Rhinegold Photo credit: Juno Snowdon
Harriet Harman and Sophie Fuller launch Venus Blazing at Trinity Laban
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Lucy Thraves

Deputy Editor

Q&A: Sophie Fuller (Venus Blazing)

9:38, 5th October 2018
c. Juno Snowdon
c. Juno Snowdon

Trinity Laban’s Venus Blazing season kicks off today, putting music by women at the front and centre. Lucy Thraves speaks to programme leader Dr Sophie Fuller to find out more

What is Venus Blazing?

Venus Blazing is an exciting initiative for 2018-19 whereby Trinity Laban will ensure that at least half of the music (measured either by number of pieces or by duration – no tokenistic short pieces!) programmed in its major events will have been created by women.

Trinity Laban is always keen to promote music created by women but is aware that, despite the compelling range of music available, it is always harder to look beyond the mainstream, canonic repertoire – most of which has been created by men. By creating this initiative, we are ensuring that we will be offering a year-long festival, celebrating excellent music which has been so often overlooked, as well as creating a lasting legacy of interest in this music.

How have you ensured a balance of old and contemporary composers?

We are keen, as always, to represent the work of our staff and students alongside a range of music created by earlier women. We have decided on a particular focus – music by 20th-century British women – partly because there is such a wealth of music by composers such as Elizabeth Maconchy, Thea Musgrave, Grace Williams and many others which is simply not as well known as it deserves to be. But we are also keen to show that women have been creating music for centuries – one of the early highlights will be Louise Farrenc’s third symphony, written in 1847.

What kinds of responses has the programme received?

As you might expect when you attempt anything this bold, there has been a wide range of reactions, from hostility to suspicion to excitement. But overall, the programme has received a very positive response from most people – with lots of suggestions of music we should be playing!

Do you think perceptions of women composers are changing? If so, how?

I think expectations of the kinds of music that women might create are changing – certainly women are no longer expected to write dainty, small-scale, pretty works. The idea of a woman composer or conductor is no longer as strikingly unusual as it has been until comparatively recently. Nevertheless, the fact that we feel the need for an initiative like Venus Blazing demonstrates that there is still work to be done to ensure that, for example, it is no longer unusual for an opera being produced at the Royal Opera House to have been created by a woman.

Expectations of the kinds of music that women might create are changing – women are no longer expected to write dainty, small-scale, pretty works

What more can be done to ensure concert programmers include a better gender balance?

One of the most important things that can be done is to provide information about female composers, and to offer easy access to recordings and scores. One of our plans for this Venus Blazing year is to ensure that our students have plenty of this kind of information – and to broaden this information out to the wider public.

What are some of the challenges programmers and concert planners face in bringing works by women to the public?

Again, it comes down to information – many programmers and concert planners simply don’t know the music, or how to access the materials needed to perform it.

What advice would you give to a young woman today hoping to become a composer?

Go for it! There are many people out there who want to hear what you have to say. Find a mentor. Come and study at Trinity Laban. Most importantly – never give up!

Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to from this year’s Venus Blazing season?

I am particularly looking forward to hearing Grace Williams’s second symphony – a striking and powerful piece of music that should be firmly in the symphonic repertoire, but isn’t. I’m also looking forward to a concert of music by Peter Warlock and his contemporaries which will include songs by Morfydd Owen and Poldowski, two composers I have long been entranced by. Then there’s Musgrave’s opera A Christmas Carol, Maconchy’s Music for Woodwind and Brass…

Venus Blazing begins on 5 October. For more information visit: https://www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/creative-innovation/venus-blazing

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