German pianist Lisa Maria Schachtschneider discusses women in music with Gregor Tassie

Pianist Lisa Maria Schachtschneider in conversation with Gregor Tassie

‘The female in music is my contribution on the way to equality’ is the heading for the young German pianist Lisa Maria Schachtschneider’s debut recording. Through neglect and ignorance, the question of women in music is a perennial problem to overcome and is exacerbated by recent developments and the global pandemic. Miss Schachtschneider was born in Berlin and grew up in Hamburg and began studying the piano when she was five years old. She studied with Wolfgang Manz at the University of Music in Nuremberg and with Bernd Glemser at the University of Music in Würzburg. Schachtschneider has won the Leonhardt and Ida Wolf Memorial Prize for young artists and was the first winner of the Music Sponsorship Award of the Hans Sachs Lodge in Nuremberg. She has given concerts with orchestra and recitals all over Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and already her new recording FEMINAE: The Female in Music has received excellent reviews worldwide.

It was the distinguished tenor Siegfried Jerusalem who encouraged her to develop a concert career and she has attended master classes with Dmitry Bashkirov, Karl-Heinz Kämmerling, Lev Naumov, Oxana Yablonskaya, Cécile Ousset, and Boris Petrushansky. Miss Schachtschneider was a member of the teaching faculty at the Institute for Music at Würzburg, and at the University of Würzburg. Presently, she teaches at the Upper Rhine Valley Music School in Switzerland. Here she discusses her ambitions and hopes in launching this unique new recording, and about the problems of women in the arts and classical music in today’s world.

Gregor Tassie: Could you tell me about the idea behind your new CD Feminae?

Lisa Maria Schachtschneider: Although we live in our modern world of the 21st century and even have a female American Vice President and a female German Chancellor, the classical music industry is lagging behind in terms of gender equality. Not only do male composers dominate the programmes of large concert series and festivals and predominantly men conduct the large orchestras, but the American conductor Melissa Panlasigui has also shown in a completely new study published this February that, for example in German orchestras, only 29% of women sit at the orchestra desks and that the number of General Music Directors increased from only 2 to 5 between 2000 and 2019. I would like to point out this situation with my CD.

GT: Why did you choose the particular composers for your debut recording?

LMS: On the occasion of Clara Schumann’s 200th birthday in 2019, I put together a programme in which Clara – as is usual on birthdays – is framed by her friends, in this case by other female composers. Since I would strive for a balance in the classical music world according to the natural gender distribution between men, women, and of course various other genders such as transgender people, I not only recorded works by female composers, but also put her husband Robert to the side of Clara, who also played a very important role in her life.

GT: Sometimes in reviews a critic writes that the music is ‘feminine’ as if this a negative factor. Do you agree?

LMS: The question arises, what is ‘female’ and what is ‘male’? Nowadays gender research is based on very many different genders, but I actually think that people who define themselves as more female have a different way of expressing and processing their feelings than people who define themselves as more male. Why shouldn’t this be reflected in a slightly different way of dealing with harmonies and music? I don’t find this negative at all. Without wanting to devalue the music of the famous male composers – I deeply love Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Bach and all these famous guys – I can sometimes identify more directly with the feelings expressed in female compositions. I think it would be an exciting question as to whether many female listeners feel like me.

GT: In my opinion, there are more women who are developing composing careers and achieving success such as Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Sofia Gubaidulina. Of course, their music can never be called ‘feminine’. But they often compose about nature, something not many other male composers do. What do you think about this?

LMS: I think that male Nordic composers like Grieg and Sibelius also show a great closeness to nature in their works. Given the unique nature of Iceland, I am not surprised that Anna Thorvaldsdottir is inspired by nature scenes and images for her compositions. But I’m not sure whether female composers actually compose more often about nature than men. As far as I know, Sofia Gubaidulina’s works are often religiously motivated. Of the composers on my CD, only the Swiss composer Margrit Schenker has a theme of nature, namely the tree, which changes over the seasons. The Swiss are very close to nature and I also love the unique nature here.

GT: The problem of discrimination in the arts for women has been an age-old issue, and indeed it is prevalent throughout society, do you think we need a change in society before we see women taking their full place in society, and in the arts?

