Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

Stockton Symphony Plays Thea Musgrave

by sarah - September 20th, 2017

The Stockton Symphony is opening their 2017-2018 season on Saturday, September 23 with a great, and inclusive, program.  In addition to Tchaikovsky Brahms, and Berlioz, conductor Peter Jaffe has chosen to include Rainbow (1990) by Thea Musgrave.


Musgrave, who will be celebrating her 90th birthday in May, 2018, was born in Scotland but has lived and worked in the United States since 1972.  A student of Nadia Boulanger and Aaron Copland, she has written extensively for orchestra, as well as completed twelve operas.  Her operatic works often feature a historical woman as the central character, including Mary, Queen of Scots (1977) and Harriet, the Woman Called Moses (1985).  Her orchestral works demonstrate Musgrave’s interest in programmatic writing, as well as the inspiration she finds in the visual arts.  The composer said this about Rainbow:

Rainbow is soundscape in both a literal and a figurative sense. In nature, of course, a rainbow heralds the end of a storm and the reappearance of the sun. Rainbow begins with a quiet expressive oboe solo accompanied by a sustained A major chord (representing the sun), soon to be overwhelmed by the approaching storm which erupts violently in a fast tumultuous section.

Eventually the storm dies away and the rainbow appears; a lyrical theme accompanied by three major chords (the three primary colours of the spectrum: red, yellow, blue). When the rainbow fades, the sun blazes out; the A major chord accompanying the initial oboe melody, now played by all the violins. The brass adds a chorale of thanksgiving, bringing a mood of calm confident fulfillment.


Learn more about the upcoming performance at Stockton Symphony here – and learn more about Musgrave’s work through the Program Notes for this performance.



Women Composers of Scotland

by sarah - September 23rd, 2014

All of the recent news surrounding the Scottish vote for independence has the classical music community reflecting on the music and musicians that have come out of Scotland.  NPR’s Classical Music Blog, Deceptive Cadence, wrote up a quick review of some of their favorite composers and performers.  They included Judith Weir – and how could they not, as the new Master of the Queen’s Music.  But there are many more composers who deserve more than just a minute in the spotlight.


Sally Beamish (b. 1956), though born in London, currently lives and works in Scotland.  Her work for large and small ensembles has been commissioned widely and includes two symphonies, many concerti, chamber works, film scores, and music for theatre.  She has also served as composer in residence with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

Helen Grime (b. 1981) began studying music at age nine at the City of Edinburgh Music School and eventually continued on to the Royal College of Music.  Her composition teachers included Sally Beamish and Jennifer Martin.  In addition to her acclaimed career as a composer, Grime is also a highly accomplished oboist – performing as the soloist in the world premiere of her Oboe Concerto which written on commission for the Meadows Chamber Orchestra (Edinburgh) and which won a prize in the British Composer Awards.  Other works have been commissioned but the London Symphony Orchestra, and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Helen Hopekirk (1856-1945) was a pianist and composer and a contemporary of Amy Beach.  She made her American debut in 1883 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  In 1897 she accepted the invitation of George Chadwick to teach at the New England Conservatory, and lived in Boston for the rest of her life.  Her compositions, which included chamber works as well as orchestral pieces, often included Scottish folk melodies.

Anna Meredith (b. 1978) is a composer and performer of electronic and acoustic music.  She has been commissioned by the BBC Proms and served as composer in residence for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Thea Musgrave (b. 1928) was a student of Nadia Boulanger and Aaron Copland, and her compositions continue to receive international appeal and acclaim.  Musgrave has lived and worked in the United States since 1972.  Major works include compositions for orchestra and chamber ensembles, as well as many operas – including several that feature the lives of historic women (Mary, Queen of Scots and Harriet, the Woman called ‘Moses’).



Thea Musgrave: Britain’s Favorite Composer

by sarah - March 15th, 2014

Scottish-born Thea Musgrave (b. 1928) was a student of Nadia Boulanger and Aaron Copland, and during the course of her lifetime composed 12 operas (often featuring prominent female historical figures, like Harriet Tubman and Mary, Queen of Scots) and many orchestral works, often being commissioned.

She is active internationally, including spending many years working and teaching in the United States, but a favorite in Britain—as reported by Tom Service in February.

Of her compositional style, Service writes:

[Musgrave] says her compositional process often starts from finding a moment of craziness—such as a dream she had in which a clarinettist stood up in the middle of an orchestral work and began playing something completely different, an outburst of instrumental anarchy that inspired her acerbic but dramatic Concerto for Orchestra in 1967—and then she creates a context to justify and sustain it.

That doesn’t mean Musgrave’s music is about containment or restraint. Paradoxically, by controlling her craziness, she unleashes it all the more coherently and clearly for her listeners. You hear that most powerfully of all, perhaps, in her Turbulent Landscapes, based on paintings by JMW Turner and composed for the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2003, with which the BBCSO’s Total Immersion culminates. Its six movements create music of more than pictorial power, but also vibrant and violent poetic intensity.

Here are two examples—one of her vocal writing, and another of her orchestral.

Voices of Power and Protest:

Night Music for Chamber Orchestra:


New Choral Commissions!

by sarah - February 27th, 2013

In honor of their 25th anniversary season, the New York Virtuoso Singers have commissioned 25 new choral works from American composers. Thirteen of the new pieces will be premiered in NYC on March 3rd, including works by:

  • Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
  • Augusta Read Thomas
  • Thea Musgrave
  • Joan Tower

The other 12 commissioned works were premiered in October and included pieces by:

  • Jennifer Higdon
  • Shulamit Ran
  • Chen Yi

Here’s a review  of the October concert.  And we can all look forward to the recordings  that will be produced by Soundbrush Records.

Here’s video of the October performance of Chen Yi’s “Let’s Reach a New Height”:

You can buy tickets to the March 3rd concert read more about the project here.

Works by Women at the Proms

by sarah - August 30th, 2010

The 2010 Proms season is well under way in London, with only two weeks left before the final concert.  For those of us who are unable to make the trip across the pond, the BBC is broadcasting all of the concerts on Radio 3, and is also making the broadcasts available online for seven days after the original airing.

This year the works of seven women composers will be heard throughout the Proms season.

Past concerts include:

On August 14th the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra presented the world premiere of Bach Allegro by Alissa Firsova (b. 1986), a BBC commission.  Full details of the concert are here.

On August 21st Betty Olivero’s Neharot, Neharot received it’s UK Premiere.

However, there are several upcoming concerts to look forward to:

The works of Judith Weir (b. 1954)  and Thea Musgrave (b. 1928) will be heard together on September 4.  Weir’s All the Ends of the Earth was commissioned by the BBC for the BBC Singers and premiered in 1999; Musgrave’s Ithaca, also a BBC commission, will be receiving it’s world premiere.

In honor of Proms founder-conductor Henry Wood, the final concert of the 1910 season will be recreated almost exactly on September 5, including Mifanwy by Dorothy Forester (1884-1950), composer of popular song.

Dorothy Howell’s (1898-1982) symphonic poem Lamia will also be heard on September 5 in a separate concert continuing the celebration and remembrance of the work of Henry Wood.

British composer Tansy Davies (b. 1973) will be interviewed on September 8 before the world premiere of her new BBC commission, Wild Card.  More information can be found here.

Though the percentage of works by women is still substantially lacking (considering the sheer number of pieces hear throughout the Proms season), it is encouraging to recognize how many works by women heard were commissioned by the BBC.

You can find more general information about the Proms and how to listen in, in real time or past broadcasts, here.