Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

News Round Up

by sarah - May 19th, 2015

Here are some headlines worth paying attention to:

Though the LA Philharmonic didn’t promote Saariaho’s world premiere, it received an excellent review in the LA Times:

The performance was strong. Dudamel remained constantly attuned to Saariaho’s vastly changeable instrumental colors, a cosmic sonic background for Finley, who handled each song with operatic intensity, part of a grand psychodrama of searching for meaning, for words that can obtain meaning through music but can also become emptied of meaning when sung. This is a profound, important work.

The New York Times offered a profile of Susanna Malkki before her conducting debut at the New York Philharmonic on Thursday.

The Juilliard String Quartet is facing the retirement of cellist Joel Krosnick who has been with the ensemble for 40 years – Astrid Schween will be his replacement, becoming the first woman to join the ensemble.

Read Alex Ross’ thoughts on the drama surrounding the Berlin Philharmonic and the search for a new conductor.  Though the classical music world was #WaitingForBerlin  just a week ago, perhaps the choice of conductor doesn’t really matter for the reasons people suggest:

Not the least of the challenges that classical music faces is the increasingly unworkable celebrity-maestro model—a twentieth-century mutation, stemming from a disproportionate emphasis on the music of prior eras. It is fundamentally irrational for musicians to play the same passel of pieces over and over. Conductors serve to generate the illusion of novelty: as Theodor W. Adorno wrote, in his “Introduction to the Sociology of Music,” the maestro “acts as if he were creating the work here and now.” That top-tier conductors are almost always men is less an indication of institutional misogyny—though that certainly exists—than an inevitable consequence of the play-acting ritual: because the canonical composers are entirely male, so are their stand-ins. The modern orchestra concert is not entirely unrelated to the spectacle of a Civil War reënactment.

Be sure to also read about the partnership between Parsons School of Design and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in an effort to redesign orchestra attire.


What did I miss?  Leave a link to your favorite news story from the past week in a comment below.

Julia Wolfe Wins Pulitzer

by sarah - April 21st, 2015

julia_wolfe_photo1_copyright_2009_peter_serlingCongratulations to Julia Wolfe on winning the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Anthracite Fields.  The piece is an oratorio inspired and based on the lives of Pennsylvania coal miners.  It was commissioned by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. Their website is full of information about the piece, the compositional process – which included extensive research, as well as the performers.  Anthracite Fields is going to be performed this weekend (April 26 and 27th) in Philadelphia – tickets are still available!

Here is Wolfe discussing the work:

Be sure to also read this great interview with Wolfe on NPR, which explores the process of writing:

By telephone Monday afternoon, the 57-year-old composer, originally from Pennsylvania, spoke with me from her home in Manhattan, where she had been reveling in the news(…). Wolfe took more than a year to write and research the work, visiting museums and interviewing miners. While talking to one daughter and granddaughter of miners, Wolfe discovered that in the small mining villages women spruced up their impoverished existences with gardens and flowers. That image, and a list of those flowers, forms one section of the piece.

Here is the flowers movement:

A full recording of the work will be released in September.

Wolfe is only the sixth woman to win the Pulitzer for music.  The other women are Ellen Taffe Zwilich (1983), Shulamit Ran (1991), Melinda Wagner (1999), Jennifer Higdon (2010), and Caroline Shaw (2013).

Classical Music Moonlighters

by sarah - March 24th, 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!

Boulanger Premiere!

by sarah - February 25th, 2015

I was thrilled to learn that a long-lost work by Lili Boulanger will finally receive its premiere on Thursday, February 26.


The Royal College of Music will present the work at the Royal Festival Hall.  The Philharmonia Orchestra’s website provides more information as to its origin from scholar Caroline Potter:

In her all too brief career, Lili Boulanger composed a number of works that have not survived. One missing piece, Marche gaie, resurfaced in short-score form in 2011 in a private collection in North Carolina; the owners of the manuscript are the grandchildren of the work’s dedicatee, Jeanne Leygues. As Marche gaie was registered with the French copyright society SACEM as a work for chamber orchestra in 1916, we can assume it was composed in that year. While the manuscript is in an unknown hand, there is musical and circumstantial evidence that shows beyond reasonable doubt that this is a missing work by Lili Boulanger. The piece has been orchestrated in appropriate style by Robert Orledge.

