Calling female musicians, composers and conductors to take part in the Meet the Artist interview series

 

Established in 2012 by blogger Frances Wilson (“The Cross-Eyed Pianist”), Meet the Artist is a series of interviews in which musicians, conductors and composers discuss aspects of their creative lives, including inspirations, influences, repertoire, performance, recording, significant teachers and more. The interviews offer revealing insights into the musician’s working life and each one provides advice to young or aspiring musicians.

The interview takes the form of a short questionnaire. Originally hosted entirely on the The Cross-Eyed Pianist site, the series has grown in popularity to such an extent that it now has its own dedicated website.

If you would like to take part in the Meet the Artist series, please download an interview questionnaire and return it to Frances Wilson (contact details on questionnaire).

Meet the Artist questionnaire – musician/performer

Meet the Artist questionnaire – Composer

Meet the Artist questionnaire – Conductor

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

At the age of 5, having heard classical music on the radio and piano lessons at my mother’s school, I asked my parents if I could have piano lessons. After piano lessons started I decided I wanted to be a concert pianist and a few years later I began writing pieces for myself.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Contemporary dance. People, songs, dance and the landscapes of my native Jamaica. The music of Bela Bartok. Later also the music of J S Bach, Birtwistle, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Schoenberg, Robert Cohan.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

Two things: issues of race and gender in as much as they have defined me in the minds of others.

Not having had what is considered a thorough and proper university education as a composer.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

Deadlines; they are as energising as they are terrifying.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

Finding out and knowing about the special strengths of particular soloists or groups. I found that working with, for instance, Mary Plazas whilst writing my opera was a big influence in how that role was shaped. Ditto writing my first violin concerto for my violinist husband, Thomas Bowes.

Of which works are you most proud?

‘Snow White’ as it was my first piece for that size of orchestra. Far from being intimidated I felt instantly at home.

My three String Quartets I can now look back on with great pride. I managed three quite substantial pieces I feel, and that they are all very different from each other pleases me especially now that they have been recorded.

The Opera ‘Letters of a Love Betrayed’ because it so clearly moved people when they saw and heard it.

I was also proud of ‘Arise, Athena!’ which I wrote for the last night of the BBC Proms.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I have a language which ranges from things clearly derived from my Jamaican childhood and heritage through to the sort of sounds people more often associate with modernism. There always seems to be a sliding scale of the proportions of these two extremities. This has been a problem for some people – even me – at times. But I’m now quite relaxed about this. I write to be me.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

There are those I’ve admired from afar; composers Schoenberg, Berg, Bartok, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Messiaen, JS Bach; pianists Martha Agerich, Sviatoslav Richter, conductors Kleiber and Furtwangler amongst others.

And then those who I’ve actually had the pleasure of hearing or getting to know or working with – Jeremy Huw Williams, Mary Plazas, Thomas Bowes, Joseph Swensen, Joanna MacGregor, Peter Ash, Harrison Birtwistle to name a few.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Sensing an audience has been moved or thrilled or for whom one senses time has stood still during a performance. All three at once is good.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Be serious about what you are doing. Be persistent, dedicated, disciplined and passionate. Be yourself – that’s the tricky bit.

What is your most treasured possession?

My home.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Composing, playing. Relaxing with my hubby and friends.

 

London’s premiere youth orchestra, the London Schools Symphony Orchestra, will mark Eleanor Alberga’s 70th birthday with a performance of her musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at London’s Barbican Hall on 23 September. More information


With her 2015 Last Night of the Proms opener ARISE ATHENA! Eleanor Alberga cemented a reputation as a composer of international stature.  Performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Chorus and conducted by Marin Alsop, the work was heard and seen by millions.

Her music is not easy to pigeon-hole.  The musical language of her opera LETTERS OF A LOVE BETRAYED (2009), premiered at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury stage, has drawn comparisons with Berg’s Wozzeck and Debussy’s Pelleas, while her lighter works draw more obviously on her Jamaican heritage and time as a singer with the Jamaican Folk Singers and as a member of an African Dance company.  But the emotional range of her language, her structural clarity and a fabulously assured technique as an orchestrator have always drawn high praise.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Alberga decided at the age of five to be a concert pianist, though five years later she was already composing works for the piano.

Read more

eleanoralberga.com

guest post by Elizabeth de Brito

Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, the three composers every truly cultured music student knows (as well as their scales and arpeggios of course). Together they are known as the First Viennese School.

Now classical music history books and the enormous performance bias (one-third of all classical performances are either of Mozart or Beethoven) make it seem that these were the only three composers who wrote anything worthwhile in the Classical era.

