Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

Frank World Premiere

by sarah - September 18, 2014

The Houston Symphony has commissioned a new work by Gabriela Lena Frank.  The world premiere will take place this weekend (September 19-21) as the kick-off of the 101st concert season.  From the press release about the upcoming performance:

A Houston Symphony commission, Karnavalingo draws upon the musical culture of Frank’s mother’s homeland of Perú with its rich and varied sounds deriving from native Indian, African and Spanish influences. As a graduate of Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, Frank has dedicated the piece to a beloved English professor, Edward Doughtie, who encouraged her as a blossoming musician and passed away in spring of 2014.

It’s disappointing to see that though Frank is the composer-in-residence at the Houston Symphony, the premiere of her work is listed last in the release – the featured story, as seen by the publicist, is Andre Watts performing Rachmaninoff as the first concert under the direction of Andrés Orozco-Estrada.

However, it seems as though the Houston Symphony is at least attempting to be conscientious about the inclusion of diverse programming.  In the  news release for the season, they specifically boasted about the works by women that will be heard:

In what is typically considered a male-dominated profession, this season showcases musical works written by living women composers. California-born Gabriela Lena Frank is featured in three programs next fall, with one in September premiering a brand new composition created in honor of Andre´s’ Inaugural Season. Frank will also take up a two-week residency with the Houston Symphony to go into the community and connect with Symphony audiences. Frank has strong ties to Houston, having received a master’s degree from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. Another American female composer, Jennifer Higdon, is showcased in the Robert Spano-conducted concert in April 2015. Two of her orchestra pieces will be featured: Concerto for Orchestra and Blue Cathedral, an emotionally-charged composition inspired by her younger brother who died of cancer.

I think we can all agree that including works by two women (one being the composer-in-residence, the other being one of the most widely recognized and performed contemporary composers – and, at that, performing two of her most well-known works) still falls short of “showcasing” the works of women, or being truly inclusive.

To get a sense of Frank’s process and style, here is an interview that Frank did on the Craig Fahle show after her appointment as composer-in-residence to the Detroit Symphony where she currently is also showcasing her talents:



Hildegard’s Feast Day

by sarah - September 17, 2014

Today is the Feast day of one of the best known women composers – and, typically, the only one to be included in a typical history textbook – is Hildegard of Bingen.

Image from: http://www.eibingen.de/

A 12th century abbess in Germany, Hildegard is remembered for being one of the first women to stand up against the Catholic Church and be heard.  A composer, mystic, and healer, her work continues to inspire renewed interest in contemporary scholars and theologians.  In fact, one of the few publishers who devote their catalog to works by women composers, Hildegard Publishing, is named for the abbess.  Her life recently inspired a movie, Visionfrom Zeitgeist Films.

Though referred to as a Saint by some parts of the Catholic Church, Hildegard wasn’t officially recognized until 2012, and even then as “Doctor of the Church”.

Here are two podcasts about Hildegard, her life, and music.  The first from Bellatrix Musica, produced by WUOL from Kentucky:

The second is a bit more extended conversation from BBC’s In Our Time:

Remembering Nadia Boulanger

by sarah - September 16, 2014

Today would be the 127th birthday of Nadia Boulanger – the foremost music educator of the 20th century.  Her skill and expertise were widely sought, and her list of students is more than extensive and impressive.  I highly recommend Bruno Monsaingeon’s excellent documentary Mademoiselle Nadia Boulanger, which was completed in honor of her 90th birthday, and which can be viewed in full on YouTube:

But though remembered, and deeply respected, as an educator (a role society had already determined to be quite fitting for a woman…) her work as a composer is usually neglected.  For instance, the 1994 Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers lists barely a handful of her works.  We should acknowledge that is due in part to her own devices: Nadia stopped composing while she was quite young (feeling her work to be inadequate), and instead advocated for the work of her younger sister, Lili Boulanger, who tragically died at age 24.   Nadia strove to erase the evidence of her own composing, and some of her own students were unaware that she ever composed a note (much less successful and powerful works).  The attitude expressed by Aaron Copland, in fondly recalling his teacher, can help us understand why Boulanger would feel (either consciously or unconsciously) it was necessary to hide her work as a composer:

