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BBC Proms and the Women in Classical Music

Although 2016 marks the 122nd year of the BBC Proms, the world's greatest festival of classical music, it was only in 2013 that Proms had its first female conductor, when Marin Alsop made history and conducted the Last Night of the Proms. While this may sound shocking, considering a 2014 survey from Bachtrack found that in a list of the top 150 conductors in the world, only five were female, perhaps it's not completely surprising.

Happily, this year's Proms has more women on the podium than before, with works from eight female composers being performed and five female conductors commanding orchestras from the podium. Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla makes her Proms debut with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which she will head as Music Director this autumn, while eminent British female composer Sally Beamish, who turns 60 this year, will be feted.

"Quite a lot has been made of me being the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms," Alsop said in 2013. "I’m incredibly honored and proud to have this title, but I have to say I’m still quite shocked that it can be 2013 and there can still be firsts for women. Here’s to the second, third, fourths, fifths, hundredths to come."

"The power of music cannot be over-estimated. It’s what makes us human beings, it’s what makes us nations, it’s what makes us a great civilisation."

Here are the names in classical music you need to have on your radar. 


Who: Alisa Weilerstein, Cellist
Where: Rochester, N.Y., USA
What: A classical cellist and 2011 MacArthur Fellow, Weilerstein first picked up a cello aged four and hasn't looked back — as part of a musical family (father Donald is a violinist while mum Vivian is a pianist), she has performed with her parents as part of The Weilerstein Trio. She will perform Matthias Pintscher's "Reflections on Narcissus" with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra later this month as part of Proms.

Photo Credit: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images


Who: Nicola Benedetti, Violinist
Where: West Kilbride, Scotland
What: Benedetti won BBC Young Musician of the Year aged 16 and has sold millions of records. Dubbed "the violin star," she wowed audiences at Proms last year as part of a chamber music trio with trio with cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and pianist Alexei Grynyuk. A champion of getting children educated about classical music (she's an ambassador for the BBC Ten Pieces project), she believes classical music should be a requirement for children to listen to.

"It drives me crazy when people say, 'But they don't like that kind of music, they like Britney Spears!," she told the Mail on Sunday’s Event magazine.

"I'm like, 'They also don't like broccoli and would rather have candy, but we still know that broccoli is good for you.' Surely education is something that should be determined by adults and not by kids?"

Photo Credit: Steve Thorne/Redferns via Getty Images


Who: Anna Meredith, Composer, Electronic & Acoustic Performer
Where: London-born, she was raised in Edinburgh, Scotland
What: Formerly composer-in-residence for the BBC's Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Meredith is a respected classical composer, whose piece HandsFree debuted at the Proms in 2012, making her the youngest-ever living composer to have a new piece premiere at the festival. She has successfully transitioned into electro, synth-pop  her latest album, "Varmints," was released in March 2016.

"While there’s some very strong female composers in my generation, there’s also a definite gap in younger, teenage female composers," she told The Guardian.

Photo Credit: Maria Jefferis/Redferns


Who: Marta Argerich, Pianist
Where: Buenos Aires, Argentina
What: Widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the second half of the 20th century, 75-year-old Argerich will perform at this summer's Proms, as part of its celebration of Latin American musicians (in conjunction with the Rio 2016 Olympics). She is particularly renowned for her 20th-century recordings of pieces by Rachmaninoff, Messiaen, and Prokofiev.

Photo Credit: Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images


Who: Barbara Hannigan, Conductor and Soprano
Where: Nova Scotia, Canada
What: A soprano who spent much of her career focusing on contemporary classical music, Hannigan began conducting in her 30s, moving from the female-only world of sopranos to the male-dominated field of conducting. She will be performing as Ophelia at the Proms later this month with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.

Of conducting, Hannigan has said: "It was an overwhelming experience, a humbling realization that the conductor is part servant, part leader and, most of the time, just trying to stay out of the way," she wrote in The Guardian.

Photo Credit: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images


Who: Anna Clyne, Composer
Where: London
What: An acoustic and electro-music composer, Clyne is considered one of the greatest talents in modern classical music - her composition "Night Ferry" is part of the BBC Proms' Ten Pieces II concert. Clyne was Mead Composer-in-Residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 2010-2015.

Photo Credit: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images


Who: Alina Ibragimova, Violinist
Where: Born in Russia, raised in England
What: Russian-British violinist Ibragimova comes from a musical family and was already playing with orchestras in Russia aged six. After moving to England at the age of 10, she studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey before attending the Guildhall School of Music and Royal College of Music.

She's won numerous awards and scholarships throughout her career, including the London Symphony Orchestra Music Scholarship, the Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artist Award and the Emily Anderson Prize. She is particularly lauded for her spellbinding Bach sonatas.

Photo Credit: Amy T. Zielinski/Redferns


Who: Helen Grime, Composer

Where: Aberdeenshire, Scotland

What: With a two-part work, "Two Eardley Pictures," in this summer's Proms, Scottish composer Helen Grime has composed world-famous pieces including "Oboe Concerto" (2003), "Virga" (2007), "Cold Spring" (2009) and "Night Songs" (2012). Fun fact: she's also an accomplished oboist.

Photo Credit: Performance of Helen Grime's "Clarinet Concerto" with the New Juilliard Ensemble (Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images)

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Photo Credit: Marin Alsop/JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images