2022/2023 Season Post II: Works by BIPOC Composers

[This year I collected and analyzed the subscription concert programming for 51 orchestras in the U.S. and Canada. This is a pretty big expansion from my effort last year when I just looked at the ‘top’ 19 orchestras in the U.S. You can see last year’s posts here and here.]

In the wake of the pandemic, I thought that pent-up demand by orchestra audiences would mean that orchestras would feel a bit more free to program works by women, and BIPOC composers, and living composers, and American composers, etc. In general, I thought they might take a moment to cast a broader net for the sake of both diversity and variety. When the 21/22 seasons came out, they kind of seemed more diverse than pre-pandemic seasons, but without a data baseline, it was all just conjecture on my part.

And now we arrive at 22/23. Surely the diversity/variety trend would continue. More new, more different, more diverse, etc. Right?

And then I crunched the numbers. They went backwards. So I guess we got a tiny bit of pent-up courage in 21/22 and then a backslide for 22/23. Not a huge one, mind you, but the trend is going in the wrong direction.

So let’s look at the dashboard:

programs are whiter next season

Whether you think 15.1% is a decent number or not, it’s not as good as last season when the number was 16%. But wait! you might say, this year you included so many more orchestras, they no doubt are the reason for the decline. But you’d be wrong. When I pull out the data for the 19 orchestras I analyzed last year, they are only only at 13.6%–down almost 3% compared to their programming last season. And only six of the 19 from last year even made it into the top 21.

size doesn’t matter

Prior to crunching the numbers for 22/23, I would have thought the bigger and more northern the orchestra the better they would do on the diversity front. The northern part largely holds up, with only six of the 21 being in the south (with LA and Phoenix not counting as north or south). As for size, it’s maybe half and half between the small and large. (But I’m not about to tell you which orchestra is which. After all, when we are talking about size, it’s really some subjective combination of annual budget, size of the market, and/or the number of concerts presented, not necessarily the number of players in any given group–and I chose not to define actual metrics.)

leadership does matter

Leadership clearly matters when it comes to programming a diverse season. But it would take a deeper dive to understand what leadership means. To what degree is it the music director, the orchestra itself, the staff, the board? There doesn’t appear to be a correlation between ethnicity, gender, or nationality. If there is any trend it might be that youth matters. While only one or two of the music directors for the top 21 are truly young, most of them trend younger. But then again, in the field of conducting the retirement age is about 160, so young is a relative term.

some other thoughts

Looking at the whole list, a few observations pop into my head.

  • I think praise for Albany is due. A small organization, with a limited season, and a small budget and they managed to program 40% of their season with works by people of color. Almost every concert has at least one work by a POC, and they have one program that is entirely by composers of color. That is some serious leadership. (They also have some very interesting venues and a very compelling discography.)
  • It seems like there could be a reverse correlation between endowment size and willingness to program diverse seasons. I would have thought it was the other way around with the poor guys needing to max-out ticket sales with the same old fucking chestnuts…oh wait, that’s Chicago.
  • Alabama at #2 is a bit of a surprise to my northern bubble bias. Their numbers are boosted by hometown composer Brian Nabors who has three works programmed, including a premiere of a concerto for a Hammond organ. You heard me. This might be the single piece out of 2,550 that I am most interested to hear. I just don’t know if the timing of it will make it possible for me to fly to Birmingham to hear it.
  • Both of my home state bands fare well despite being a very white place. Minnesota at #3 and St. Paul at #14.
  • What’s going on in Ohio? On one hand, they have four (!) orchestras that make it onto the list, which is amazing, and they must have an orchestra per capita rate that is the highest in the nation. On the other hand they rank at 32, 37, 46, and 49. Can the venerable Cleveland Orchestra really do no better than a measly four works out of 59?
  • Montréal is a battle between a dinosaur and whatever the opposite of a dinosaur is. They have the Orchestre Métropolitain coming in at #6, but they also have the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal which is at a pitiful #50. The former is led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin who also does a somewhat respectable job with the Philadelphia Orchestra’s spot at #27. The OSM, on the other hand, is led by Rafael Payare who has done a much better job with #19 San Diego. Perhaps the poor showing in Montréal has more to do with his music directorship there not becoming full-time until 2022.
  • Let’s marvel at how Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, comes in at #5, and the tidewater-based Virginia Orchestra comes in at #16. Meanwhile the NSO, which serves not only the bluest part of northern Virginia–not to mention DC, a majority minority city–only manages to tie for #33.
  • Kudos are probably due to JoAnn Falletta who keeps Buffalo highly relevant at #10 and who probably left a legacy at #16 Virginia.
  • In general, the Canadians need to up their game with only two orchestras in the upper half.

6 thoughts on “2022/2023 Season Post II: Works by BIPOC Composers

  1. Liz Dexter July 17, 2022 / 2:31 am

    This must have taken you ages. Fascinating and important.


  2. Chris Wolak July 17, 2022 / 2:56 pm

    Out of curiosity, I looked CSO’s website and the main photo is of the almost all white orchestra. Richmond’s, on the other hand, center’s on POC in the audience. Such different tones.


  3. Roger Sessions July 27, 2022 / 2:13 pm

    Respectfully, who are you, and why should anyone care what you say?


    • Thomas July 28, 2022 / 11:21 am

      I’m the person who writes this blog. And you seem to care enough to leave a message, so I guess my job is done.


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