Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

UPDATE: Smyth’s THE PRISON in radio broadcast, April 27

by Liane Curtis - April 27th, 2018

Listen tonight (April 27) to the Johnstown Symphony’s April 7 performance — 7 pm   (Eastern Daylight Time)  on WQED Radio (Link here)

Soloists Marlissa Hudson and Dashon Burton —  more photos by Judy Crookston are on the Johnstown Symphony page

Published April 5: Ethel Smyth’s THE PRISON to receive North American Premiere

“She is a hero, and it so relates to the things that we are going through with the #MeToo movement, she dealt with problems that women are still having to deal with today.”  Soprano soloist Chelsea Shephard, about composer Ethel Smyth

Two major ensembles in the northeastern U.S. will be performing the North American premiere of Dame Ethel Smyth’s great work, THE PRISON (1930), composed for two vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra.  The directors have been working together (which is wonderful!) and decided to call it a co-premiere.  This nine-minute short video introduces us to Dame Ethel Smyth, the work, and the two conductors who will lead this important co-premiere!

I was fortunate to see the performance of The Prison with piano reduction, that Mark Shapiro conducted two years ago (reviewed here), as well as the excerpts that James Blachly led as part of the visionary “Sing her Name” concert performed by The Dream Unfinished Orchestra.

Now (April 7) Blachly leads the Johnstown Symphony in The Prison  and Mark Shapiro will conduct The Cecilia Chorus of New York  on May 12 in Carnegie Hall.  BRAVI to both ensembles for bringing this important and unknown work of Smyth to audiences!

Speaking Her Truth: A Discussion with Jessica Rudman and Kendra Preston Leonard

by sarah - April 18th, 2018

We are delighted to share this conversation between Jessica Rudman (JR) and Kendra Preston Leonard (KPL) as they discuss the upcoming Hartford Opera Theater and Hartford Independence Chamber Orchestra’s program “Speaking Her Truth,” which includes Rudman’s micro-opera Trigger, Rudman and Leonard’s song cycle Four Songs for Lady Macbeth, and their opera Marie Curie Learns to Swim.

Trigger is Rudman’s response to an incident in which an abused woman overheard the policemen involved in her case speculating about what she had done to “deserve” being hit. In Four Songs for Lady Macbeth, various figures address the real and fictional life of the famous character from Shakespeare. Marie Curie and her daughter Irene go on a vacation to the seashore in Marie Curie Learns to Swim, where Irene’s swimming lessons awaken Marie’s powerful memories of specific events in her life. 

Composer, Jessica Rudman

 

 

 


March 30, 2018

KPL: Tell me about Trigger: how you learned about the incident, how you decided to set your own text, and what you look for in a performance. 

Kendra Preston Leonard

JR: I was accepted to a program called Opera from Scratch, which is in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and one of the requirements was that when you write a new work for the program, it has to be on a topic relating to Nova Scotia, something of historical or cultural significance. Given time and budgetary restraints, I decided that I was going to write my own text, and I had a bunch of ideas, but some of them had been done before, and for some of them there was just not enough source information available. I was searching for stories of Nova Scotia, thinking I might find a folk tale or something like that, and I came upon this news story where this woman who had been struck by her partner, and she had filed a complaint with the police. Apparently the officer had left her a voicemail and hadn’t hung up, or had accidentally redialed her, and on her voicemail you can hear the officers talking about the case in negative terms, implying that maybe the woman had lied, and one of them asks if she deserved to get hit. 

At first I thought, that’s a horrible thing, and sort of put it aside, but it kept nagging at me and so I decided to use it as the basis for the opera. But I didn’t want to co-opt the victim’s experience, and I didn’t want to put words and feelings into her. So I chose to set the story so that it’s someone like me who encounters this story and has a very, very intense personal reaction. 

KPL: I would hope that everyone who hears it would have a very intense personal reaction to it. 

