London Oriana Choir has always been dedicated to addressing the gender imbalance in classical music. From our earlier days we performed sell-out concerts on International Women’s Day devoted exclusively to the music of women.

We’re dedicated to this cause because women are still nowhere near properly represented as composers. They are frequently excluded from concert programmes and exam syllabuses and rarely have their works commissioned. Our 2016 Ipsos MORI poll found that out of a sample of 981 respondents, only 4% of adults could name one woman composer. This statistic is simply terrible.

Rather than get disheartened we decided we as a choir could do something to change this. This culminated in 2016 when we launched our initiative five15, which champions the work of British women composers so that they and their music are more widely recognised in the long term.

A key part of the project is commissioning 15 new choral works from five emerging women composers over a period of five years. Each year we appoint a Composer-in-Residence who works closely with us over the year and receives three paid commissions. We hope this will build a lasting anthology of choral music by women composers as well as giving some fantastic composers a platform for their work. Cheryl Frances-Hoad was our first Composer-in-Residence followed by Rebecca Dale.

As well as commissioning new works we simply hope to make our audiences aware of the fantastic canon of music written by women composers. At our next Cutty Sark concert, 21 June, we’re only singing works written by women composers (which isn’t so extraordinary when you think that most concert programmes only have works written by men). We’ll journey from the intimidatingly beautiful melodies by medieval composer Hildegard von Bingen to today, with Meredith Monk’s utterly insane Panda Chant II. We want to show that women have been writing fantastic music for centuries, and now is the time to uncover these, until recently, hidden voices. We want audiences to feel overwhelmed by the breadth of music written by women and empowered to tell their friends and find out more.

We’re encouraged that music festivals are now making a conscious effort to address the gender imbalance with the BBC Proms pledging to give half of new commissions to women by 2022. Hopefully this will encourage more publishers to take on women composers and more women to become composers. We’re over-the-moon that Rebecca Dale has recently been signed to Decca Classics and Publishing (the first women composer to do so).

But our aim is to ensure that progress doesn’t finish with a few headlines; but that one day we reach a point where it’s not a big deal to have a concert programme with women composers. We hope that eventually women composers will simply be known as composers.

– Dominic Ellis-Peckham, Musical Director, London Oriana Choir