Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

CD Review: Ruth Lomon, Shadowing

by Liane Curtis - May 18th, 2017

While we rarely publish CD reviews on our blog, we decided it was important to give coverage to a recent CD by composer Ruth Lomon.  Ruth’s music ranges from expressive and lyrical to electrifyingly engaging.  But not only that, Ruth has always been seriously dedicated to promoting the work of other women composers, through projects such as pioneering work (in the 1970s and 80s) with American Women Composers, Inc. (which in 1995 became part of the IAWM) of researching repertoire and organizing concerts and conferences, to her more recent work of orchestrating the Viola Sonata by Rebecca Clarke (info here, recording here).  —  Liane Curtis

 

RUTH LOMON: SHADOWING   (2017, Navona Records)

by Chris A. Trotman

This recent 2017 CD, Shadowing, features four works by acclaimed composer Ruth Lomon (b. 1930, Montréal).  They include her Shadowing piano quartet and three solo piano works, one of which is a set of variations; the other two consist of multiple movements.

An accomplished pianist herself, Ruth Lomon employs many diverse styles and challenging piano techniques, such as repeated notes and dampened strings, in the theme and ten variations of her solo piano work, The Sunflower Variations (my favorite work on the album).  The lyrical theme (which is based on her song The Sunflower), the eclectic rhythmic patterns and the colorful harmonic sonorities are progressively varied within each consecutive variation, and each section naturally continues to the next with the theme returning at the close.  Also, the work is dedicated to the album’s pianist, Eileen Hutchins, and it is quite satisfying and appropriate to hear the intricate and passionate masterpiece expertly performed by its dedicatee! The same care and skill in terms of clarity, phrasing and rhythmical nuance by Hutchins is clearly evident in the other piano performances, both solo and chamber.

The three movements of Lomon’s Shadowing piano quartet are essentially programmatic, that is, intended to evoke images or convey the impression of events.  According to the liner notes, she was influenced by the “magical passages of movement and color” found in the book Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.  “Shadowing” is explained as “having such a light touch as to move freely without being observed or manifesting only to become like smoke and then manifesting again.”  The second movement, with its seemingly random pizzicato notes, gives the impression of suspended time and space.  These impressions are vividly brought to life by Eileen Hutchins (piano), Katherine Winterstein (violin), Scott Woolweaver (viola) and Patrick Owen (cello).

Like the variations, Esquisses (Sketches) contains diverse motivic and rhythmic elements as well as exquisite tonal sonorities.  Also, like Shadowing and other works by Lomon, parts of the work contains programmatic elements, such as the tolling of bells in the opening movement Les Cloches (The Bells).

In Five Ceremonial Masks, Lomon stimulates the mind with images and events based on five Navaho masks used in the Yeibichai Night Chant ceremonies.  The album booklet includes a color photograph of the five buckskin masks.  Like The Sunflower Variations, Lomon uses advanced techniques within this work, such as having the performer dampen the strings and even performing glissandi directly on the strings with a timpani stick or leather mallet.  As a bonus, there is a second recording of this work by the composer!

These works are among Ruth Lomon’s finest solo and chamber works, and they wonderfully demonstrate her extensive palette of harmonic colors and her expressive rhythmic flexibility as well as reveal her sense of musical narrative and sound painting in depicting diverse images and events through program music.  Brava!

Audio clip here    Publisher’s page

–  Chris A. Trotman, M.M./M.L.I.S.
Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy
Director of Music Publications and
Editor-in-Chief of Amy Beach Project

 

 

Podcast Episode 02: “It’s about friggin’ time!” — Met Opera performs work composed by a woman

by Liane Curtis - January 1st, 2017

Happy New Year!  Without a doubt, one of 2016’s most exciting music events was the performance of Kaija Saariaho’s “L’Amour de Loin” at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.  Our very first podcast offered some insiders’ ideas about the production. Now, in our second podcast, composer Milica Paranosic goes “on the scene” at Lincoln Center (at the Dec. 24 matinee) to report on audience members’ ideas about and responses to the opera.  One theme that emerges is that opera-goers emphatically want to hear more than just the same old “standards” — there’s a real craving for new works!  Another frequent response is shock that the Met has not performed an opera by a woman in 113 years – one interviewee called it a “disgrace.”  Several opera-goers (including Paranosic herself) offer insightful views on Saariaho’s musical language, especially praising the use of orchestral color, and also commenting on the structure and pacing of the work.

