This past Sunday (September 28) would have been Vivian Fine’s 101st birthday. Born in Chicago in 1913, Fine was a piano prodigy who went on to study with Ruth Crawford Seeger and achieve acclaim for her compositions at a young age. She composed continuously for her 70 year career. Fine’s works explored various instrumentations and genres, spanning from chamber music to orchestral and choral works.
Unsuk Chin’s Clarinet Concerto, which was completed in 2004, will finally receive it’s U.S. Premiere with the New York Philharmonic this weekend. It was co-commissioned with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra.
Here is conductor Alan Gilbert speaking about the work (and the Mahler that is also scheduled for the program):
As Gilbert mentions, the work is paired with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 – which gets primary billing on the concert – even as evidenced by this banner ad I stumbled across just last week when catching up on classical music news at the WQXR website:
What a shame that the U.S. Premiere of a work by an internationally renowned and highly acclaimed composer, being performed – no less – by the clarinetist she composed the work for (Kari Kriikku), would not be seen as a major draw to audiences.
All of the recent news surrounding the Scottish vote for independence has the classical music community reflecting on the music and musicians that have come out of Scotland. NPR’s Classical Music Blog, Deceptive Cadence, wrote up a quick review of some of their favorite composers and performers. They included Judith Weir – and how could they not, as the new Master of the Queen’s Music. But there are many more composers who deserve more than just a minute in the spotlight.
Sally Beamish(b. 1956), though born in London, currently lives and works in Scotland. Her work for large and small ensembles has been commissioned widely and includes two symphonies, many concerti, chamber works, film scores, and music for theatre. She has also served as composer in residence with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.
Helen Grime(b. 1981) began studying music at age nine at the City of Edinburgh Music School and eventually continued on to the Royal College of Music. Her composition teachers included Sally Beamish and Jennifer Martin. In addition to her acclaimed career as a composer, Grime is also a highly accomplished oboist – performing as the soloist in the world premiere of her Oboe Concerto which written on commission for the Meadows Chamber Orchestra (Edinburgh) and which won a prize in the British Composer Awards. Other works have been commissioned but the London Symphony Orchestra, and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Helen Hopekirk (1856-1945) was a pianist and composer and a contemporary of Amy Beach. She made her American debut in 1883 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1897 she accepted the invitation of George Chadwick to teach at the New England Conservatory, and lived in Boston for the rest of her life. Her compositions, which included chamber works as well as orchestral pieces, often included Scottish folk melodies.
Anna Meredith(b. 1978) is a composer and performer of electronic and acoustic music. She has been commissioned by the BBC Proms and served as composer in residence for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Thea Musgrave(b. 1928) was a student of Nadia Boulanger and Aaron Copland, and her compositions continue to receive international appeal and acclaim. Musgrave has lived and worked in the United States since 1972. Major works include compositions for orchestra and chamber ensembles, as well as many operas – including several that feature the lives of historic women (Mary, Queen of Scots and Harriet, the Woman called ‘Moses’).
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:
Today is the Feast day of one of the best known women composers – and, typically, the only one to be included in a music history textbook – is Hildegard of Bingen.
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, Vision, from 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: