Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

Monday Link Round Up: August 6, 2018

by sarah - August 6th, 2018

News to start your week!

What better way to tackle the new week than a fantastic conversation?  Elizabeth Blair speaks with Emily Doolittle in the most recent episode of Listening to Ladies.  Learn more at the website, with lots of links and music, stream the episode through your favorite podcast app, or in the player below!

Calls for Participation are open for the 2019 Women Composers Festival of Hartford!  There are seeking compositions for the Ensemble-In-Residence, composers & performers for the annual Music Marathon, and presenters & performers for the Women Composers Forum.  Learn more at their website – and spread the word!

In a delightful change of programming, and response to national outcry at their predictable and stogy programming, The Philadelphia Orchestra has altered their plans for the 2018-2019 season to include works by two women composers.  They will perform the US Premiere of Perspectives by Stacey Brown in November, and Masquerade by Anna Clyne in June.  Read more at The Philadelphia Inquirer.  The story was also covered by NPR.

Podcaster (and pianist) Kai Talim let us know about his far-ranging conversation with conductor Mei-Ann Chen in a recent episode of Skip the Repeat.  We interviewed in Maestro Chen in 2013 when she was busy leading performances of music by Florence PriceMei-Ann Chen continues to build her conducting career with Asian and European engagements, as well as continuing as Music Director of the Chicago Sinfonietta. But, as she discusses with Kai Talim, her big professional breakthrough was her appointment as Musical Director of the Portland Youth Philharmonic.


And, from the blogosphere, we ran across Heather Roche’s report on the Royal Philharmonic Society’s conducting workshop for professional women musicians new to conducting.  Roche was pleased to be invited to apply, but taken aback that the workshop included no repertoire by female composers.  Her response was this post of five suggestions of pre-1950 works by women.  We applaud her ideas heartily, but also want to emphasize that all conducting classes — not just ones for women — should include music by women.  OK! Now we’d better get busy sending that message to directors of conducting classes!
We would love to know what you think!  Email at [email protected]

Dora Pejačević — another composer whose time has come?

by Liane Curtis - February 15th, 2018

With two upcoming performances of music by Dora Pejačević taking place in the next few weeks, we wonder if this remarkable but little-known composer, who was writing powerful orchestral works a century ago, is finally ready for rediscovery.  [Wondering how to pronounce Pejačević?] A recipient of our Performance Grant, the Willamette Falls Symphony, will be performing Pejačević’s brilliant Overture for Large Orchestra in d-minor, Op.49, this Sunday Feb. 18.   Performances in the US of Pejačević’s music are rare in the US, but Youtube offers the opportunity to hear the brash, colorful Overture, recorded in the composer’s homeland, Croatia, and also in Japan.

Dora Pejačević (1885-1923)

Pejačević was born in Hungary in 1885 into Croatian nobility (she is often called a Countess), and her upbringing and education were international and cosmopolitan. She studied music in Germany and Austria — all these countries were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, after all.   The Croatian Music Center has the best information on her; it is worth using Google translate to see the detailed information and also many audio links. Other works with orchestra include the Concert Fantasy (with piano), Piano Concerto, and the great Symphony in F-sharp minor, Op. 41, which she composed in the midst of World War I in 1916-17.  Pejačević  died at age 38 in 1923, from complications of childbirth.

This Symphony will be performed on March 11 and 12 by the Chicago Sinfonietta in a concert that may well be the U.S. premiere by a professional orchestra. The concert will also include music by Florence Price, and two new works, by Jennifer Higdon and Reena Esmail, commissioned by the Sinfonietta as part of ProjectW.

Pejačević’s Symphony was first recorded in 2011 on the adventurous CPO label; a review (here) describes the Symphony as “an effusively romantic affair — a rich tapestry spun from strands of long-breathed chromatically enhanced melody, luxuriant harmony, and opulent orchestration.”  The author references “the very complex cultural cross-pollination of Croatia’s history by Hungarian, Italian, and even Russian influences,” also mentioning Richard Strauss and even Sibelius.  Although composed in 1916-17, the symphony breaths the expansive air of the fin-de-siècle, and reminds us of the many composers who continued to write monumental works in the 20th century that built on the traditions of the 19th.

And considering how many recordings and performances we find of the music by her contemporaries (Mahler, Sibelius, Strauss, Rachmaninoff, etc.), we can agree with the reviewer who is incredulous that Pejačević has been so overlooked, and with still only a single recording of the Symphony, which is “urgently recommended.”

