Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

Amy Beach’s European Successes Recalled by Musical America; article of 100 years ago reprinted

by Liane Curtis - October 25th, 2014

Beach-headlineThe noted publication Musical America recalled Amy Beach’s travels and concertizing a century ago, by reprinting an article from October 17, 1914 that interviewed the composer and gave details of her trip.

Musical America offered links to a scanned version of the original article (PDF), and also to a reprinting of the text.  Written during Beach’s shipboard return following several years in Europe, it notes her successful performances, both as a pianist, and also by ensembles, including major orchestras.  The author also gives us a sense of Beach’s personality, for instance, when Beach is asked if she plans to write an opera, “Her face lit up. It is a most expressive one, by the way, and her blue eyes talk out of it very winningly.”   And the origins of Beach’s “hit” song, “The Year’s At The Spring,” are recounted. Enjoy!Beach-the-years


Good News for Marin Alsop

by sarah - June 1st, 2009

Baltimore Sun just announced that Marin Alsop’s contract with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has been extended until “at least” 2015!

The article, linked here, expresses the excitement that conductor and musicians felt at the development. Perhaps a quote from the conductor says it best, “I’m very, very happy about it.” And I think Alsop’s quote is also representative of the those of us who all-too-clearly remember the resistance that was first felt just three years ago when she was originally appointed to the position. Alsop commented further on her personal website:

My work so far with the Baltimore Symphony has been the thrill of a lifetime. Our progress over the past two seasons is the epitome of collaboration. The dedication and talent of the BSO musicians, the business oversight and support from the board, the vision and unbridled energy from our management and staff, and the community’s enthusiasm and imagination for music—it has taken all of these ingredients to bring the BSO to this level of music-making. I cannot imagine leading a more exciting and progressive orchestra.

Alsop’s work at the Baltimore Symphony is well documented, and highly praised. In her time as music director she has led the organization of an after-school program for children, significantly increased attendance at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, and led the orchestra in recording projects – the first in nearly ten years. According to the feature article Alsop has future hopes, (not in-the-works plans) of a summer series.

But the work of this conductor hardly begins and ends in Maryland. Her devotion to education outreach also extends to a series at NPR where she discusses composers and their works. Her latest piece was on none other than Jennifer Higdon and the friendship that the two women have shared throughout their careers. Though they do approach the dreaded “woman conductor/composer” question, if only to get it out of the way, the 12 minute piece, which was inspired by the June 4th performance of Higdon’s Violin Concerto (performed by Hilary Hahn), does handle the questions with grace. And, as seems to always be the case, they end with more questions than what they began with. I do recommend giving the story a listen-to, if only to become more acquainted with Higdon’s work as they shared samples of her Percussion Concerto, Soprano Sax Concerto, and Blue Cathedral. (Fuller versions are also available through the NPR website.)

So we can be glad for the continued work of Marin Alsop being recognized and continued. And we can also be glad for Marin Alsop conducting a work by Jennifer Higdon and performed by Hilary Hahn. We can’t deny that we’re moving forward! I’m sure we can all look forward to more great things from Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony in the years to come!

Photo from: http://www.marinalsop.com/photos.php?img=3

Death of a Trailblazer

by sarah - January 23rd, 2009

The classical music world just experienced the loss of one of the most recognized women conductors of the 20th century. Veronika Dudarova was an internationally recognized conductor who led Moscow orchestras for sixty years. First appointed to the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra in 1947, she became the ensemble’s chief conductor and artistic director in 1960. After leaving the MSSO in 1989 she founded and led the Symphony Orchestra of Russia in 1991 (at the age of 74), leading the ensemble until her death last week at age 92.

News of her death has traveled throughout the music world via the Associated Press, but is notably absent from the New York Times.

Dudarova was also featured in a Swedish documentary filmed in 1987 honoring women conductors entitled Dirigenterna. (Also featured in the film were Victoria Bond, Joann Falletta, Camilla Kolchinsky, Ortrud Mann, and Kerstin Nerre. New York Times overview)

More information on Dudarova can be found at the website for the Symphony Orchestra of Russia.

Discussion on NPR

by sarah - November 28th, 2008

In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, NPR music commentator Miles Hoffman did a report on musical families for Morning Edition. The light piece, lasting about seven minutes, discussed the work of a few of the best known (or “most likely to be known”) women that were connected to the now seemingly legendary men.

Among the relatives mentioned were Maria Anna Mozart (who Wolfgang called Nannerl), Fanny Mendelssohn, and Clara Schumann. I found it unfortunate that in the discussion of the Bach family the only mention of Bach’s wives was the birth of twenty children – there was no reference to the musicianship or compositions of Anna Magdalena.

Fanny Mendelssohn’s Character Piece No. 2 for Piano and Clara Schumann’s Piano Trio in G Minor – Allegro Moderato were both heard in part during the broadcast, which can be heard here.

The seven minutes of light conversation did briefly address some of the obstacles that Fanny Mendelssohn faced as a composer from her family and the larger society, as well as the virtuosic abilities of Maria Anna Mozart and Clara Schumann. What they did not recognize was that this was the tip of a very large iceberg…

I also find it unfortunate that these talented women continue to be recognized primarily by their connection to more famous and (unfortunately) more respected men. I personally feel that the story, which was intended to be a fluff piece for the holiday, treated the few women mentioned as oddities, refusing to recognize the tradition and talent that continues to this day. But perhaps I am taking all of this a bit too personally – have a listen for yourself!

The Verdict is In!

by sarah - November 21st, 2008

There has been a recent buzz about the list of the world’s top symphonies that Gramophone has put together. It seems to have taken many classical music enthusiasts by surprise that the top American orchestra (listed as number five) is the Chicago Symphony. The Cleveland Orchestra is listed as number seven.

The story and complete listings can be found via NPR here.

The rankings were determined after polling music critics from the United States, Europe and Asia who were asked to list their top 20 orchestras. James Inverne, editor for U.S. Gramophone suggests that the difference between Chicago and the rest of the U.S. Symphonies was their distinct sound – particularly the strength of the brass. Others have also credited Chicago with their excellent financial status, which is a rarity in most orchestras.

In my own research (that I have of about before, if only briefly) concerning the recent repertoire of the top American orchestras, the Chicago Symphony has stood out quite clearly from the rest. In fact, Chicago has received a gold star in my book by being the orchestra with the best track record for performing works by women composers – a total of 13 in the past 7 seasons, including works by Clara Schumann and Lili Boulanger, as well as commissioned works from Augusta Read Thomas (who was composer in residence from 1997-2006) and Melinda Wagner. This is a phenomenal record considering that most of the other ensembles I have looked at only report performing half the number of works by women, and of they consist almost exclusively of works written in the very recent past.

The Cleveland Orchestra, which was listed as number seven in the list of top 20, ranks just behind Chicago in the number of works by women performed in their recent seasons, totaling 10, though all recent compositions.

Though the factors that have led to the rankings appear to be largely subjective to personal opinion by music critics, I would like to think that these critics (at least in the United States) were also appreciative of varied repertoire. Even if it is only a happy coincidence, it is certainly worth noting.