…and a thought about works by women… a composer speaks

When Mozart and Beethoven wrote symphonies, most orchestras played premieres; the idea that an orchestra would play mostly the music of dead composers was an oddity. If one considers the amazing amount of great works commissioned and premiered by American orchestras in the first half of the 20th century and then consider how these same orchestras program now, one wonders if the next “Beethoven”would ever be performed. It’s doubtful. The ACO has made a point of looking for these extraordinary voices and the Playing It UnSafe series takes this a step further, by challenging us to write music that pushes our boundaries musically and conceptually.

ACO asked me to offer some thoughts about the ongoing “webversation.” Indeed there is a problem with the failure of orchestras to program works by women. The ACO has done an exemplary job of programming the music of women. On this upcoming Playing It UnSafe concert (March 4, 2011), two of the four composers represented are women (myself and Joan La Barbara.) When Miller Theater commissioned me in 2007 for a “Pocket Concerto”, I was one of twelve composers commissioned–two of us were women. I remember having a discussion with a fellow composer over a decade ago, in which I found myself listing a very large group of very fine women composers. Today that list is so long it’s hard to start..but to name some Shulamit Ran, Tania Leon, Victoria Bond, Augusta Read Thomas, Tamar Diesendruck, Chen Yi, Unsuk Chin, Stacy Garrop, the list goes on and on. Each of these composers, and nearly 100 more I could name, are exceptional in their own ways. It’s a matter of having the music directors know–and I mean really listen to–their work. That takes time and effort. It also takes commitment to find great new voices, and not program for the wrong reasons–i.e. who’s hot now, who will sell tickets etc. I do think that the considerations that go into programming do not always come from the best artistic concerns. As an artistic director myself (of the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble), it’s not difficult for me to find really GOOD music by living composers and women. I make it a point never to program more than one DWG on each of my programs and often I program more than half the concert with works by women because I know these works, they are included in my regular listening.

I think that’s what makes ACO’s programming exemplary. A phenomenal advisory board and artistic director, each one a composer and musician with vision and artistic curiosity–leading them to really listen to the music–which inevitably brings them to program music by a more diverse set of composers.

1 comment

  1. ENSOread
    February 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    BTW: To see more about the "Schwendinger" work SHADINGS, ACO UnSafe (March 4)go to:

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