British composer Eleanor Alberga says that "the classical music world is not very inclusive." Speaking at a conference on diversity, the Jamaica-born Alberga said that she's tired of getting commissioned for pieces that have a "racial agenda." When she's hired, Alberga says, "quite often an extra agenda is attached where I'm asked to write about slavery or to emphasize Afro-Caribbean influences in my music."
I was in the audience for Eleanor's speech & thanked her for clearly articulating her experience of commissions 'with conditions'. It was the first speech of the symposium that really got to the heart & drove the point about how classical musicians of colour have been treated differently & held at arms' length. I felt Eleanor's clear, honest openness set some of the commitment & agenda for the day, in that people should no longer beat about the bush, & that today was the best opportunity to tell it as it is. Many leaders across the industry were in attendance, so this was a perfect opportunity. Needless to say there were moments following where one could sense the discomfort in the room, but as Susanna Eastburn (Sound & Music) said in her speech, "we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable." References were often made to 'who are the gatekeepers across the industry', & how that also needs to diversify. In the 'break-out' session I attended Vanessa Reed (Performing Rights Society) commented "who defines what quality is?!"
Just before I went on stage for the panel I was involved in, Alan Davey & Edward Blakeman (BBC) came to tell me the news that they wanted to make announcement: that the BBC would like to offer a commission for a new work for Chineke!, by a composer of colour, to be chosen by myself in consultation with the BBC! Eleanor walked by at that very moment & I called her to ask a question, “how many commercial recordings had been made of her music”. I was disappointed & saddened because her answer was "none".
The agenda for the panel I joined later in the day was 'Audiences'. My point simply stated the fact that the diversity Chineke! presents on stage & in our programming has a direct impact on diversifying who we see in the audience. A 'feel-good' for literally everyone on & off the stage. Because everyone is represented, feels involved & can therefore identify & engage with the performance. Makes perfect sense to me…
Very best wishes