The issue of Suanna Mälkki being only the fourth woman to ever conduct at the Met is also raised: “if the Met wanted to change that tomorrow, they would have many viable candidates.”

All in all, the response to the opera is overwhelmingly positive “This opera really takes you someplace. You are transported.”  And the ovation we hear at the end of the podcast definitely conveys that conclusion with great enthusiasm.

Podcast-journalist Milica Paranosic (right)

“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.

Figaro-Divorce

Featured Guest Blogger: Virginia Eskin reviews new book on Bauer Sisters

by Liane Curtis - September 10th, 2015

eskin_b&w72

Today’s Featured Guest Blogger is the renowned pianist, educator and radio journalist Virginia Eskin.  A Boston and New Hampshire resident, Eskin is a long-time champion of the works of American and European women composers.  She was the first to record many important works by composers including Amy Beach, Rebecca Clarke and Marion Bauer.  She created and hosted  the radio program “First Ladies of Music,” winner of the Clarion Award award in 2007 ; it was broadcast on over 100 public radio stations around the world.   She is adjunct professor at Keene State College, which in 2009 awarded her an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in recognition of her contributions to women’s music.   

We are honored to publish her review of the new book, 

Marion and Emilie Frances Bauer: From the Wild West to American Musical Modernism

By Susan E. Pickett.  Published by Lulu.com, 2014.  Available in paperback, hardcover, and Ebook.

This book is a wonderful read!  It tells the story of two of America’s outstanding musical women, Marion Eugénie Bauer (1885-1955) and her sister, Emilie Francis Bauer (1865-1926).  It also paints a vivid picture of the musical culture of their times, roughly 1860 to 1955.   It begins with a man named Jacques Bauer, a Jewish immigrant who moved to Walla Walla in the State of Washington, far away from the known cultural centers.  He married Julia Heyman, and they raised seven children, four girls and three boys.

The family’s story is a tutorial in tenacity and creative solutions.  When Mr. Bauer’s store was destroyed by an opium fire from a nearby building, he rebuilt and started all over again.  His wife Julia, though not enamored of where they were living, made the best of it.  Fluent in several languages, she taught at Whitman College in Walla Walla and imparted culture to her family as well as to the community.

The Northwest in the 1880’s was a barren place but the Bauer brood seems to have thrived nonetheless.  I have long admired Marion Bauer the composer, but I knew little of her family’s musical background.  The father, Jacques, played in a military band during the Indian Wars.   The oldest child Emilie was Marion’s first piano teacher.  So it appears that the family had powerful musical genes.

One of the important larger points that Pickett reminds us of, is that even today we (in the U.S.) suffer from an insecurity complex – anything European is still superior, and this goes back a long time.  The Bauer sisters were indefatigable in their efforts to introduce Modernism (and in the case of Marion, to help create American Modernism) long before it was chic, and they faced big obstacles in doing so.

Olin Downes, the well-known critic, and champion of Sibelius, would often review their concerts, and not always positively. But in one instance he concedes of Marion’s pieces that: “Whatever their particular strength…there is no padding, no treading water, no waiting … the fundamental conception is melodic, the thinking clear and logical, the sentiment sincere and direct.”  (p. 176, quotes from the New York Times).