This is so far from the case. Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were part of a huge music scene in Vienna. Actually these three composers spent most of their lives hanging out with various highly regarded musicians and respected composers, most of whom were women.

So, in an expansion of the First Viennese School, I give you the ‘Vienna 10’.

1. Haydn (31 March 1732 – 31 May 1809) Austrian

In the 1740s Haydn was a struggling musician living in a leaky attic room in Vienna, the clichéd image of a composer found in romantic novels everywhere. Several floors below lived the Martines family and Haydn gave the daughter Marianna Martines piano lessons.

2. Marianna Martines/Marianna von Martinez (May 4, 1744 – December 13, 1812) Viennese

Marianna grew up to become a pianist and composer. Being of a certain class she was never allowed to work professionally as a musician but she was very well respected. Marianna was known for her regular musical salons, well attended by all the hobnobs and hotshots on the Vienna scene, including Mozart and Salieri. Marianna was good friends with them both and performed with them on several occasions. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Accademia Filharmonia in 1773, the prestigious academy that Mozart was admitted to three years earlier. Her works number nearly 200 and include the first known symphony to be written by a woman, the Dixit Dominus she wrote for her entrance to the Accademia, several cantatas and keyboard sonatas along with three harpsichord concertos.

In the 1780s Haydn was back in Vienna, hanging out with his old pupil Marianna and in 1784 he met:

3. Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791). Austrian

Mozart was born in Salzburg and moved to Vienna in 1781. He met Haydn in 1784 and he was good friends with Marianna Martines. Mozart and Haydn were frequent guests at Marianna’s musical salons, Mozart and Marianna frequently played duets together, and it is thought that Mozart wrote his Piano Concerto in D for Marianna.

Mozart did also go on to teach music. One of his pupils was:

4. Josepha Barbara Auernhammar (25 September 1758 – 30 January 1820) – Viennese pianist and composer

Mozart taught her from 1781. Josepha and Mozart played together often, both in public and at private concerts. Mozart dedicated Violin Sonatas to her and she performed several of his piano sonatas. Sadly only one of her compositions has been recorded, this delightful 6 Variations on a Hungarian theme.

Josepha Barbara Auernhammar also went on to perform works by fellow Mozart pupil:

5. Anton Eberl (13 June 1765 – 11 March 1807). Eberl was born in Vienna and was taught by Mozart from around 1781. Many of his works were misattributed to Mozart. He wrote many piano concertos, including dedicating his Piano Concerto to Josepha Auernhammer. Josepha Auernhammer performed his Piano Concerto in E Flat.

A good friend and benefactor of Eberl was:

6. Anton Salieri (18 August 1750 – 7 May 1825), Italian by birth, and supposedly Mozart’s great rival, Salieri lived and worked in Vienna from the 1770s onwards as a court director at the Austrian court. Salieri was a well known composer of opera and a conductor, known to conduct Haydn’s The Creation with the composer in attendance. He was a frequent guest at Marianna Martines’ parties and he was also a sought after teacher. He wrote this organ concerto as a commission from one of his pupils. Maria Theresia von Paradis.

7. Maria Theresa von Paradis (May 15, 1759 – February 1, 1824) Viennese. Blind since chilodhood, Maria Theresa von Paradis became an extraordinary pianist and composer. She wrote a ton of music including operas, piano concertos and sonatas. Unfortunately most of it has been lost except her Sicilienne, a popular piece for cello.

Even this one short but gorgeous work is only spuriously connected with her. As well as her own compositions Maria Theresia also commissioned music by Haydn and commissioned Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.18 in Bb Major. Her father Joseph was court councillor to Empress Maria Theresa. Empress Marie Theresa oversaw much of the musical activity in Vienna and was a great patron of the arts. Marianna Martines performed for her while still a child. It’s very likely the two pianists knew each other, especially given Marianna’s role as hostess of popular parties.

Now we come to:

8. Beethoven (baptised 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) German, moved to Vienna in 1792. Taught and mentored by Haydn, Beethoven also received some assistance from Salieri. Among the thousands of pieces he wrote in Vienna was his Appassionata Sonata.

The first person to perform the Appassionata sonata from autograph was:

9. Marie Bigot (3 March 1786– 16 September 1820) French teacher, composer and pianist. She moved in Vienna in 1804. Beethoven was so impressed with her performance he gave her his copy of the Apassionata. Marie Bigot was also friends with Salieri and Haydn. Again hardly any of her music has been recorded except this Suite D’Etudes which is wonderfully strident and full of power chords.

Marie Bigot returned to Paris in 1808 and introduced Beethoven’s music to Parisian society. She also went on to teach the Mendelssohn siblings.

