Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

Concerts of Old and New Music

by sarah - January 18th, 2017

We’re always thrilled to share announcements of coming concerts featuring works by women composers!  This week we are especially thrilled to see two ensembles who are embracing contemporary and historic composers in their performances.

The Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra will be performing at an Alumni Even in Chicago on January 21 and at the college on January 24.  Every work on the program was composed by a woman.  The pieces include Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No. 3, Karen LeFrak’s Ivan’s Song, and Nkeiru Okoye’s Songs of Harriet Tubman and Invitation to a Die-In.  We at WPA are thrilled to support this concert in part through a WPA Performance Grant!  The excellent programming demonstrates how the diverse, engaging, and relevant women’s work in music continues to be – and how more of it deserves to be heard on concert stages.  Find out more information about the concert in Chicago here, and the free event at Mount Holyoke College here.

Also this weekend, the Michigan Philharmonic, led by Nan Washburn, will perform Judith Shatin’s Spin and Louise Farrenc’s Nonet in E-Flat Major, Op. 38, on January 20 and January 22.

The concert, titled “Miniature Masterpieces” also includes Serenade for Flute, Harp, and String Quartet by William Grant Still – an often ignored African American composer.  Find out more information, and purchase tickets, here.

And be sure to have a listen to some of the music being performed this weekend below:

WPA Now on iTunes!

by sarah - January 6th, 2017

We debuted the new WPA Podcast last year with conversations about Kaija Saariaho’s premiere at the Met.  We are now thrilled to announce that our podcast is now available through iTunes!

Subscribe to “Feminist in the Concert Hall” in iTunes to make sure you don’t miss the next episode!  And help spread the word about Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy and our work by rating, reviewing, and sharing the news about our podcast.

Don’t use iTunes to catch up on podcasts?  Let us know what service you use, and we’ll work to get our feed hosted there, too!

And let us know what you want to hear next!  We are looking forward to a robust year of new podcast episodes, and conversations with different scholars, composers, and musicians.  If you are interested in a particular topic, work, or issue, let us know!

Fanny Hensel at the Ballet

by Liane Curtis - October 22nd, 2016

“Fanny for ballet!!” read the text message. I blinked and did a double-take at the accompanying photo. Indeed, selections of Fanny Hensel’s “Das Jahr” — The Year — a cycle of piano pieces composed in 1841, were the music for a new ballet, “Her Notes,” chorographed by Jessica Lang and being premiered by the American Ballet Theatre in New York City.

img_7986 How exciting to think of Hensel’s powerful piano music being used as the basis of an expressive dance work.  In a video about the making of “Her Notes,” Lang explains “when I hear music, I see movement, and when I heard this piece “The Year” [Das Jahr] it inspired a very classical reaction in my mind … and I thought it would be great for ballet, and it would be the perfect piece for American Ballet Theatre.”

Fanny Hensel (1805-1847) is perhaps still best known as the sister of Felix Mendelssohn, but increasingly called by the name she preferred, her married name.  In creating “Das Jahr” she collaborated with her husband, Wilhelm Hensel, a painter and artist, in creating a multimedia work illustrating the months of a year: a special year of travel, discovery and reflection.  The surviving manuscript fair copy is a fascinating visual work of art, with each of the pieces copied onto different colors of paper, and illustrated with detailed drawings by her husband and framed with stanzas of poetry.  This completely original concept, and the overall power of the work, mark Fanny Hensel as a major figure of the 19th century.  Yet the piece was unknown and unpublished until 1989.  [illustration: January from Das Jahr.  The music was published by Furore in Germany, who also offer a facsimile of the manuscript version.]Das Jahr-January

Jessica Lang uses five of the movements of the cycle in the ballet “Her Notes,” the pensive January, the spritely February (as effervescent as Fanny’s brother’s “Midsummer-night’s Dream Overture), then June, a wistful heartfelt  song,– a “song without words,” the genre she and her brother pioneered. Finally December—a cascading flurry of activity before the introduction of the somber hymn, “Von Himmel hoch” ( From Heaven on High), which begins meditatively, but then becomes more emphatic and bold.   It is this hymn section we see being danced to in the video about the making of “Her Notes.”  And finally, with the Postlude, the return to inward, thoughtful reflection, and a sense of resolution.

An article in the Wall Street Journal notes ballet’s struggle “with a lack of diversity and a lack of female choreographers.”  Lang was attracted to the music of “Das Jahr,” but also the resonances of Fanny’s struggle, to overcome the opposition of first her father, and then her brother, to her taking her composing seriously, have particular meaning for any brilliant and hardworking female artist seeking to make inroads in a male-dominated profession.jessica-lang

To me as an observer of women composers who,  even in the case of a familiar name like Fanny (Mendelssohn) Hensel, still receive so much less recognition than they deserve, find this incorporation of her music into another major art-work as a great step forward, a real landmark of progress.  After all, there is the iconic Misty Copeland  dancing to Fanny’s music — that’s exposure and recognition of another level!  OK, I’ll admit that I don’t follow dance at all, but I know about Copeland from hearing her on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” — so that is really iconic!

So while we still hope to have more performances of Hensel’s music including orchestra — her Overture, her cantatas and oratorios — here is a real celebration of her music on another (and unexpected) great stage.

And here is Das Jahr in its entirety, performed by (pianist) Sarah Rothenburg.

Remembering Ursula Mamlok

by sarah - May 6th, 2016

It is with great sadness that we share the news of Ursula Mamlok’s death.

Born in Germany in 1923, Mamlok and her family fled the Nazis to Ecuador when she was only 17.  She received a scholarship to study at the Mannes School of Music in New York City.  Her compositional style included use of serialism and experimentation with tone color.  Throughout her career Mamlok taught composition at Temple University, New York University, and the Manhattan School of Music.

In 2006 she moved back to Berlin, the city of her birth, which is where she passed on May 4 at age 93.  More information about her life, career, and compositions can be found at her website.

Remembrances are beginning to be shared across the classical music community.  Be sure to read Christian Carey’s thoughts at Sequenza21.

Many of her recordings are available through Bridge Records, that has a 5 disc compilation available here.

Listen below to a conversation with Mamlok prior to the performance of her Concerto for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra:


Olivia Block on NPR

by sarah - January 8th, 2016

NPR’s Morning Edition shared the work of Chicago based composer Olivia Block as part of the series, “Musicians in their own Words.”

In a story that ran on January 7th, Block walked listeners through the soundscape of downtown Chicago and shared how she discovers and records sounds in her day to day life to incorporate in her electroacoustic compositions.  Listen here:

And this morning, January 8, Block invited listeners to learn more about her new collection of used cassette tapes, and the recordings from the past that she discovers still on the magnetic tape:

Read more about Block on her professional website or listen to more of her work on her SoundCloud page.