Just stumbled across this brilliant archival footage of the British Women’s Symphony Orchestra:
THE BRITISH WOMEN’S SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
The ensemble was founded in 1922 (this clip is from 1934). Thanks to http://www.britishpathe.com/ for the video, and the inspiration to learn more about this ensemble. Here’s hoping more fantastic archival footage is posted soon!
Though now hailed as one of the greatest Finnish composers of her generation, Kaija Saariaho readily recalls a time at the Sibelius Academy when male teachers balked at teaching a “pretty girl,” claiming it was a waste of their time.
But Saariaho, who as a child would ask her mother to “turn off” the music she perpetually heard in her head so she could sleep at night, stubbornly persevered as the only woman in composition classes. Flash forward some 25 years to the dawn of a new century. The New York Times dubbed her opera’s newest rock star after the triumphant 2000 Salzburg Festival premiere of her first opera L’Amour de Loin, directed by Peter Sellars and starring Dawn Upshaw.
Saariaho took a somewhat unlikely path to that point, as much of her pre-millennial catalogue was comprised of timbre-rich chamber orchestrations that combined live music by and electronics. Influenced early in her studies by post-serialism, she ultimately found it too restrictive and turned to the French spectralists for inspiration for her dreamy sonic imagings.
As The Guardian‘s Tom Service wrote, “To journey into Saariaho’s music is to be confronted with the darkest and most dazzling dimensions of your subconscious, and glimpses of the existential journeys she has made to find these pieces.” Nymphéa (1987), commissioned by Lincoln Center and premiered by the Kronos Quartet and Petals (1988), for cello and electronics, are prime examples of this spectral period. The latter can be downloaded for free here.
Boosted by a spate of commissions, Saariaho’s work began to appear more frequently in concert halls and with some regularity on recordings in the early 1990s. She began working with major artists and groups, such as Gidon Kremer (Graal Théâtre), the Finnish National Ballet (The Earth) and the aforementioned Upshaw (Château de L’âme).
By the late 1990s Saariaho expanded beyond electronics, often writing solely for acoustic instruments, and focusing increasingly on melody. And she returned to an earlier calling, the visual arts, with her renewed focus on staged, theatrical events, saying “I always imagined music through light. My music is all about color and light, and this is what led me to the stage.” The Opera National de Paris commissioned a second opera, Adriana Mater (2006) and a third opera, Émilie, based on the life and writings of mathematician and physicist Émilie du Châtelet premiered in France in 2010.
In November of 2013 Saariaho delivered a speech at McGill University about what she perceived as a halt in the progress women had made since her fraught early professional years, lamenting that “today, 30 years after my own battles, young women still have to experience much the same everyday discrimination I went through.”
Below is an excerpt from L’Amour de Loin, featuring soprano Upshaw, that propelled Saariaho’s ‘overnight’ success.
Tania León (b. 1943) is a Cuban born composer and conductor. She began studying piano at the age of four and went on to complete a Bachelor’s Degree at the Alfredo Peyrellade Conservatory and a Master’s Degree from National Conservatory. She settled in New York in 1967 and continued her studies at New York University.
She was a founding member and the first musical director of Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem, instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series, and served as the Latin America Music Advisor to the American Composers Orchestra.
León’s careers as composer and conductor have gone hand in hand, performing and being commissioned internationally. Her works are generally large scale, including several works for dance and an opera, as well as many pieces for chamber orchestra.
Here is In Motion:
The first of three Festival concerts on Saturday, March 29, was performed by students of the Eastman Community Music School. Boys and girls performed works composed by women, and four girls performed really lovely pieces that they had written themselves. The Lowry Hall was the setting, and the young performers did an excellent job at not being distracted by the people passing through, some of whom stopped to listen to the very engaging program.
Chair of the Piano Department, Howard Spindler, the very genial host, observed that this was the first time that there were composers among the students. Since the Community Music School has hosted a concert for their students as part of the festival for most its 10 years, it may well be that the festival itself is having an influence in generating young composers.
My favorites were: Rondo-Allegro from the Harp Sonata Op. 2, by Sophia Dussek (1775-1847), performed by Joanna Jin. Sophia Dussek is name I’ve seen in history books so it was a real treat to hear her music brought to life. The youngest composer, Madison Sutherland, age 10, played a set of three piano pieces that were captivating and imaginative. These pieces would be great additions to the repertoire for young piano students. And Annie Jacobs-Perkins (a high school senior) played a searching, introspective solo on the cello. While slow in tempo, it was technically demanding, going up into a very high register and employing a lot of double stops. This piece too I could imagine becoming a valuable addition to the cello repertoire (although I do think it needs a title more descriptive than “Sonata”).
This was a fascinating concert, and it emphasized that the festival’s reach is broad and diverse. Festival organizer Sylvie Beaudette is to be applauded for bringing it all together.