The last member of the ‘Viennese 10’ was:

10. Marianne Auenbrugger/Marianne D’Auenbrugg (19 July 1759– 25 August 1782). Viennese.

A student of Haydn and Salieri, she was a highly regarded composer and sought after pianist and Haydn dedicated six sonatas to her including this one.

Only one recording of her work exists – her phenomenal Sonata in E Flat major, published by Salieri after her death.

There you have it, the Vienna 10. 10 awesome composers including 5 women who were completely wiped from the history books, until now.

Let’s rewrite the story.


Elizabeth de Brito is a gender equality champion, classical music radio producer, researcher, writer and obsessive Florence Price fan. She is the Producer of The Daffodil Perspective, a radio show which champions gender equality in classical music.

 

 

 

 

 

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Music has always been a part of my life to the point that I could not envision a career outside of music. During my undergraduate study, I found myself more drawn to musicology than performance. However, it wasn’t until my PhD that I realised the power in forging a career that bridges both.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My parents encouraged me to pursue music. My professors at university opened up so many possibilities for what that path could look like. I found wonderful support during my study abroad year at McGill University. That is where I first learnt about the composer Florence Price. Studying the history of this incredible woman of African descent then opened up the career path I’m on now.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

As I’ve begun to grow more into my identity as a pianist-scholar, one of the biggest challenges has been embracing public performance. Musicology has always felt much safer and a little more anonymous—the perfect match for my introvert self! But public performance has pushed me to embrace more open and vulnerable ways of communicating my passion.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my Four Women recording. The album focuses on four composers from the first half of the twentieth century: Florence Price, Vítězslava Kaprálová, Ethel Bilsland and Margaret Bonds. The album title alludes to Nina Simone’s 1966 song of the same name. I have always been so moved by Simone’s aspiration to become a classical pianist and wanted to bring her influence into the recording. Four Women is very autobiographical and represents my first real venture into communicating my passion with openness and vulnerability.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Florence Price’s Fantasie Negre and Vítězslava Kaprálová’s Dubnova Preludia (April Preludes), Op. 13.

As someone who champions music by women composers, how do you make your repertoire choices?

My repertoire choices are often inspired by the kind of research I’m doing. For example, my research on Florence Price and her Chicago community has led me to programme works by Chicagoan African-American women composers, past and present. Other times, my choices are inspired by collaborations. Working with violinist Er-Gene Kahng has broadened my repertoire to encompass more duo and chamber material by Price and her peers. I am also excited to be in the midst of preparing Doreen Carwithen’s Concerto for Piano and Strings as part of a collaboration with the Singapore-based organization Music For People.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Earlier this year, I gave a recital at the Chicago Cultural Center. The programme was called Of Folk, Faith & Fellowship: Exploring Chicago’s African-American Women Composers. I performed Florence Price and Margaret Bonds alongside Regina Harris Baiocchi and Dolores White. Baoicchi and White are contemporary composers and it was such an honour to have them attend the concert. What’s more is that the Chicago Cultural Center used to be a library and Price and Bonds would regularly visit. The whole performance was so immersed in the wonderful history that it sought to present. It was an unforgettable experience.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Defining success became much easier once I formed a mission statement for my work as a musician. I recognized that my mission would evolve alongside my own creative growth. But as it stands, my mission is to challenge systems of oppression and amplify historically silenced voices. My success is defined by every opportunity I have to perform or record the music of marginalized composers, particularly as these moments are often grounded in even greater historical or cultural significance. And so, my definition of success stems from my ability to fulfil my mission.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

To not be afraid to shape your path in your own image. Championing music by women composers has been empowering for me. And so, to aspiring musicians, I encourage you to embrace and involve your fullest self along your journey.

What is your present state of mind?

A mix of hopeful, excited, determined and eager.


Samantha Ege is a British scholar, pianist and educator. Her PhD (University of York) centres on the African-American composer Florence Price. As a concert pianist, Ege’s focus on women composers has led to performances in Singapore, Australia, the UK and the US Ege has also championed Florence Price’s repertoire alongside violinist Er-Gene Kahng with duo recitals in Singapore, Hong Kong and the US.

Ege released her debut album in May 2018 with Wave Theory Records, entitled Four Women: Music for solo piano by Florence Price, Vítězslava Kaprálová, Ethel Bilsland and Margaret Bonds. The album featured the world première recording of Bilsland’s The Birthday Party, which led to Ege preparing an edition of the suite, now published by Faber Music. Four Women has been described as “an impressive collection…performed with virtuosic assurance.” Ege has also been commended “for her goal to bring the music of these composers to greater public awareness.”

www.musicherstories.com


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Over on my sister blog A Piano Teacher Writes…. I recently cited two new anthologies of piano music, which on face value seemed a useful addition to the student pianist’s repertoire. On closer inspection, however, I found that one anthology contained not a single piece by a female composer, and the other contained a piece composed by the author, who happens to be a woman. This lack of diversity troubles me – and it’s not some kind of gender identity/feminist virtue signalling on my part, but rather a wish to offer students and piano enthusiasts as broad a range of music as possible. We are so lucky as pianists to have access to a vast repertoire, yet too many anthologies focus on the core canon, which is mostly music written by long dead white guys.