JR: I know that it’s a difficult piece to watch. It was a difficult piece to write. I wrote the text, and honestly, it probably took me two to three times longer to write the text than the music. When I was writing it, I actually had nightmares. I felt very uncomfortable for the singer and I felt very vulnerable about putting this out there. When I was writing the piece, I talked to the singer I was writing it for, to make sure she was okay with it. And for her, even knowing what she was getting into, the rehearsal process was difficult. It’s not a piece for everybody. 

KPL: I think it’s a really important piece right now, in the climate of #metoo.

JR: It is very socially relevant right now. It’s not intended to be beautiful and to make people want to sing along with it; it’s intended to be difficult and to make audiences listen and think.

KPL: Trigger seems to me to tie in really well with the Four Songs for Lady Macbeth in that both the fictional and real Lady Macbeth was a woman brought up in a culture of violence, where violence is not only expected but accepted, and she has to deal with her role as someone who has to support that. In Shakespeare’s play, she’s expected to do horrific things. 

When I wrote the poems that became the Four Songs, I was thinking a lot of the various film portrayals of Lady Macbeth, and how sometimes she’s powerful and yet at other times her vulnerability shows even before her mad scene. The way you’ve set the texts really brings out those different aspects of her character, even though she’s not speaking at all. I didn’t even realize or think about the fact that I’d written songs for Lady Macbeth but none of them are actually for her to sing until you set them: they’re all songs that someone or something else is singing for her, to her, about her. I had to ask myself, why do I not want to inhabit Lady Macbeth? And I think it’s because she’s already been inhabited by Shakespeare, and so well and so vividly; no one wants to compete with that.

JR: In considering the Four Songs and the other pieces on the program, I was thinking that the cycle was a bit of an outlier because she’s not speaking for herself, but I realized that Trigger is the same thing. It’s a woman thinking about another woman, asking, “Is she going through the same things I am?” and so they do match.

KPL: Especially, for me, the “Cradle Carol for Lady Macbeth,” where the narrator is mourning with her, all of the losses she’s endured. That song is based on the Lady Macbeth of the play: she’s had children who are clearly not present, she’s gone through terrible grief, and the narrator is mourning alongside her. In “Lady, Maid, Invocation,” the narrator is Lady Macbeth’s waiting woman, who is fed up with the sleep-waking and the hand-washing, and thinks, I’m not sure what she did, but somehow she got power, and I want that power too, and maybe I can handle it better than she has and not go mad as part of it. So again, it’s someone watching her—a woman watching another woman and internalizing what she thinks she sees. 

JR: And in Marie Curie Learns to Swim, Irene is an amalgamation of Curie’s two real-life daughters, right? 

KPL: Yes. In the anecdote I read that inspired the libretto, Curie and her daughters Eve and Irene went to the beach for a holiday, and she asked them to teach her to swim. For the purposes of the opera, I combined them into Irene, who, as a scientist herself—she worked alongside Marie for years—could pose some of the questions and problems about their research that I wanted to bring up, that their work with radium would eventually kill both of them. Marie never really believed that it could do that, but Irene knew. 

JR: From what I’ve read, the real Irene was more fully on board, in her belief in radium, than how we see her in the opera.

KPL: She was, but she also did call out her mother on the problems she was realizing were caused by exposure to radium. At first I thought I wanted to have both Eve and Irene both in the opera—more roles for women!—but they would have been small roles, and by combining them into Irene, I could create a larger role for a singer. At one time I wasn’t even sure I wanted to give Pierre a singing role—I had this idea that he could be a non-vocal actor, that he would just walk across the stage with his bicycle, very slowly, looking pale and sad, being a ghost or Marie’s memory. But he was too important in Marie’s life not to give him a big chunk of text. 

JR: One of the things I find interesting is Marie Curie’s affair with Paul Langevin. It struck me because it stands out as—and this is how I set it—this little moment of romanticism that was very different from almost everything else in the opera. I wonder what led to that affair. 

KPL: The way you set it is perfect, because it does stand out as very different from her relationship with Pierre. She loved Pierre, and he pursued her for a long time and they worked together very well and they were happy together, but sometimes I do wonder if that marriage would have lasted their whole lives. Pierre got interested in spiritualism and other metaphysical things, and Marie was not into any of that. Paul Langevin had worked with both Pierre and Marie for a long time, and he and Marie seem to have had a truly blissful relationship. But his wife was angry and jealous and went to the press and threatened to kill herself if he didn’t leave Marie, and eventually he went back to her.