Jeanne Leygues, daughter of the French politician Georges Leygues (briefly Prime Minister in 1920-21 and a great supporter of the arts), married an American, Paul Rockwell, who fought with his brother in the French Foreign Legion in the First World War. We can assume that Marche gaie was composed for their wedding in December 1916, not least because the piece alludes to Mendelssohn’s famous Wedding March; Lili Boulanger was fond of quotation and allusion. Marche gaie was originally paired with a Marche funèbre, a work yet to resurface.

This is a great discovery – and I have my fingers crossed that Marche funèbre and other works will be found, performed, and recorded.  What a fabulous addition to the repertoire!

Marche gaie will be heard along with Ravel and Stravinsky as part of the “City of Light: Paris 1900-1950″ Festival.  More information and tickets are available here.


The Importance of Innovative Programming

by sarah - January 15th, 2015

There should be no surprise that we at Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy are enthusiastic about supporting innovative ideas for concerts.  But though we are among the relatively few voices that acknowledge the absence of works by women and advocate for their inclusion on concert programs, we are in good company with many who would like to see more than the standard repertoire on season lineups.  Though I don’t believe that classical music is dying or dead, I do feel that it could use a bit of perking up.  With so many ensembles going through their own financial woes, lacking ticket sales and interested donors, the time has come to reevaluate which works are heard, and how they are presented.

That is why the Spring For Music festival was so commendable.  The core of the festival was to allow orchestras to experiment and explore. The artistic philosophy was, in comparison to the Beethoven that we expect to see on every season brochure, a thrill to read:

Spring For Music provides an idealized laboratory, free of the normal marketing and financial constraints, for an orchestra to be truly creative with programs that are interesting, provocative and stimulating, and that reflect its beliefs, its standards, and vision. Spring For Music believes that an orchestra’s fundamental obligation is to lead and not follow taste. As such, programming needs to advance, and not just satisfy, expectations. An artistic point of view must infuse everything an orchestra does, with programs that not only reflect but validate that point of view. Great programs have imaginative, meaningful and deliberate thought behind the selection of pieces, the sequence of pieces, the program structure, and the presentation of pieces. This does not mandate a rigid program “theme” or simply a healthy dose of contemporary music; rather it reflects a stimulating mix of pieces, styles, artists and composers that engages the listener in an absorbing adventure – a journey that seduces, thrills, and moves, and where the program’s totality becomes greater than the sum of the individual pieces. A great program provokes gasps, sighs, tears or smiles, but above all creates a sense of the unexpected – the listener is never sure how it will actually turn out; it is imbued with an inherent risk of uncertainty.

As a result, the risks that were taken in the concerts that were presented included adventurous works and rarely heard performers – including a surprising percentage of women.  In 2011 the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra presented a new commission from Maria Schneider (Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories for Soprano and Chamber Orchestra); the Albany Symphony performed Bun-Ching Lam’s “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and Tania Leon’s “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel”; and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra performed Melinda Wagner’s Little Moonhead.  In 2013 the Baltimore Symphony performed Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto 4-3.  In 2014 the Rochester Philharmonic was originally invited to perform a concert which included Amy Beach’s Gaelic Symphony and other to-be-announced works by women, but the program changed when the conductor was unexpectedly removed and replaced.  Spring For Music allowed conductors to take risks without worrying about how many tickets were sold or what the immediate donor base would consider.  And the concerts themselves were designed to be very accessible with flat, affordable ticket prices.

The idea was inspired and deeply relevant to the need to change the current tides of classical music.  Which makes it all the more unfortunate that Spring For Music was, ultimately, unsustainable.  The intentions were excellent, and the concerts it produced in its four year run were superb – but there was lack of funding to continue the experiment any longer.  As Alex Ross noted on his blog, “This series will be missed and mourned.”

All the more reason why I was thrilled to learn that the Kennedy Center and Washington Performing Arts will collaborate to bring back a reimagining of Spring For Music in SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras.  Read the full press release here.



There are key differences between the former and future iterations (participating orchestras will be chosen not just for artistry but for their demonstrated relationship with their communities; an overall stronger emphasis on education, including community events, workshops, etc.) but the core is the same – acknowledging, applauding, and encouraging more innovative programming.

The website for applications will be open as of next week, and we can anticipate the first iteration of the festival in 2017.  I look forward not only to what programs and events/opportunities for engagement will be offered, but how this momentum from Spring For Music and now SHIFT can continue to encourage and inspire conductors and arts administrators that it is worth taking risks and offering audiences something new, exciting, and engaging instead of the repertoire we all may love, but have heard perhaps far too often.


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