A Small Selection of Music by Women
On March 21, musicians and music lovers who desired more diverse orchestral programming took to Twitter with the hashtag #HearAllComposers, to encourage symphony orchestras to program music by non-male and non-white composers. The hashtag came largely from the efforts of Emma O’Halloran, Annika Socolofsky, Amanda Feery, and Finola Merivale, all young composers frustrated with the overwhelming imbalance between music by white males and music by literally everyone else that gets chosen for programming. One or two pieces by women in an orchestra’s full season isn’t much, but going by the statistics Brian Lauritzen has been tweeting out every time an American symphony orchestra announces its season, that’s what we’ll hear if we’re lucky. Performances of music by nonwhite composers are similarly rare.A template for posting to the hashtag circulated on Twitter: include a piece, include a photograph of the composer, and tag the major orchestras and organizations listed in the photo. Jeff Brown and I joined in with some contributions, and I compiled playlists on YouTube and SoundCloud of everyone’s submissions to the hashtag. A longer article incorporating #HearAllComposers will be forthcoming, but for now, we hope you enjoy this playlist of some music posted throughout the day.—Zoë Madonna
Annika Socolofsky – “Krekhts”; University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra
Socolofsky, a DMA candidate in composition at Princeton University, is one of the four leaders of the #HearAllComposers Twitter Campaign. “Krekhts” takes the Great Highland Bagpipe into both orchestral and traditional Jewish music, drawing deep on the improvisational worship songs called niggunim.
Errollyn Wallen – Cello Concerto (Excerpt); Matthew Sharp (Cello), Nicholas Kok (Conductor), Orchestra X
Errollyn Wallen was born in Belize and trained as a dancer before studying composition in England. In 1998, she became the first black woman to have one of her compositions played at the BBC Proms. Her intoxicating, flowing Cello Concerto was recently released on a full album of her works on NMC Records.
Ann Cleare – “the square of yellow light that is your window”; Ensemble Nikel
Cleare teaches composition at the University of York. In this piece, airy saxophone multiphonics are interrupted by intrusive electric guitar writing that expertly manipulates your sense of expectation and surprise. And what is that fabulous combination timbre she uses in the work’s final 10 seconds?
Rebecca Saunders – “Void”; Christian Dierstein and Dirk Rothbrust (Percussion), Peter Rundel (Conductor), WDR Symphony Orchestra
Berlin-based composer Saunders is a fixed presence on the European scene, but is deserving of far more attention from mainstream U.S. ensembles. In “Void,” the sounds seem to physically move. (In another work of hers, the orchestra musicians lean forward while playing a loud unisono, making you hear a change in pitch where there is none.) In an interview with VAN, she said, classical music “is pretty much a patriarchal art form—conservative. We’re talking whisky, cigars, bald patches, beards.”
Unsuk Chin – Double Concerto; Stefan Asbury (Conductor), London Sinfonietta
Chin, a Korean-born composer, is another Berlin resident. “This iridescence, where does it come from?” wrote Paul Griffiths about her in 2012, and iridescence is the right word. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a lustrous rainbowlike play of color”—an ideal way to describe this Double Concerto.
Nina C. Young – “Spero Lucem”; Yoonhee Lee (Violin), Tim Hansson (Viola) Oskari Holopainen (Cello), Eirik Fosstveit (Piano)
The most striking moment of Young’s piano quartet is the opening: low string notes, tapping, an upward glissando, followed by resonating piano strings. What follow are sounds of an unostentatious beauty. Young is currently teaching at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Elena Ruehr – “O’Keeffe Images: Ladder to the Moon”; Gil Rose (Conductor), Boston Modern Orchestra Project
This MIT professor writes vivid, colorful orchestral music, frequently drawing creative inspiration from literature and art. “Sky Above Clouds,” the second movement in her “O’Keeffe Images,” entrances with its colorful ostinato, depth, and movement.
Hanna Benn – “Where Springs Not Fail”; Anthony Spain (Conductor), Northwest Symphony Orchestra
Hanna Benn is a chameleonic musician who has sang and played the guitar in art-rock band Pollens and collaborated with trip-hopper Son Lux. Her “Where Springs Not Fail” is a lush and melancholy sojourn for string orchestra, commissioned by the Northwest Symphony Orchestra.
Betsy Jolas – “Iliade l’Amour”; Marina Ruiz, Yi Li, Adèle Charvet, Aliénor Feix, Hedvig Haugerud, Blaise Rantoanina, Jean-François Marras, Igor Bouin, GuiLhem Worms (Soloists), Antoine Gindt (Director), David Reiland (Conductor), Orchestre du Conservatoire de Paris
“The music of women composers can have a certain sensibility that men will never grasp or achieve,” said Jolas in an interview for VAN’s first issue. What that sensibility could be is hard to say. What’s for sure is that her music has a uniquely gorgeous fluency and flow.
Jocelyn Morlock – “Cobalt”; Jonathan Crow, Karl Stobb, National Arts Centre Orchestra
Morlock, a Juno Award nominee, is the first female composer-in-residence in the history of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. She’s also a bird enthusiast, and in “Cobalt,” expansive orchestral lines flock together like circling swallows, drawing the ear ever deeper into a vortex of harmony. ¶