Reported by Alice Trimmer
Over the years, women composers of concert music have been neglected when it comes to the usual means of recognition: concert programming, inclusion in music histories, textbooks, and general scholarly acknowledgements. With very few exceptions, they have been mostly acknowledged in footnotes or causal mentions, as wives or sisters of famous composers who were their husbands (Clara and Robert Schumann) or brothers (Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn).
In recent decades, more efforts have been made to program works by women composers, partly out of social pressures, and partly because of the outstanding achievements of the composers themselves—for example, the awarding of the 1983 Pulitzer prize to Ellen Taaffe Zwilich for her “Symphony No. 1: Three Movements for Orchestra.” Although substantial gains have been made, the percentage of works by women composers programmed on concerts remains appallingly small, somewhere between 1 and 3%.
This situation is certainly not for lack of superb music, as was demonstrated so forcefully on January 24, 2018 at the “Women in Music” concert, Bruno Walter Auditorium, Lincoln Center. Murray Hill Institute was honored to support this event, which was initiated by Anna Tonna, mezzo soprano, and Isabel Pérez Dobarro, pianist. Anna and Isabel met at the Música en Compostela Festival (Spain) in the summer of 2015 and created a project which they titled “Women in Music/Mujeres en Música.” The idea behind this project is to showcase works by living women composers, at the same time opening opportunities for discussions and cultural exchanges around the globe. Through support from New York Women Composers, Inc. as well as Asociación de Mujeres en la Música (Spain), two concerts were planned, one which took place in Madrid in the spring of 2017 and the other in New York on January 24, 2018.
The New York concert had the added collaboration of the New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers program and Young Women Social Entrepreneurs. Anna and Isabel were joined by guest artists Nan-Maro Babakhanian, mezzo soprano, and 2Flutes: Pamela Sklar and Laura Falzon. The music spanned a wide range of contemporary compositional styles with works by Alexa Babakhanian, Consuelo Díez, Mary Ann Joyce, Diana Pérez Custodio, Marga Richter, Rosa María Rodríguez Hernández, Pamela Sklar, and Mercedes Zavala. Thanks to the innovative programming of Anna and Isabel, each song and instrumental work on the program was based on the texts of either Shakespeare or Cervantes, thus incorporating a literary connection as an additional point of interest.
The concert began with two works for flute and piano composed by high school women who have studied composition through the New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers (VYC) program. Jon Deak, founder of VYC, explained its inception and goals. The program gives public school students an opportunity to compose their own music. Madeline Schmidt and Cassandra Stevens, the two students whose music was performed that evening, gave brief descriptions of their works. It is clear that the future of women composers is a bright one indeed.
The audience included guests from the Rosedale Achievement Center, a supplementary educational center in the Bronx that offers academic tutoring, leadership training, and music lessons to young women of middle school and high school age. Murray Hill Institute has been in partnership with Rosedale since MHI’s beginnings, and we were happy that some of the students were able to join us for the evening.
The Women in Music concert had as its theme “A Musical Conversation between the United States and Spain.” The evening brought together many positive themes—achievements of multiple generations, the ties between great literature from the past and contemporary music, and most of all, an opportunity to hear such dynamic and powerful works, all written by women.
The following video and photos are by Aisha Kamara.