Saturday, September 2, 2017

women composers

A topic much explored by Lisa Irontongue, who's noted the peculiar tendency of major orchestras to under-program them. The relative dearth of important women composers historically is less due, I think, to neglect of their works - though there's that too - than to the barriers of access to the highly technical art of composition being then even higher for women than for men, so few ever got a chance to write anything, notable or not.

But in the last century education has become more equitable, and today interesting and important new composers are as likely to be women as men. Yet even in their contemporary music offerings, those major orchestras tend to book mostly men. They might throw in one piece by Kaija Saariaho and that's it.

My discoveries of contemporary women composers in concert have been in other venues, and over the years I've learned to look forward to seeing names of unfamiliar women on contemporary concert programs, because the chances are higher for women than for men that I'll find somebody really good. Whether it's because the women, being suppressed by other outlets, are more apt to be unknown gems, or simply that women are more likely to write in a style that appeals to me, I don't know.

But that's why I was so eager to hear the New Millennium Chamber Orchestra's concert of music all by women composers, and to take the chance to review it for the Daily Journal. And sure enough, I found a dandy composer new to me: Reena Esmail, whose The Blue Room you can hear in full here, in a performance more technically accomplished but perhaps less winning than I heard last weekend.

This also gives me a chance to link to Anne Midgette's top 35 20C/21C female composers, with plenty of sound clips. Many of those names are ones I've found in delighted discovery since I began reviewing: Caroline Shaw, Jennifer Higdon, Anna Clyne, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Gabriela Lena Frank, Valerie Coleman; and others I've known longer: Meredith Monk, Pauline Oliveros, Julia Wolfe, Lera Auerbach, Sofia Gubaidulina, Libby Larsen, Judith Weir, and the criminally forgotten Florence Price. Of course there are some on the list whose music has impressed me less, some I don't care for at all, and a full 8 I still hadn't heard of, but so it goes. Reena Esmail is not on the list; neither are two other of my favorite discoveries, Belinda Reynolds and Stefania de Kenessey; so there's always more work to be done.

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