Maestro Mei-Ann Chen

So this is indeed ambitious and even visionary programming by the Chicago Sinfonietta, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and the seventh year with Music Director Mei-Ann Chen.  Back in 2013 we talked with Chen about the music of Florence Price, which she was busy conducting with four different orchestras — we are glad to see that she continues her inspired leadership!  We can hope that the Chicago Sinfonietta might record the Pejačević’s Symphony soon!




Featured Guest Blogger: Germaine Tailleferre’s Malicious Men

by Liane Curtis - August 11th, 2017

Timothy Diovanni

We are happy to welcome guest blogger Timothy Diovanni!  An undergraduate student in musicology at Columbia University, he is also a clarinetist. He writes extensively about New York City’s music scene as a columnist at The Columbia Lion and he has his own blog, howeyehearit.wordpress.com.  His fascinating essay on Germaine Tailleferre brings us rich insights by drawing from little-known sources including Tailleferre’s own memoir.  The quotes and pictures are from that memoir, collected and annotated by Frédéric Robert and published in the Revue internationale de musique francaise (1986) .

Germaine Tailleferre’s Malicious Men: The Harmful Effects of Tailleferre’s Father and Husbands on her Life and Career

Eighty-eight Augusts ago, in 1929, Germaine Tailleferre finished composing her Six chansons françaises.  Just two months prior, her husband had threatened to shoot her in the stomach.

…having learned that I was pregnant, he took suddenly to a fit of madness and asked me abruptly to agree to him firing a gunshot at my stomach in order to kill the child. He vowed that it would be nothing, that I would be treated afterwards without pain!  To my horror, he became more and more threatening; he had visibly lost all reason. My only duty was to my safety. I hid in the shrubbery, because this place was deserted and there were no neighbors. I had expected no help; I heard shots.  I reached in time the Grand Hôtel where one of Ralph’s friends took me under his protection. (from Tailleferre’s memoir,  begun in the 1960s and finished toward the end of her life, as quoted in Kiri Heel’s “Trauma and Recovery in Germaine Tailleferre’s Six chansons françaises.

Two days later, she suffered a miscarriage.  The songs can be recognized as Tailleferre’s response to this traumatic event, with titles from the set including “No faithfulness…” and “My husband defamed me.” These demonstrate how she was discontented with the institution of marriage. Through the composing process, Tailleferre reflected and recovered from her pain. (For a thorough analysis of how the songs functioned in Tailleferre’s life, see Heel’s “Trauma and Recovery”).

My goal is to consider how Tailleferre was impeded by the men closest to her, but first I will give a short synopsis of her career. Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983) was a French composer best known for her membership in Les Six, a group of musicians who presented concerts and wrote collaborative works in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Pieces from these years include her Ballade pour piano et orchestre (1920, audio link here) and Le Marchand d’oiseaux (1923, audio link here). The latter enjoyed great success: the Ballet Suédois staged it more often than any other ballet by a member of Les Six.

Tailleferre’s compositional palette developed post-1930 through her writings for new ensembles and genres. She crafted several operas, such as Il etait un petit Navire (1951) and Du style galant au style méchant (1955), a set of opera buffas. She experimented with serialism in 1957, in Sonate pour clarinette solo (audio link). In 1969, she met Desire Dondeyne, a wind band conductor, and began writing for his ensemble. Works included her Marche Militaire (1976) and Suite Divertimento (1977) (orchestrated by Dondeyne.) Tailleferre loved the wind ensemble’s sound. “If I had to redo my life, I would no longer write for another orchestration.” Other large-scale creations were her Cantate du Narcisse (1937-1942) for vocal soloists, choir, and orchestra, and Concerto de la fidelite for soprano and orchestra (1982).

Tailleferre produced these compelling works despite the personal abuse that she experienced.  While she got along well with the other members of Les Six, Tailleferre routinely suffered from terrible relationships with the men closest to her. Her father presented constant obstacles to her music education. He always disapproved of her studying and practicing, and once yelled at her that studying music was the same thing as being a prostitute. The harsh quote evidently stuck with Tailleferre, as she remembered it over 50 years later in her memoirs.

Her father’s critical outlook towards her music making exemplified how French society reacted to women performing in realms deemed inappropriate or unbecoming. To avoid his rage, Tailleferre had to practice when he was not around. She lived a furtive musical lifestyle, having to sneak out of her own home to attend the Paris Conservatoire. If it wasn’t for the support of her sisters or the “tenacity” of her mother who (Tailleferre recalled) made the “perilous decision” to send her to lessons, she would have never studied music.