JR: It seems to me that the difference between that relationship and the relationships between Marie and Pierre, and Marie and Irene, is that there was love with Pierre and Irene, but it was through the science—facilitated by the science, communicated through the science—this is what bound them all together. With Paul Langevin, it was less that the love was coming from their mission and their research and their dedication, but a fleeting moment of very personal love.

KPL: I can’t say for certain, but it does seem that that was how it was. Langevin was also a researcher and worked with Curie, but I think it was the kind of thing where they worked together for years and years and then one day realized that they loved each other. It was more than Pierre’s letters and constant work; it was a spark.

JR: And yet Marie was still dedicated to the idea of radium saving the world.

KPL: She was. She really believed that it would heal everyone and fix everything.   

The performance will be held at Christ Church Cathedral’s Parish House on Saturday, April 28 at 7:30 pm.  Tickets can be purchased at: https://hartford-opera-theater.ticketleap.com/speaking-her-truth/.  If you are unable to attend but would like to support this project, donations can be made to Hartford Opera Theater or the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra who will be providing the instrumentalists for the performance.

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A Nobel Honor for Amy Beach

by Liane Curtis - December 9th, 2017

We are thrilled that the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Joana Carneiro, will be performing second movement, Alla Siciliana of Amy Beach’s “Gaelic” Symphony in E minor, Op. 32 (Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy Publications’ revised edition) for the Nobel Prize Awards Ceremony!

The Ceremony will take place on Sunday, Dec. 10 at 4:30 P.M. Central European Time (CET, which is 10:30 A.M. EST) and will be streamed live on the Nobel website.  The various events will be televised on a number of different channels around the world as well.

Please note that the Awards Ceremony is not the same as the Nobel Prize Concert on Dec. 8.  The Nobel Prize Awards Ceremony is where the laureates receive the Nobel Medal and Diploma from King Carl XVI Gustaf.

More information about the Nobel Prize events in both Stockholm, Sweden and Olso, Norway is here.  And for more information on the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, please visit their website We have been in contact with this orchestra for many months, since they performed the new edition of Beach’s Piano Concerto in August 2017 (the new edition of the Piano Concerto is available from Subito Music, although it is not yet listed in their catalog).  

More information on Amy Beach is here www.amybeach.org.  The new edition and the Amy Beach website are projects of Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy.

HAPPY 150th BIRTHDAY, AMY BEACH!!

by Chris Trotman - September 4th, 2017

As this year marks Amy Beach’s 150th birthday, much is being done in celebration about this remarkable woman’s life and work! Numerous orchestras, choral ensembles, chamber ensembles and soloists around the world have performed or will be performing works by the pioneering American composer/pianist this year and next in celebration.  There are new recordings available this year featuring her works and new scholarship has and will be written about her.  Additionally, new musical editions, both revised and published for the first time, are available by a variety of publishers, such as Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy Publications!

Here are a few highlights of what is happening for her birthday celebration –

1) The City of Boston will be declaring September 5th as Amy Beach Day! (a separate post will be made with more information!)

2) The upcoming Amy Beach/Teresa Carreño Conference at University of New Hampshire on Sept. 15 & 16

3) An article entitled “Amy Beach, a Pioneering American Composer, Turns 150” by musicologist William Robin featured in the NYTimes!

4) An article entitled “Amy Beach First Female Composer to Have Her Music Played by a Major Orchestra” by Troy Lennon, Classmate and History Editor of The Daily Telegraph in New South Wales, Australia!

5) A number of orchestras have and will be performing Beach’s monumental “Gaelic” Symphony in E minor, Op. 32 Bal Masqué, Op. 22, and others (some using Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy Publications’ revised editions) as well as choral ensembles performing her Grand Mass in E-flat, Op. 5! (Keep watching our news feed as we post about upcoming concerts!)

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: