As in many creative industries, the events of March 2020 pressed pause on live music, with orchestras across the globe downing their instruments.
However, often in hardship creativity flourishes, and it was during this time that violinist Ellie Consta was inspired to form the UK's first women and non-binary string orchestra: Her Ensemble.
Consisting of likeminded colleagues and stemming from the European Union Youth Orchestra, Her Ensemble brings together some of the most in demand string players in the UK and abroad. The group is passionate about channelling their talent and passion into creating meaningful change within the music industry, subverting outdated traditions and showcasing music by women and non-binary artists past and present in a way which is accessible to all regardless of age, race, gender or class.
WHAT INSPIRED THE GROUP?
Suddenly faced with her income disappearing, founder Ellie Consta began to question what she wanted to do with what she did have. As the year progressed, Ellie began to find creative freedom in the endless possibilities of the uncertainty of the pandemic and found herself open to new ways of thinking. She started writing string parts for her friends' songs for fun - something that time constraints and psychological barriers had once prevented. This allowed her to view music making from a totally different perspective, but it also brought to light many of the contrasting differences between the pop and classical worlds, which made her start to question many of the industry and societal norms that she had taken for granted previously.
It was around this time that a friend sent her a YouTube video discussing representation of gender, race and class throughout music history. Ellie was appalled to find that, despite 13 years studying music at world renowned institutions, and countless performances in the profession, she could name just a handful of female composers. Investigating further, Ellie discovered that In 2019, just 3.6% of the classical music pieces performed worldwide were written by women.
Women were also nonexistent from most major orchestras up until the 1960s. In fact, some orchestras retained explicit bans on women musicians, with one of the world's most renowned orchestras only employing its first female member in 2003 after being threatened with budget cuts. Although the music industry has made great progress since then, it's inevitable that we see society's dated gender norms reflected within the industry; from our passive gendering of instruments, to our normalised gendering of concert attire - often differently specified for women and men, and nonexistent for non-binary people.
Read more about Ellie's inspiration and lockdown experience here.
WHAT IS THE AIM OF HER ENSEMBLE?
Her Ensemble believe that all music is for everyone to enjoy, however currently the demographic for classical music skews towards an older white audience, with the majority of concert programmes featuring solely former white male composers. The group hopes to change this by reimagining the context for 'classical' music and doing away with rigid rules and traditions.
Performances have a distinctly relaxed atmosphere with musicians interacting with the audience, adding context and history to each work performed and strict dress codes have been replaced with expectation-defying suits (usually...sometimes we like changing it up too!).