When I saw the statistics regarding the number of male vs female composers published through the Australian Music Centre, I honestly had to do a double take. I think we all realistically assume that the number is going to be lower, because societally that’s what has sadly come to be expected, but I didn’t realise the difference would be so staggering. Of course, looking back historically, there are a number of factors that have contributed to this, but it’s perhaps easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because we’re in 2017 things must have evened out. Now that we’re finding our feet as an ensemble we feel like it’s time to have a go at our real goal which is collaborative commissioning: working with composers in a really creatively rich environment to make new works.
The Pythia Prize is really the next step in that direction, coming from our awareness that females are generally underrepresented in the industry and wanting to really celebrate what women are producing. When Kaylie and I went to the Darmstadt Festival we attended a panel about gender issues in the classical music and composition industries and spent the whole time nudging each other, simultaneously frustrated and inspired to change things. During that Festival, a movement called GRID emerged - Gender Relations in Darmstadt - which got everyone really involved in considering what could be done about remedying the underrepresentation of females: posters with pictures of female composers were pasted up around the campus and an open think tank was run where artists could write about their own experiences. A lot of people went away from the Festival inspired to put on their own concerts featuring the incredible work of female composers in their home countries and this project is inspired in turn by our experience at Darmstadt.
Applications for the Pythia Prize open today and the process is relatively straightforward: we’re asking that applicants answer a few questions and submit score and recording examples. We have a blind panel set up to review the applications and we’ll announce the winner at our October concert in the Melbourne Recital Centre. From there, we’ll meet with our composer to discuss ideas and intentions and begin the workshopping process early next year before we premiere the work in May here in Melbourne and later in the year at the Darmstadt Festival. Ensuring that we give the work a number of performances is really important to us, because pieces need a few outings before they can take on a life of their own and be performed by other groups which is absolutely our intention. It’s also important to us that those intending to apply for the prize know that while we may only be financially able to choose one winner, the real intention is to celebrate all female artists and that there will be other opportunities later in our programming to perform other works from the process. We’re also creating this to be a yearly prize and part of that thinking is being able to create a real bank of works by female composers.
I don’t think it is enough to say that there are people out in the world programming female composers and therefore, they’re fixing the problem. While it is great to make a statement, I think it’s more important to focus on the follow up: what will we be doing in three years to continue championing female composers? We’re going to document the whole process from applications to premiere and this will inform what the prize looks like moving forward. The initial creative development is really important to us, because it’s an opportunity to really get to know the composer and work in a collaborative way that help to make a much more intimate piece in the end. We’re hoping to have three sessions with the composer of a couple of days each, initially talking about basic things like instrumentation and programmatic elements, then moving through to sketches, ideas and experimentation and finally polishing up a final work. It can be a lonely process for composers - creating a work in isolation, then handing it over to the musicians and not getting any more say - so working in this real team way will hopefully help bring out a really wonderful work that wouldn’t be possible in any other creative process. Dancers and theatre-makers work like this, so why shouldn’t musicians and composers? I honestly can’t wait to see what we come up with.
The work that will come out of the Pythia Prize will actually be one of the first works commissioned for the entire Rubiks ensemble, which feels like a really big step and a way to take all our group to the next level. It’s been an exciting few years: we actually got together at the beginning of 2014 and didn’t get our first concert off the ground until the end of 2015, but since then it has been a busy and wonderful learning experience. I got given some advice recently about project-building that I think really summarises what we’re doing right now: you should dream up the biggest project you can think of and plan to execute it in the most elaborate and dramatic way and then scale back as necessary rather than thinking within your capabilities. Of course sometimes things fall over, but if you don’t go big, you’ll never know what you were really capable of.
Applications for Rubiks' Pythia Prize are now open to all self-identifying female Australian composers. There is no age limit. More information here.