Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

New Work by Libby Larsen performed by North State Symphony

by Liane Curtis - February 26th, 2017

Last night (Feb. 24) in Chico, CA, the North State Symphony gave an enthralling area premiere of a new work by composer Libby LarsenDancing Man Rhapsody was written for violinist Terri Baune (Concertmaster of the North State Symphony) and commissioned by the NSS together with several other California orchestras.  Baune was the Concertmaster of The Women’s Philharmonic and has known Larsen for many years.  Maestro Scott Seaton is in his second year as Music Director of the NSS, and is infusing a new energy into the orchestra with his innovative programming, and lively rapport with audiences and the musicians.  The program also featured another recent work, Schism, by David Biedenbender, as well as Rimsky-Korskaov’s Snow Maiden Suite and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 (Spring).

Dancing Man Rhapsody  has five sections, with descriptive titles, played without a break.  The opening (“Dancing Man”) is playful, with its startling offbeat finger-snaps and a swinging line in the solo.  Then “A Sudden Conga” breaks out with a Latin percussion riff, and violin and brass in vigorous exchanges.  A jazzy plucked string bass gives a continuous pulse to the next section, while the strings soar in searing melodies. Here, the intense lyricism infuses the music with a rich, building, philosophical introspection.  The warmth of the string timbre, and the musicality of the entire orchestra in shaping the long lines gave depth and insight to this central passage.

Composer Libby Larsen

Some spontaneous cadenza-like solos transition to a faster repeated rhythm, and a section (“Backwards in High Heels”) rife with quotations – the repeated notes become the “Chopsticks” theme, and there are references to children’s songs, Mozart, Gershwin (and others). The solo violin interjects with jazzy riffs, and as if (paradoxically) the quotations have unleashed the music, it builds with a wild, exhilarating energy.  The last section (“Dancin’ with Kravitz,” a reference to Funk musician Lenny Kravitz) cavorts and spirals with a stomping, fervent drive until ending with one final explosive violin solo.  Terry Baune was incandescent as the soloist in this demanding work, incorporating jazz, classical and rock idioms, and Maestro Seaton led the orchestra with great flexibility and power.

Dancing Man Rhapsody is an engaging work I want to hear again, so I hope it will be dancing across the country soon!

Choral Work by Ethel Smyth in U.S. Premiere—May 14-1

by Liane Curtis - May 12th, 2016

UPDATE: Read a review of the “The Prison”s American debut.

While composer Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) has some name recognition, one of her most important works, the concert-length cantata “The Prison”, has never been performed in the U.S.. An amazing NYC- choir, Cantori, will perform the work May 14 & 15.  Please help to spread the word!!

Smyth is beginning to achieve her deserved  acclaim for her music, acclaim that was denied in her lifetime and the decades following.  High-profile performances of her monumental works has brought about this sea-change, including last summer’s U.S.  premiere staged performance of her great opera, “The Wreckers,” and the  New York premiere of Smyth’s Mass (in Carnegie Hall) in 2013.  We are thrilled that this long-overdue performance of “The Prison” will be offered by this outstanding choral ensemble, Cantori, directed by Mark Shapiro (who led the 2013 Mass performance).   Composed in 1930, and based on a text by Smyth’s dear friend and lover, Henry Brewster, the work is a dialogue between a prisoner and his soul, portrayed by soprano and baritone soloists.   Smyth chose this phrase as a motto for the work:  “I am striving to release that which is divine within us, and to merge it in the universally divine.”

Brewster had died in 1908, and one of Smyth’s goals in setting his words to music, was to bring his writing to the attention of a wider audience.  The text is drawn from his philosophical book “The Prison”  and the phrase quoted above is by the Greek philosopher Plotinus.  Smyth underscores this connection with ancient Greece by quoting two Greek melodic fragments which had only recently been deciphered.  Seeking to avoid the religious associations of the genres of cantata or oratorio,  Smyth labelled the work as a “Symphony.”  Yet some authors have compared it to the genre of opera, since it includes dramatic elements,  including the dialogue by the two soloists, the active role by the chorus, and vivid, atmospheric instrumental tone-poems, along the lines of the ones that she wrote for “The Wreckers.”  smyth

While other works by Smyth have been recorded, “The Prison” has escaped attention so far.  How is it that this crowning work by this well-known composer has not previously been performed in the U.S.?   Is it because audiences and ensembles prefer the more light-weight fare, or the repetition of familiar warhorses?  We hope that this performance will offer a thoughtful and significant alternative that will be recognized and taken up soon by more ensembles.