Nadia Boulanger was quite aware that as a composition teacher she labored under two further disadvantages: she was not herself a regularly practicing composer and in so far as she composed at all she must of necessity be listed in that unenviable category of the woman composer. Everyone knows that the high achievement of women musicians as vocalists and instrumentalists has no counterpart in the field of musical composition. This historically poor showing has puzzled more than one observer. … Is it possible that there is a mysterious element in the nature of musical creativity that runs counter to the nature of the feminine mind? … The future may very well have a different tale to tell; for the present, however, no woman’s name will be found on the list of world-famous composers.  Copland on Music, 1960. 

The Nadia and Lili Boulanger International Centre now strives to preserve their respective pasts, as well as to provide scholarships and awards to up-and-coming composers.

In honor of Nadia’s birthday let’s not only be thankful for her incredible talent as an educator who influenced countless young musicians and composers, and whose legacy continues to live on in teaching studios throughout the world, but also remember her great accomplishments as a composer.

Here is Nadia’s Fantasie for Piano and Orchestra:


Kate Soper’s “Here Be Sirens” Back in NYC

by sarah - September 10, 2014

Singer and composer Kate Soper’s recent work Here Be Sirens is being brought back to Morningside Opera.  The first set of performances was last weekend (September 5-6), but will be repeated this weekend (September 12-13).

The work, which was premiered in January to excellent reviews, explores the history and myth of muses and sirens and explores contemporary composition in a three-woman production.

The world premiere of Soper’s now is forever for Voice and Orchestra, commissioned and performed by the American Composers Orchestra received a 2012 WPA Performance Grant.

Watch the original promotional video for Here Be Sirens below:



Moab Music Festival Programs Three Historic Women

by sarah - September 7, 2014

The summer festival season is winding down as we gear up for the regular concert season. But there is (at least) one more festival worth mentioning for its inclusive and exciting programming. The Moab Music Festival, which began August 28, brings musicians and music enthusiasts into the beautiful Utah landscape for some amazing experiences—including a 4 day musical raft trip.

Moab is different that so many other festivals in that it encourages full engagement with the surrounding landscape, and a perhaps more personal and intimate experience interacting not only with the music in nature, but also with the musicians themselves. The chamber music lined up throughout the two week event invites listeners to consider the favorite standbys with fantastic but grossly underperformed works from the repertoire. This year’s Moab Music Festival has assembled a fantastic range of musical styles and period—and included three works by historic women composers, which is somewhat unheard of in today’s programming.

For example, the second night of the festival featured works by Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms, as well as Clara Schumann’s Romances for Violin and Piano op. 22.  The pairing of these three composers is a natural choice considering the history and relationship between the three—but Clara’s compositional voice is all too often omitted when discussing the work and collaboration of the three musical minds.

The following Friday, September 5, the Festival presented a program titled, Freedom and Censorship: The Music of Russia and Poland, including works by Shostakovitch, Rimsky-Korsakov, Chopin, and Grazyna Bacewicz—one of the few Polish women to achieve acclaim as a composer. Her Piano Quintet No. 1 will be featured on the program:

The Festival Finale on September 7 will feature works by English composers, including the Phantasie Trio by Alice Verne-Bredt —a composer who is so little-known today that information is not readily available about her life and work. Paired with works by Britten, Bax, and Gilbert & Sullivan, this particular program demonstrates not only the wealth of repertoire to choose from, but how including a range of voices (even little-known ones) can give a better sense of the musical landscape as a whole.

So, well done, Moab Music Festival for creating programming that I am very excited about—and very sorry to have to miss this year.  But I look forward to the innovative and inclusive programming to continue in the future!


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