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Classical Music’s Diversity Deficit: BAME Composers

Tom Service profiles the African-American minimalist composer, Julius Eastman, and hosts a debate at Radio 3's Inclusion and Diversity in Composition conference in Manchester.

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45 minutes

Chapters

  • Julius Eastman - profile of a lost talent

    Duration: 16:18

  • Diversity in Composition - shaping an agenda for change

    Duration: 26:23

Julius Eastman - profile of a lost talent

Julius Eastman - profile of a lost talent

Born in 1940, Julius Eastman was an unpredictable and charismatic personality, and an unforgettable presence in every musical scene he was a part of. As a gay black composer and performer, his life was markedly different to many of his colleagues in the music scenes of the time. Yet the brilliance of his musicianship led to invitations to perform and teach at the most prestigious American institutions, as well as his performance on a seminal recording of Peter Maxwell Davies’s 1969 masterpiece, Eight Songs for a Mad King.

But Julius Eastman’s life spiralled out of control in the 1980s. He was eventually evicted from his home, his scores were impounded by the New York police, and he died alone at the age of just 49.

To reflect on the importance of Julius Eastman’s music and influence, Tom speaks to Mary Jane Leach, the co-editor of a recent book on the composer, about her project to search out his surviving music; to Petr Kotic, founder of the SEM Ensemble in Buffalo which Eastman joined in the 1970s; and to the African-American composer George E Lewis, who worked with him in the experimental music scene of New York.

Diversity in Composition - shaping an agenda for change

Diversity in Composition - shaping an agenda for change

For living composers, recent research shows that when it comes to commissioning, programming, and performing contemporary classical music, BAME voices are not represented. At this week’s Conference on Diversity and Inclusion in Composition in Manchester, convened by BBC Radio 3 and BASCA (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors), Music Matters hosted a discussion to explore what an agenda for change might look like.

On the panel were the American composer Jeffrey Mumford; Susanna Eastburn, Chief Executive of UK’s foremost new music charity, Sound and Music; Rob Adediran, Executive Director of London Music Masters, an organisation which champions diversity and the role of the community in classical music; and the British composer Samantha Fernando.

Credits

Role Contributor
Presenter Tom Service
Interviewed Guest Susanna Eastburn
Interviewed Guest Rob Adediran
Interviewed Guest Jeffrey Mumford
Interviewed Guest Samantha Fernando
Interviewed Guest George Lewis
Interviewed Guest Petr Kotik
Interviewed Guest Mary Jane Leach
Image of Julius Eastman in winter Courtesy of Mary Jane Leach
Image of Julius Eastman composing Donald Burkhardt

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