Tailleferre’s father made progress challenging. Tailleferre wrote that she obtained a first prize in solfege with “a lot of difficulty” because of his terrorizing hostility. He calmed somewhat after his friends complimented him for his daughter’s award. However, he vowed to withhold financial support for her musical pursuits. To earn money for her studies, Tailleferre gave lessons to younger students. She was 14 years old.

After the heyday of Les Six in the early 1920s, Tailleferre went on several concert tours to America. On one trip in 1926, she met and married the caricaturist Ralph Barton. She was attracted by his “irresistible charm” and practically-flawless French accent. Married life, however, revealed Barton’s true disposition – one of selfishness. Because of his insomnia, Barton forced Tailleferre to compose on a silent keyboard. In so doing, he robbed Tailleferre of her opportunity to experience and create music.

Barton was jealous of the attention his composer wife received and obstructed her compositional career. When Charlie Chaplin, a friend of Barton’s, asked Tailleferre to travel to Hollywood to compose music for The Circus (1928), Barton refused to let Tailleferre go. He preferred that she remain in New York to cook French food for him. She later lamented, “I had forgotten that a young woman who was married, even to an American, was never free.”

 Barton’s commandeering even inhibited a potential performance by German orchestras. In a March 1926 correspondence, nine months before her marriage to Barton, Tailleferre wrote to Nicolas Slonimsky, Serge Koussevitzky’s secretary, that she intended to have her Ballade pour piano et orchestre (1920) shown to conductors Klemperer and Furtwängler. Having the Ballade played under the baton of these prominent German conductors would have no doubt positively influenced her career. However, a performance never materialized. It can be hypothesized that Barton’s control over Tailleferre and his discouragement of her writing dissuaded her from showing her music to these conductors. Tailleferre’s personal life therefore infringed upon her compositional success.

After ending her nightmarish marriage to Barton, Tailleferre resumed her musical life “with joy.” In 1930 she soloed in her Concerto pour piano et orchestre (1924) for a concert that marked the tenth anniversary of Les Six. She remarked that the night “was enough to erase the memory of my misfortunes.”

At the same time, she began to feel a strong desire to have a child. But, she did not want to lose the “freedom of a young woman;” she asserted that “I entirely refused marriage; the experience that I went through sufficed to discourage me forever.” Unfortunately for Tailleferre, she did not uphold her resolution. Two years later, in 1932, Tailleferre married Jean Lageat, a young French lawyer, “beautiful and romantic.”

The destructiveness of Tailleferre’s first marriage resumed in the second. Lageat beat both Tailleferre and their daughter — Françoise, born in 1931 — and threw ink all over her manuscripts. “I worked in tears, in the middle of scenes of incredible violence.”  

Lageat became ill with tuberculosis in 1934 and was forced to relocate to a sanatorium in Leysin, Switzerland. Tailleferre accompanied her husband to the hospital, in effect exiling herself from the Paris milieu in which she had established her career and artistic connections. The move therefore decreased her compositional opportunities.

Lageat became more miserable because of his sickness. “I worked in a dreadful atmosphere,” Tailleferre remembered. In an interview with Laura Mitgang, Tailleferre illustrated his behavior. While performing sections of Cantate du Narcisse (1937-1942), Tailleferre shouted “Germaine!” to mimic Lageat’s calls. Her recollection of Lageat’s interruptions demonstrated that he frequently disrupted her concentration. His annoyance became embedded in her memory of the composition.

Fortunately for Tailleferre, the marriage ended in divorce in the  early 1950s (around 1951; precise dating is difficult because of source discrepancies). Like Barton and Tailleferre’s father, Lageat negatively influenced Tailleferre’s compositional process and limited the number of commissions available to her. These men consistently obstructed Tailleferre’s career.

It was up to Tailleferre to overcome the challenges that these three presented. Her formidable and compelling output proves that she did so. ”I have had a very difficult life, you know. Only I do not like to talk about it. I write happy music as a release.”

It is tempting to wonder what would have happened to Tailleferre if she did not have these obstacles in her life. How many more compositional opportunities would she have pursued? If she did have more chances and invitations to write, would more musicians and audiences know her name today? How would Tailleferre’s well-being have changed if her father or husbands showed any kind of love, support, care or respect towards her? (not to mention faithfulness: both husbands cheated.)

