Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

Women on the Radio

by sarah - March 30, 2015

A lot has been made of the attention that BBC Radio 3 has given to women composers surrounding International Women’s Day.  But let’s not forget the wonderful radio hosts that devote time to women composers on a weekly basis and not just in honor of a particular day, or one month, out of the year.

CKWRCKWR (FM 98.5), “Canada’s First Community Radio Station”, in Kitchener, Ontario treats listeners to a new line up of works composed by women on a weekly basis.  The radio host, Thomas Quick, began his show titled “Women in Music” in 2008 and to date has broadcast 210 two-hour shows, with no end in sight.

The weekly show broadcasts on Monday from 9pm to 11pm (EST), and is streamed online.  Listen in, and then send the host a note letting him and the station know how much you appreciate hearing women’s works throughout the year!


Update: archived video of Higdon Viola Concerto available!

by Liane Curtis - March 29, 2015

Update (3/29) — The  VIDEO premiere performance of the Viola Concerto, that  took place in the “Curtis on Tour” at the Library of Congress Coolidge Auditorium is still available!  You can hear the entire concert, and Higdon herself prefaces her work with comments starting at 22:00.

Original blog:  (3/14)    “Curtis On Tour” is the Curtis Institute of Music’s annual showcase of its students and some distinguished alumni.  Last year I attended their concert in Boston, and just last night I was thrilled to be able to hear their chamber orchestra at U.C. Davis’s Mondavi Center.  The conductor was (Curtis alum) Robert Spano, and a featured work was Curtis Faculty member Jennifer Higdon’s new Viola Concerto.  The soloist is violist Roberto Diaz, also Curtis’ President.  The work premiered just last Saturday, and is the recipient of one of our Performance Grants.  The tour is continuing with two more concerts in California, and I urge you see it if you have the chance!

In the pre-concert discussion, the Curtis Institute student who spoke about the piece said that Higdon had wanted to write something that contrasted with the melancholy of other viola concertos – I imagine she meant the anguished Walton or the self-absorbed gloom of Berlioz’ “Harold in Italy.” She succeeded, creating a work of sweeping momentum and rugged determination.  Underpinning this is Higdon’s genius at using the colors of the orchestra, creating a magical, varied and atmospheric expanse of sound.

The work opens with a hushed, close sonority of muted strings, with a stark melody in the solo viola beginning on a low string but in a high register, giving a kind of restrained warmth.  The ensemble slowly builds in several grand expansive waves of growing intensity, with woodwinds and brass entering for interludes at the peak of the wave, at which the viola yields to them.  The effect is of heartfelt resolution.

The middle movement breaks loose with intensity, with a first theme of rapid-fire repeated notes, followed by running scalar lines.  The viola gets a work-out in this breathless moto perpetuo, with some of the melodies heightened by glockenspiel doubling, with amazing virtuosic playing.  Relentless, it leaves us breathless.

The final movement returns to legato, but now with a more strongly chiseled melody – taking broad steps of fourths and fifths, and eventually with the viola playing in octaves, and then introducing a spiky, staccato theme.  The orchestra interweaves in a contrapuntal texture and the vast expanse of activity is supported by a contrabassoon.  With the broad legato melody resonating in all the instruments, conclusion was majestic.

Although Diaz’ body language is reserved, his playing is passionate and (as needed) full of warmth, brilliance, or edgy intensity, and is absolutely surefooted in all the technical demands.  Let us hope that this work enters into the repertoire for the viola, just as Higdon’s Violin Concerto is now doing!

There are reviews of the premiere here — David Stearns enthused “Subtle construction elements kept that lyricism aloft so artfully you didn’t want the movement to end.”

And and also here: “An appealing piece that deserves to be heard — a lot.”  (Joan Reinthaler)

Disclaimer: Liane Curtis is not related to the Curtis family of the Curtis Institute of music. Liane’s distant cousin who does genealogy has researched this back to 1562(!)

Update: Marin Alsop at Harvard

by sarah - March 28, 2015

marin_alsopUpdate: The Harvard Review reports on the conversation with Alsop, as she received the distinguished Luise Vosgerchian Teaching Award

Original post:  Internationally acclaimed conductor Marin Alsop will be at Harvard University on March 24 to receive the Luise Vosgerchian Teaching Award.

That Alsop is being honored is no surprise.  Her innovative programming, educational and outreach efforts in Baltimore, and championing contemporary music with the Cabrillo Festival are all noteworthy.  She has also had the awkward-at-times honor of being the first woman to help open opportunities for others.


Her firsts include:

  • First woman to be awarded the Koussevitzky Conducting Prize from the Tanglewood Music Center (1989)
  • First conductor to receive a MacArthur Fellowship (2005)
  • First woman named Music Director of a Major American Symphony – the Baltimore Orchestra (2007)
  • The only classical musician to be named in The Guardian’s “Top 10 women” in honor of International Women’s Day in 2011.
  • First woman to conduct the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms (2013)

Here is Alsop’s speech at the final night of the 2013 Proms:

For more about Alsop, her upbringing, education, and career visit the Makers website for an excellent documentary.

Before the award ceremony on Tuesday Alsop will engage with the audience in a conversation about her work.  The event will be held at 4pm and admission is free – seating is first come, first serve, so plan to arrive early!  More information here.

Women Composers on Social Media

by sarah - March 25, 2015

With the flurry of activity surrounding Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, I’ve come across some excellent and affirming acknowledgements of women’s work in music in some unexpected places.  There are many inspired and wonderfully intentioned people working to spread the word about women’s work in music across what are largely social media platforms.  For example:

There is a list of “24 of the Most Overlooked Composers” on Buzzfeed.

The excellently titled Compos(h)er updates daily and shares works by a fantastic range of historic women composers.

Women in Classical Music “aims to celebrate women composers, musicians, and performers in the world of classical music. ”  Their sister blog, also worth bookmarking, is Musicians of Color.

There is more music and biographical sketches at Know Your Female Composers, and even Daily Classical Music has been known to feature the work of historic women from time to time – as well as many, many great individual posts by users who felt compelled to spread the word about women in music.  Doing a search for “woman + composer” on Tumblr will give you hundreds of results.  (And you can repeat with “female + composer“.)

The enthusiasm is fantastic – and infectious!  But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that a large majority of the time, the same few women are discussed.  This isn’t surprising since what relatively little academic work has been done on the lives and music of women composers centers on several key individuals.  I hope that all of this collective enthusiasm can help change that.

So, tell us – who is your favorite, particularly neglected composer?  Who needs more time in the spotlight along with Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger, and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel?



Classical Music Moonlighters

by sarah - March 24, 2015

The Guardian has a great piece up highlighting “Classical Music Moonlighters“.

The list of composers who worked on music after they finished their day jobs includes:

  • Ethel Smyth (who was a composer first and turned to writing books – including a multi-volume autobiography – later in life)
  • St. Hildegard of Bingen (abbess, mystic, healer, author, composer)
  • Lera Auerbach (a novelist and visual artist, she is also well-known in Russia as a poet)

Which makes me think: who else?  Clara Schumann was a pianist first and a composer second, and Nadia Boulanger was an educator first.  How many women were first wives, mothers, and homemakers before they could spend time composing at the keyboard?

Why don’t we all take a listen to Spotify’s collection of works by women and add some other names to the list!

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