeper into the underground of the profession to explore why demographic background, rather than talent and hard work, seems to matter.


ANNA BULL is currently 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.

ALICE FARNHAM is Course Director of Women Conductors at Morley – a programme to encourage women into the profession.

BEVERLEY MASON, director at medar pysden international, is a consultant researcher and advisor in the cultural and creative industries. 

CHRISTINA SCHARFF is lecturer at King’s and has recently won the prestigious ESRC Future Research Leaders grant to conduct extensive research on the working lives of classically trained, female musicians. 

JESSICA DUCHEN is a classical music journalist, novelist and playwright who writes regularly for the Independent as well as leading classical music publications.

With music from

AYANNA WITTER-JOHNSON, 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 Manhattan School of Music. Ayanna's subsequent portfolio has included, amongst others, participating on 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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