5 minutes with Anne Cawrse and Belinda Gehlert

23 May 2024
  • Meet the Artists
  • Musician Spotlight
by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
5 minutes with Anne Cawrse and Belinda Gehlert

Anne Cawrse and Belinda Gehlert are the curators behind this year’s She Speaks festival. Read on to discover why showcasing female contributions to classical music is so important, the inspiration behind Belinda’s new work and more!

What does She Speaks mean to you?

Anne Cawrse She Speaks is about discovery, curiosity, and being open to falling in love with a piece of music written by a composer whose name you haven’t heard before. It’s also about shining the spotlight on the amazing work created by female composers, and prioritising voices that have historically been left out of concert programs.

Belinda Gehlert It means an opportunity to share music written by a diverse range of composers who may not have been heard by audiences before. By continuing to have festivals like She Speaks, it might mean that one day, gender parity within the classical music industry will be reached and we won’t need to have the festival anymore!

Why is it important to have a festival that showcases women composers?

Anne Women have always written music. There are plenty of women today who are active composers (for example, the Australian Music Centre currently lists 660 male and 278 female composers.) And yet, it is still all too common to find all-male programs presented by orchestras, ensembles and soloists. Events like She Speaks help educate audiences about what else is out there. It may be a little harder to find, but it is worth the discovery.

Belinda I feel that it’s important to celebrate and promote gender equality and diversity within the classical music industry. It’s also a great opportunity for audiences to experience unique perspectives and sounds.

This year’s repertoire features mostly living composers, what went into that decision?

Anne It happened quite organically as we started discussing what we could include. A big part of that is probably just because that’s the music we enjoy the most!

I think it’s important to directly support and promote the careers of composers who are actively writing music now to make sure that there continues to be more and more music written by a diverse range of voices.

Belinda, what is the inspiration and meaning behind your new work Diving into the Wreck?

Belinda Diving into the Wreck is inspired by the poem of the same name by Adrienne Rich, an American poet, essayist, and feminist. 

The poem is an exploration of loss and resilience that uses vivid imagery and evocative language to paint a portrait of a shipwreck, a metaphor for the shattering of lives and dreams.

For me, this poem prompted deep reflection and inspiration on the fragility of life and the resilience that emerges from confronting adversity.

Anne, why is it important to not just premiere new work in She Speaks but to reprogram contemporary pieces?

Anne Familiarity is key with music – pieces earn a special place in our heart when we know them intimately, we can sing the tunes, we know all the words. You can’t get that from one listen, especially in classical music where the forms and durations are usually longer than in popular music, and the inner workings are more complex. Audience favourites from the canon of Western Classical Music become favourites through repeated listenings, performances, recordings, and access. If we don’t afford these same metrics to new pieces, then ‘classical music’ will remain a solely historical artform.

Now that we are seeing more female composers programmed, in your opinion, what does the next step look like to increase representation of women contributions in the world of music?

Anne To keep going! There are hundreds of years of ignorance, exclusion and silence to remedy. It is such a wonderful thing to know that student musicians today are learning their craft in an environment when diversity in programming is a common topic of conversation; this was certainly not the case when I was studying. We need organisations, schools, conservatoriums – everyone with decision making responsibilities and modelling privileges – to keep up their efforts so that we don’t have to go looking for works by women, they are right there in front of us.

Belinda I think large arts organisations like symphony orchestras, theatre, opera and ballet companies should be supporting initiatives that provide mentorship, funding, and opportunities for women in composition.

She Speaks festival features four concerts over two days in and around Elder Hall. Book today and familiarise yourself with the unfamiliar.

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