Downes has it just right.  Marion Bauer’s compositions have been part of my musical life for many years, and I have marveled at her clarity of expression.   Many people know a few things about Marion Bauer, for instance that she and Ruth Crawford met at The MacDowell Colony and were inspired by the transcendent natural beauty around them.   Few musicians today are aware, however, of how original and innovative she was.  Long before choreographer Mark Morris thought to pair traditionally absolute genres of music with dance, Marion Bauer did it in 1951 with her Dance Sonata, insisting that a dancer be at the premiere. (Disclosure: I recorded it on my Marion Bauer CD issued by Albany Records).   I have found that her piano writing style is eminently playable and idiomatic  — and is still waiting to be discovered and brought more widely into the light — maybe by a famous Russian!

This book will provide a valuable service by introducing Marion Bauer to musicians who may be unfamiliar with her music.  Non-musicians will also find it highly readable and informative, providing a delightful window on a critical period in America’s musical history.  The Bauer sisters crossed paths with just about every important person of their times, and they seemed to have been accepted – adored, really– by a wide swath of the professional musicians, patrons and cognoscenti of the day.  However, their personal lives are largely mysteries, since the sisters mostly lived together and thus did not exchange letters during those times.  Pickett has had to knit together the skeins of their daily lives through other materials, and she makes thoughtful use of these sources.Bauer book

A lot of the book concerns letters and reviews, and much of it is incredibly entertaining.  Emilie Frances Bauer was mainly a critic, writing for journals including The Musical Courier in Chicago and especially for The Musical Leader, for which she served as Eastern Representative for many years.   Emilie Frances was a pistol when it came to speaking her mind and not sugar-coating any reaction – hardly!  For instance, she wrote that that Stravinsky was a poor choice for a soloist in his own Concerto.  How unusual to read an American woman’s first-hand “take” on musical figures as diverse as Debussy, Puccini, Arnold Schonberg, and Ruth Crawford.  Their candor may have cost the sisters some acceptance, because patrons and the public rarely want truth.

In the unfolding chapters of their lives, I did find some of the contradictions very curious and impossible to explain.  For instance, their parents are not buried close to each other.  Both sisters fibbed about their birth dates.  This was of course a common practice, and Pickett reasons that Marion began doing so when she began working with the Boulanger sisters. She may have felt she was so far behind them in opportunity and training, and that was why she started lying about her age.   You do get the sense that they were serious and dedicated professionals, but they could also pull your leg — and laugh in your face about it!   For instance, when asked to “account for the relative scarcity of women composers,”  Marion responded  “there are a great many more than you think.” She continued “Just think of us as composers and never call us lady composers”(page 163)  which reflects contemporary women like Ellen Taaffe Zwilich who has been known to bristle when her biology is mentioned.

This vivid account paints a picture of the lives of these creative and even brilliant sisters, from childhood up to young adulthood and eventually middle and mature years; throughout they both contributed mightily to the music scene.  The book is of great value not only to readers interested in the music and musical lives of the time, but also as an engaging  example of the intrepid and adventurous lives that  these two women led.   From their remote upbringings, they to moved the center of American cultural life and insisted on changing perception by being in the vanguard.

Monday Link Round Up: June 8

by sarah - June 8th, 2015

Some top stories from over the weekend:

We wrote about Judith Weir’s new song cycle last week, which premiered on Saturday.  The Guardian and The Telegraph each have reviews of the work which was decidedly well received.

You can also read a review of a new album of Weir’s choral music, titled Storm.

The Dallas Opera’s new initiative to train women conductors has chosen the first six participants out of 103 applications.  Read more here.

The New York Philharmonic has announced that Anna Thorvaldsdottir was named the Kravis Emerging Composer.  She is only the second composer in the relatively new program (founded in 2012), which will include a stipend and a commissioned work.  Learn more about Thorvaldsdottir on her website.

Maria Schneider’s Orchestra has a new album, and the New York Times has a review.

 

What did we miss?  What stories caught your eye this weekend?  Let us know in the comments!