LMS: Fortunately, the process of social change that I believe is necessary is already underway, at least in our western world. In recent years women have stood up against discrimination and the abuse of power not only generally, but also in the classical music world. The big ‘Me Too’ wave is an example of this. I think that it is not only the task of men in leading positions to be more considerate of women’s quotas or, for example, to programme more female composers, but that women are also asked to network and promote themselves even better. I fear that women unfortunately tend more than men to isolate one another out of jealousy rather than support one another. Women who, for example, focus on a career instead of starting a family are actually often devalued by other women as cold or career minded. That happens less to men. Our society has to become even more open and tolerant of different life plans so that women can really develop freely.

GT: Of course, for women performers the problems seem to be different, last year the Vienna Philharmonic dismissed the lady who was principal flute because an internal poll (mostly of men) wanted to sack her. How can women musicians defend themselves against this?

LMS: I think that there will always be controversial decisions in the artistic field, be it in competitions or when it comes to being accepted into large orchestras. I don’t think that female musicians especially can completely protect themselves from unjust decisions at the moment, neither can men. But the more equality is achieved in classical music and the more women are in top positions, the greater the chance that there will perhaps not be even unconscious prejudice due to the female gender.

GT: Have you seen the French TV series Philharmonie which portrays the discrimination by orchestral musicians against a woman conductor, if so, what do you think of it?

LMS: Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the series, but the subject sounds interesting and exciting. I hope I’ll have the chance to see it in the near future.

GT: Have you suffered discrimination in starting your career in music?

LMS: Overall, I have been lucky enough to always have a very positive and supportive environment, and I am very grateful to all the male professors with whom I have studied and attended masterclasses for their great support and for the things that I was able to learn from them, but like so many women in the music world, I recognise the hashtag MeToo, I have also experienced improper advances by men who have tried to exploit their position of power over me.

Lisa Maria Schachtschneider

GT: Some women have enjoyed very successful musical careers, but there seems to be a tradition of women dressing in appealing costumes which emphasise their beauty, and this phenomenon becomes almost a ‘cult’ such as that for Yuja Wang. Do you think women in music are exploited for their sex?

LMS: No, I don’t really think so. I think pretty women like Yuja Wang have a big audience effect with their extravagant outfits, even if of course not everyone likes it and some people also criticise it. I see this more as a possible advantage for women to draw attention to themselves and to stand out from the mass of instrumentalists. Lola Astanova took this to extremes, but completely voluntarily, I think. There are enough famous female instrumentalists who dress pretty, but not particularly extravagant like Mitsuko Uchida, Martha Argerich or Julia Fischer. Of course there will certainly be people who only go to Yuja Wang’s concerts because they find her sexy and attractive and not primarily because of her music, but I don’t think that’s so bad as long as Yuja Wang feels comfortable with it. Perhaps someone will discover a love for classical music through this.

GT: How do you see the future for women in music, do you think the situation is getting better?

LMS: When I look at the study by the young American conductor Melissa Panlasigui mentioned at the beginning, it doesn’t look as if the situation is about to change significantly. On the other hand, there is a growing international awareness of female discrimination in many areas and that gives rise to hope. There are many funding opportunities for women musicians: female composer festivals, special prizes and awards for women composers, portrait series in music magazines and more. I think that is important. I believe that greater equality will be achieved in the long term, but in the short and medium term it will be a little more difficult due to the upcoming post-pandemic financial cuts and the generally difficult situation in the cultural sector.

GT: Away from equal rights issues for women, what composers are you attracted to?

LMS: It’s hard to say because I care deeply about all the great classical composers. I think that I love Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Clara Schumann the most.

GT: What are your plans, after the launch of your first CD?

LMS: I would very much like to play the FEMINAE programme in as many concerts as possible when the coronavirus situation allows for it again. So far, I have mainly played in German-speaking countries, maybe my CD will result in one or two concerts in other European countries and that would be great. Apart from that, I am planning and practicing my next recital programme ‘3 big B in d’ with works by Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms in D minor and am planning various chamber music projects with cello and organ, among others. I would also like to set up my own small concert series as soon as possible. About 50 percent of the compositions played will be by women composers.

GT: Seen and Heard hopes all goes well with these plans and thank you for talking to us.

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