“Figaro Gets a Divorce” — new opera a triumph in Wales!

by Liane Curtis - April 6th, 2016

Composer Elena Langer has achieved a brilliant success as she “completes” the Figaro “trilogy” for Welsh National Opera.  Complementing Mozart’s “Marriage” and Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Langer’s “Figaro Gets a Divorce” brings us the beloved characters down the road form the “Marriage”s happy ending, in this opera “which is part comedy, part political thriller.”

If you can get to Wales, the final performance is April 7!  Here is a small taste in  WNO’s official trailer. And here are some excerpts from the critical response, all of which make us hope that “Figaro Gets a Divorce” will be performed again soon!

From The Reviews Hub, by Barbara Michaels

A collaboration between the Russian-born composer Elena Langer and Welsh National Opera’s innovative and artistic (not to mention highly articulate) director David Pountney was always going to be exciting. ….  The time scale has moved on … to a period of revolution in the 1930s, with the looming presence of the secret police …  All good stuff dramatically. …

This is a fearless and innovative operatic piece…. Though described as a comedy and indeed the antics of the characters more than justify this description, this opera has dark undertones .  Langer’s music … represents the restlessness of the era….

From The Telegraph, by Rupert Christiansen — “a modern opera with emotional clout”

The angst of dislocation and dispossession becomes a uniting theme, charged with contemporary resonance, and this soon becomes that rare thing: a modern opera that exerts an immediate emotional impact.

An upcoming young Russian composer based in Britain … Elena Langer must of course take much of the credit: her music is lush and inventive. The vocal lines are gratifyingly expressive, the orchestration colourful  – sometimes excessively so, in its hectic urge to illustrate and emote. But that is a fault on the right side, because it radiates warmth and allows personality to shine through

… A score I want to hear again.

From The Independent, by Steph Power

The ending of Mozart’s near-flawless pre-French revolution opera buffa, The Marriage of Figaro, is classic happy ever after…. But what happens to Beaumarchais’ beloved characters once the honeymoon is over, through the upheavals of 1789 and beyond?

In the third installment of Welsh National Opera’s wonderfully adventurous ‘Figaro Forever’ season, Elena Langer’s Figaro Gets a Divorce   ….  Satirically-edged, dark but ultimately optimistic, Langer’s Divorce proves a brilliant follow-up to Mozart’s sparkling Marriage. 

Crucially, Langer’s opera stands alone and, … shows a rare, genuine affinity for drama and characterisation; the Figaro backstory adds poignancy but is not essential to the tale.

…Yet, like its ‘prequel’, the heart of Divorce is domestic, not political: how do members of a precarious family group cope with external dangers beyond their control? …[In a]  shadow-world reminiscent of Berg, Langer uses delicately intense scoring, lithe with cabaret rhythms and bristling accordion, to convey black humour, terror, ennui and heartache with touching humanity.


New Music This Weekend

by sarah - March 31st, 2016

We are looking forward to another great weekend of concerts from WPA Performance Grant winners!

On Friday, April 1 the American Composers OrchestraACO will present a concert of works inspired by Indian and Middle Eastern traditions.  Three World Premieres will be featured, including Avartan by Indian-American composer Reena Esmail.  Also being performed Friday is The Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Gity Razaz.


On Saturday, April 2 the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra (HICO) will present Ribbon Earth by contemporary American composer Kristin Kuster.  Learn more about the work here.

Upcoming Premieres in Seattle

by sarah - November 4th, 2015

SCOI am late in congratulating the Saratoga Chamber Orchestra of Whidbey Island in their performance of Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps and D’un sir triste.  We at WPA were so thrilled to help fund this performance of works by such a talented and, sadly, short lived composer though a 2014 Performance Grant.  The concert took place October 24 with conductor Anna Edwards leading the ensemble.

Listen to recordings of the Saratoga Orchestra here:

And in just a few days Dr. Edwards will lead the Seattle Collaborative
Seattle COOrchestra in another concert funded by a 2014 Performance Grant.  The concert on November 18, titled “Listen to the Girls”, will feature the West Coast Premiere of Leanna Primiani‘s Sirens and the World Premiere of Angelique Poteat‘s Listen to the Girls.

Here is the Seattle Collaborative Orchestra performing the world premiere of El Yunque by Victoria Bond in March:


Congratulations to both ensembles, and to the insightful leadership and fantastic programming of Anna Edwards!  Read more about Dr. Edwards and her work as a conductor and soloist here.