The Women’s Philharmonic (1980-2004)
The Women’s Philharmonic began with the vision of our three founders – Elizabeth Seja Min, Miriam Abrams, and Nan Washburn – who hoped to compensate for the under-representation of women within the mainstream classical music world by creating an orchestra comprised entirely of women performing music composed by women. Unlike most orchestras, which enjoy the direct civic support of the cities where they are based and are funded with large donations by wealthy members of those cities’ communities, The Women’s Philharmonic began as a grassroots effort with many donors giving small contributions of $10, $20, and $25.
In the years following the first concert in 1981, The Women’s Philharmonic grew into a nationally renowned orchestra with a loyal following. We presented works by more than 160 women composers – including 134 premieres and 47 commissioned works.
The Women’s Philharmonic received 17 ASCAP awards in 22 seasons. The Women’s Philharmonic has been given the John S. Edwards Award by the American Symphony Orchestra League, which goes to the one orchestra in the United States that demonstrates the strongest commitment to new American music during a season. The orchestra’s second recording, The Women’s Philharmonic, received the “Best Classical Recording” award from the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD).
The Women’s Philharmonic has been featured in the national media, including Time, USA Today, Ms., “CBS Sunday Morning,” and National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air,” “Morning Edition,” and “All Things Considered.” It is the subject of a documentary film. The Washington Post published a highly favorable review of the orchestra’s East Coast debut at Kennedy Center.
The Plan to dissolve The Women’s Philharmonic is announced: December 9, 2003
A message from Robyn Bramhall, President of the Board of Directors of the Women’s Philharmonic.
In 1981, the three founders of the Women’s Philharmonic, Miriam Abrams, Elizabeth Seja Min, and Nan Washburn, crafted a mission that would focus and energize the efforts of the organization for the next 23 years:
“the promotion of women composers, conductors and performers.”
During that time the landscape of the orchestral music world has greatly changed. Together we have seen women musicians move from near-invisibility in American orchestras to their current presence at a number equal to men. We have seen Ellen Zwilich, Shulamit Ran and Melinda Wagner receive Pulitzer Prizes and other women accept awards previously granted only to male composers. Women conductors, although still holding a very modest percentage of principal conducting positions in the U.S., continue to gain prominence and recognition.
The Women’s Philharmonic has been pivotal in those changes. Through nearly a quarter of a century of concerts, recordings, and special initiatives, the organization has tirelessly promoted women composers, conductors and performers. The composers and conductors who count their association with The Women’s Philharmonic as a turning point in their careers include virtually all of the top women of our time and of the recent past. (Remember Fanny Mendelssohn, who lamented that “nobody takes any notice” and whose Ouverture was featured on our 1992 CD after its first public performance?)
I’m pleased to report that our American Women Masters project has now reached completion, having promoted selected works of ten composers to orchestras and audiences nationwide, through targeted campaigns and via Sarah Cahill’s radio program on KALW. Also coming to a close is our Fanfares project, which has given the music world eight new orchestral works by women, commissioned by The Women’s Philharmonic and our Fanfares partners. The National Women Conductors Initiative has championed several women conductors at critical stages in their careers.
Your past support of our mission has been important to our work on these and other important projects over the years, and you should be proud of the positive changes for women that you’ve helped bring about. I invite you to join us one last time as we celebrate our shared history and successes during the Celebrating Women in Music Festival in March 2004. Endorsed by the Association of California Symphony Orchestras, and fittingly held during Women’s History Month, the Festival features not only our own events in San Francisco, but embraces over 25 performances throughout California featuring women composers, conductors and soloists.
Yes, I said, “join us one last time.” In recognition of the strides that women have made in the orchestral world, the Board of Directors has made the decision that the time has come to pass the torch on to other leading organizations within the music world. New homes will be found for our remaining programs, in either libraries or nationally focused institutions whose missions are complementary to ours. As the next logical step toward our long-stated goals, these valuable resources will become a part of mainstream American classical music in ways that we can no longer effectively manage as a small-budgeted, locally based orchestra. The Festival in March 2004 will be the crowning event for The Women’s Philharmonic orchestra.
We do this in celebration of the enormous contributions that The Women’s Philharmonic has made to women in orchestral music, and in gratitude to all who have been a part of our efforts. As someone who has shared in our history and supported our efforts, we ask you to help make the Celebrating Women in Music Festival the best Women’s Philharmonic event ever.
The centerpiece programs of the Festival, produced by The Women’s Philharmonic include:
Women’s Voices in American Orchestral Music
A panel discussion Saturday morning, March 6th at the Yerba Buena Forum, featuring composer Shulamit Ran and others, with opinions, advice and stories about their work in the classical music field.
American Women Masters Concert
A concert by The Women’s Philharmonic orchestra on Sunday afternoon, March 7th at Herbst Theater, featuring Fanfares works by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Chen Yi, Libby Larsen and Jennifer Higdon, and a work by Shulamit Ran. Anne Manson, principal conductor of the Kansas City Symphony, will conduct this exciting program highlighting five of the living composers on our American Women Masters list. Think of it as our “Living Legacies” concert and plan to join us.
Music in the Making
On Monday, March 8th, The Women’s Philharmonic will hold our final New Music Reading Session, in which our orchestra will be led by two emerging conductors, in the rehearsal and recording of a work from each of two emerging composers.
We are planning a celebratory, post-concert reception on March 7th to honor the many women who have been associated with The Women’s Philharmonic over the years, as donors, volunteers, board members, staff, orchestra musicians, or as guest composers, conductors and soloists.
On behalf of all the members of the Women’s Philharmonic, please accept our heartfelt gratitude for your loyal support and our best wishes for a joyous holiday season. We look forward to celebrating with you in March.
President, Board of Directors