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Worldwide study on gender and race diversity of composers played by orchestras shows little progress in the last two years.


Luzo Reis via iStock

The representation of women and global majority composers in the 2023/2024 orchestra season was lower than in the 2021/2022, according to the findings of a new report.

The report, Equality & Diversity in Global Repertoire 2024, by charitable foundation Donne, Women in Music, assessed 16,327 compositions from across 111 orchestras and 30 countries. It found 7.5% of works performed in 2023/24 were composed by women - a 0.2% decrease on the charity’s research covering 2021-22.

The percentage of works performed by men and women from to the global majority has also decreased compared with 2021/22 levels. In 2023/24, 3.2% of performances were composed by men from the global majority, compared with 4.5% two years prior, while 1.6% of performances were composed by women from the global majority, compared with 2.1% in the previous research.


The findings mean 89.3% of pieces performed were written by white men. More than three quarters (78.4%) of the pieces were composed by deceased white men, an increase from 76.4% in the previous study.

The top 10 composers, all historical white European men, accounted for 30.6% of all works. These composers - Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Dvořák, Ravel, Strauss, Rachmaninov, Mahler and Sibelius - were played more than four times the combined total of all works by women.

The report concludes that despite ongoing discussions about equality and diversity, “actual programming choices are not reflecting these values and there is still a need for collaborative efforts to address this imbalance”.

“The data underscores a growing trend towards the consolidation of a classical 'canon', predominantly composed of historical white men, at the expense of broader diversity. This trend not only marginalises women and non-white composers but also lesser-known white male composers,” it says.

UK orchestras

The report includes data from 21 UK orchestras, 15 of which profiled more than the average proportion of repertoires from female performers.

The BBC Concert Orchestra was found to have the most gender diversity across the 111 orchestras analysed, with 38.9% of repertoires performed in 2023/24 composed by women. The London Contemporary Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic placed third and sixth worldwide by this metric, with 37.5% and 27.6% of their repertoires composed by women.

Chineke! Orchestra placed second worldwide for racial diversity, with a 50/50 split between performances from global majority composers and white composers. 

The London-based orchestra was second only to the American Composers Orchestra. BBC Concert Orchestra and London Contemporary Orchestra were ranked the third and fourth most racially diverse in their programming, with 38.9% and 37.5% of their repertoires from global majority composers.

On the other side of the scale, Academy of St Martin In the Fields was one of 11 orchestras in the study to only programme music by white men, while BBC Symphony Orchestra was one of 21 orchestras to only programme music by white composers.

‘Critical juncture’

In the report’s foreword, Gabriella Di Laccio, a soprano and founder of Donne, Women in Music, writes that the report reveals that “the overwhelming predominance of historical white male composers in programming is not just a reflection of past biases but a continued endorsement of them”.

“This status quo limits the richness of our cultural dialogue and the potential for truly inclusive and diverse musical expression,” she continues.

“We are at a critical juncture where inaction equates to complicity. The slow pace of change, despite ample resources and clear benefits of diversity, is unjustifiable.”

Di Laccio adds that the future of classical music “should not be confined to the echoes of the past but should resonate with the diverse voices of today” and that by embracing diversity, classical music will attract future generations as well as retain its current enthusiasts.