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Piano Com­petition Raises Questions About Gender Balance

By Michael Vincent on February 5, 2024

Fiona Sinclair, chief executive of the Leeds International Piano Com­petition, has spoken to the Observer about some enlightening reasons why female pianists are not competing on equal footing with men in the industry.

In her interview, Sinclair cited evidence that lends empirical weight to the anecdotal experiences of countless women whose careers are stifled not by lack of skill but by a persistent gender bias.

  • Female pianists represent less than a quarter (23%) of career pianists, although gender distribution in conservatoires is an equal split.
  • Recent top international piano competitions saw only 18% female winners.
  • UK data reveals just 20% of piano recitals or concertos and 19% of recordings feature women.
  • Out of 20 piano soloists at the last BBC Proms, only two were female.

Making a change

The Leeds International Piano Com­petition is addressing the issue by making changes to how they make programming decisions.

  • The Leeds International Piano Competition has introduced “blind” pre-selection rounds and bias training for jurors.
  • A new award at the Leeds competition celebrates outstanding performances of music by female composers.
  • The BBC Proms’ latest seasons have begun to spotlight female talent with a commitment to increasing diversity.

Zoom out

The data suggest the issue is also affecting opera.

A recent study in October 2023 on 11 major U.S. opera companies highlighted significant gender disparities in creative roles from 2005 to 2021. Men dominated roles such as conducting (95%), directing (85%), and design positions, with women significantly underrepresented.

Interestingly, the Washington National Opera, under a female artistic director, demonstrated higher rates of female participation, indicating positive change when deliberate efforts are made.

Michael Vincent
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