The point of describing the impact that these men had on Tailleferre’s life is to show how her career was hindered. The obstacles that these figures presented was a gender-specific phenomenon, especially in Tailleferre’s diminished agency in marriage. On a broader level, researchers can trace how these same challenges hampered other female composers as well.

In this reflection, I hoped to demonstrate how a composer has real-life immediacy. Tailleferre is not just an eleven-letter name in a music history textbook, but rather she was a real, living woman who had to negotiate social pressures and overcome tremendous injustices.

In the next post, I will demonstrate how music critics and textbooks negatively shaped Tailleferre’s reception, from the time of her early performances to the present-day. Through the tarnished fog, I hope to reshape her image in order to demonstrate that she demands further study, recognition, and respect.




Followup on our 2016-17 Repertoire Report

by Liane Curtis - September 8th, 2016

 We’ve had pushback on some of the information in our blog post on the 2016-2017 orchestral repertoire of the top 21 U.S. orchestras.  A statement by musicologist and writer Steve Ledbetter (on his Facebook page), that these 14 orchestras “have totally turned their backs on women composers”  is not 100% correct (but pretty close!)  So I’d like to offer a little further contextualization.  A staff member from the LA Phil wrote us to point out that they have nine works by women on their program this season.  However, they are all on “new music” events that seem ghettoized from the mainstream orchestral concerts.

For instance, six works (by Veronika Krausas, Ana Prvacki, Michelle Lou, Liza Lim, Ellen Reid, Clara Ianotta) are included on the noon concert of Oct. 1. The details of this event are not listed under the main LAPhil calendar, instead it gets its own page .  It is great that the LAPhil is commissioning new music and making a space for innovative works, but it is certainly not an orchestra concert.  At the new music concert the evening of Oct. 1, a work by Kate Soper is included (performed by the LA Phil New Music Group – again, not an orchestra concert).
The LA Phil’s Reykjavík Festival (April 11-15) will include works by three women, Thurídur Jónsdóttir, Anna Þorvaldsdóttir and Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir.  The pieces by the latter two will actually be performed by the LA Phil.  However, there seems to be no way to include the concerts in a subscriber series.

Gustavo Dudamel -- not conducting ANY works by women at the L.A. Phil this season

Gustavo Dudamel — not conducting ANY works by women at the L.A. Phil this season

Lest someone wonder if the lack of works composed by women reflects an overall lack of programming by living (or recently living) composers, a glance at the rest of the season reveals a great variety of male living composers.  John Adams’ 70th birthday is being fêted, and that means a lot of his music is being performed, including two operas.
The other living composers are Gerald Barry, Steve Reich, Andrew Norman, James Matheson, Christopher Rouse, James MacMillan, Georg Friedrich Haas, Matthias Pinscher, Nico Muhly, John Adams, Steve Reich, and Thomas Adès.  Also included are works by the recently departed Pierre Boulez and Elliot Carter, and the not so recently departed Lou Harrison.  Also there are some Icelandic men and others included on new music concerts.

One pervasive tendency is this notion that “since we don’t know any music by women composers, there must not be any, so therefore we have to commission it.”  As Steve Ledbetter points out,

While it is always good to generate new compositions, it is equally important to recognize the existence of a large and growing repertory of fine works that deserve to be heard again. Orchestras are always looking for older works by male composers (even those who are still alive!) — but they don’t seem to search the repertory for fine works by women. … There really needs to be some consciousness-raising here!! So much excellent music is not being given a chance to be heard!

It is hard not conclude that there is, on the one hand, so much ignorance; and on the other, the biased insistence that if we don’t know this music, it must be because it isn’t any good.  In particular I would like to see orchestras explore works by women of the generation of Pierre Boulez, Elliot Carter, and Lou Harrison.  Why not start with Joanna Beyer, Elizabeth Maconchy and Ruth Schonthal?

*  * * * * * *  * * * * * *  * * * * * *  * * * * * *

As a footnote, an additional concert by The New York Phil deserves mention, an all-Kaija Saariaho concert being performed Oct. 13 and 14, at the Park Avenue Armory.  I believe this event was not included in our previous count because it is a special concert and tickets are sold by the venue, not the NYPhil website (and are not offered on any subscription series).  Esa-Pekka Salonen is conducting, as he also is on two of the Reykjavík concerts in LA.   I mention that to point out his far-flung influence in advocating for new music from Nordic countries (and including women).

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.