Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

Monday Link Round Up: July 16, 2018

by sarah - July 16th, 2018

News and music to start your week!

The 2018 BBC Proms are off and running (ICYMI here are the statistics of women’s representation we put together).  Anna Meredith had a piece presented at First Night at the Proms and spoke to Fiona Maddocks about her work.  Read more at The Guardian.

In response to the #MeToo movement, professional music organizations in the UK are working to create a code of conduct to eradicate sexual harassment, bullying, and discrimination.  A joint initiative between the Musicians Union and Incorporated Society of Musicians, you can read more at The Stage.

NBC Nightly News took on the topic of diversity in American Orchestras.  How great to have national attention on this pervasive problem!  Check out the NBC website for the article, and video clip, including interviews with many musicians.

National Sawdust (the innovative music venue in Brooklyn) explores the ways in which Twitter emboldens all trolls – in particular in attacks against women composers, performers, and scholars. The catalyst for the article was a confrontation by Shelley Washington and Gemma Peacocke with a troll who disparaged the role of women composers. John Hong speaks with both Washington and Peacocke.

composer Missy Mazzoli

On July 2 we shared the exciting news that Missy Mazzoli was named Composer In Residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A few days later, Mazzoli spoke to WRTI about the importance of mentoring young women composers.  Read the conversation here.

The Dream Unfinished, the amazing activist orchestra, is building up to the finale of their SANCTUARY season.  The July 27 concert  features music by Tania Leon, George Walker, Vijay Iyer, Kareem Roustom and Huang Ruo. Speakers from NYC’s immigrant rights community will share their stories.



NPR on Female Composers At The Symphony (and the lack thereof)

by Liane Curtis - June 20th, 2018

As Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy celebrates the 10th anniversary of our founding, and continues to celebrate the important work of The Women’s Philharmonic, who performed and promoted music by women throughout the 23 years of their existence (1981-2004) we are always happy to hear media attention being given to our central issue, of women composers, and their under-representation in the concert hall.

Thus, we are excited to share this story by NPR’s Tom Huizinga on the scarcity of female composers in classical music programming.  This is a great story, with interview clips and music excerpts from a range of important living female composers.  But I’d like to take issue with Jessie Rosen, President of the League of American Orchestras, for his statement: “If you go back in time, this was not a viable career for a woman to become a composer. And so, you have a canon that, by definition, does not have a lot of women composers in it.”  Huizinga then continues “And so, you end up with tons of Mozart and Beethoven.”

Well, as Jennifer Higdon so aptly puts it “Heck, you know what? Half of humanity is made up of women.” And this has always been the case.  Women have often lacked  education, encouragement, and opportunities — but nevertheless there have ALWAYS been women who found ways around these obstacles and composed music.  And in fact, there were women who where hugely successful in their own time — Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and Amy Beach are two very different examples — who were later cut out of history because ignorant people said women back then didn’t write music because they couldn’t have a career doing it.

Moreover, look at the many canonic MALE composers who did NOT make a living a living by composing — from Vivaldi the priest to Charles Ives the insurance executive —  here and here are listicles of more.

The problem is not that there weren’t plenty of women composers, the problem is because “composer” has so long been defined as male, that people therefore find it hard imagine a musical landscape that is different from the one that the grew up with (one enshrined with great men and only men).  As  describes in the Frankfurter Allgemeinen, the classical music world has yet to make a serious effort to dismantle the cult of male genius (update: English translation of the article is here.)



Death of Rae Linda Brown, pioneering Florence Price Scholar

by Liane Curtis - August 23rd, 2017

With great sadness, Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy mourns the passing of Dr. Rae Linda Brown, who died following a brief illness of sarcoma (a rare cancer of the connective tissue). A musicologist, professor, university administrator, and past President of the Society for American Music, we remember Dr. Brown especially for her groundbreaking scholarship on composer Florence Price.

While a graduate student, Brown discovered some manuscripts of Florence Price’s music in the Yale University library.  Brown went on to complete her Ph.D. dissertation on Price, which was the first work of extensive scholarship on the composer.  Brown also authored a wide range of valuable work that brought this remarkable composer to public notice.  She worked with The Women’s Philharmonic as part of the recording of 2001, of Price’s The Oak, Mississippi River; Symphony No. 3.  This was the first commercial recording of any of Price’s orchestral music.  Brown went on to publish two of Price’s Symphonies with A-R Editions — their scholarly introductions, and excerpts of the music are available on Google books.

She also edited Price’s Piano Sonata in E minor for G. Schirmer, and wrote extensively on Price, including this article on the Piano Concerto in One Movement  in the journal American Music.

Here is a short video where Brown talks a bit about her work on Price.

Most recently, Brown was featured in the 2015 documentary The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Pricewhich has been broadcast in the US on PBS and can be purchased from The University of Arkansas Press.

As revealed in this film, more music by Price has recently been discovered, emphasizing that our understanding of her important output is still in its very early stages, as more music is brought to light and made available to musicians and listeners.  The best tribute to Prof. Brown’s work is to perform, celebrate, explore and experince the vast riches of Florence Price’s music.

Celebrating Diversity in Michigan

by sarah - November 11th, 2016

It’s been a rough week.  But I’m glad to know that we can take solace in music to reflect, regroup, be reminded of the value of diversity in the world around us, and move forward.  Lucky for us, there is a great opportunity to do just that this weekend!

index3On Saturday, November 12 the Michigan Philharmonic, under the direction of Nan Washburn, will be performing Julia Perry‘s Short Piece for Orchestra.  The work, which was first premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1965 is rarely heard, and shouldn’t be missed!

Perry was one of the first African American composers to gain acclaim – and establish a career in composition.  Her music was largely neoclassical, but also included experimentation with dissonances.

PerryShe won two Guggenheim fellowships and studied with Nadia Boulanger (who, reportedly, felt that she didn’t need further instruction).  Her works, which ranged from chamber pieces to twelve symphonies, were performed but not recorded during her lifetime.

After suffering a stroke in 1971 Perry, determined to continue with her work, taught herself how to write with her left hand.  She died in 1979 at the age of 55.  We can only imagine what other works she may have completed in later years.

Information and tickets for tomorrow’s concert can be found here.  If you can’t make it to Michigan, have a listen below:

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.