Read my article here

In an ideal scenario, we wouldn’t need to differentiate between male and female composers, but unfortunately while inequality of representation exists in anthologies and concert programmes, I believe it is important to highlight this. And so, as a positive step, I’d like to compile an online resource via this blog of graded piano music written by female composers. I hope this will be of use to teachers and piano students in seeking new repertoire.

Please feel free to submit music for inclusion, ideally with an estimate grade/ability level and a link to the score or publisher information.  Use the comment box below or Email Me with your nominations. I have also created a collaborative playlist on Spotify to which you are welcome to add tracks

Here are a few of my own suggestions to get us started:

Sadie Harrison

  • Lunae – Four Nocturnes for Solo Piano (Advanced/Grade 8/Diploma/University of York Music Press)
  • Northern Lights (Intermediate/Grade 5-6/UYMP)
  • Four Jazz Portraits (Advanced/Grade 8/Diploma/UYMP)

Jenni Pinnock

  • Rains (Intermediate/Grade 5/available via Jenni’s website)
  • Captive (Advanced/Grade 8/available via Jenni’s website)
  • Frost (Intermediate/available via Jenni’s website)

Cheryl Frances-Hoad

  • Homages Book 2 (Advanced/available via Cheryl’s website)
  • Love Song for Dusty (as above)

Meredith Monk

  • Railroad (Travel Song) (Intermediate/Grade 6/Boosey & Hawkes)

Karen Tanaka

  • Northern Lights (early intermediate/Grade 4/ABRSM Spectrum series)

June Armstrong

from Strangford Sketchbook

  • Still Light on the Lough  (Grades 6-7/available via June Armstrong’s website)
  • Temple Dancer in Blue (Grade 6/available as above)

Jennifer Linn

  • ‘Un phare dans la brouillard’ from Les Petites Impressions (Intermediate/Grade 6/available as digital download or in anthology)

Germaine Tailleferre

  • Impromptu (Advanced/Grade 7-8/Editions Jobert)

Alison Wrenn (Berry)

 

DONNE Women in Music | Showcase Concert,  St Gabriel’s Church, London, 7th March

Guest review by Karine Hetherington

On the eve of International Women’s Day, I attended a concert at St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico, showcasing women’s music.

Soprano, Gabriella Di Laccio, the powerhouse behind the musical initiative Donne: Women in Music, welcomed us and introduced us to her musicians for the evening: James Akers guitarist, soprano, Susie Georgiadis and pianist Clelia Iruzun. I was pleasantly surprised to see a male musician in the line-up.

Akers produced a Romantic guitar, which is smaller than the classical guitar. I realise that night that my knowledge of the classical guitar was limited to Andrés Segovia, Julian Bream and John Williams. My mother played their records over and over during our childhood in the early 1970s.

James Akers, I learnt, had a few misgivings about the Father of the Guitar, André Segovia. Whilst acknowledging Segovia’s brilliance, he believed that guitar masters had limited the guitar repertoire we have been exposed to. Women composers especially had suffered as a result of Segovia’s promotion of Spanish male composers. This evening was the occasion to redress the balance.

He played works by Emilia Giuliani (1813-1850) who shared the stage with Franz Liszt, and Athénaïs Paulian (1801- c.1875) who was a child prodigy, was well known in British society and had a biography written about her. Prelude 2 by Giuliani was particularly appealing; however Akers’ delicate, dexterous play could have benefited from some amplification in the church. I listened to extracts from his Le Donne et la Chitarra CD later and was struck by the colour and expression he brought to each work. Highly recommended.

Next, Gabriella Di Laccio interpreted songs by Clara K.Rogers (1844-1931) and Avril Coleridge-Taylor (1903-1998). Can Sorrow Find Me by Coleridge-Taylor is a beautiful, dramatic and haunting work. Di Laccio had the power in the higher register but her voice felt a little tight in the lower notes and pianissimos. I was delighted however to hear her sing the same work again on BBC 3’s In tune the following day for International Women’s Day. This time Di Laccio broadcast it to the nation perfectly!

Meanwhile soprano, Susie Georgiadis, performed a variety of Italian and Brazilian songs, all very different in tone and all beautifully sung. Georgiadis’s voice is warm and controlled and rich with emotion.

Most memorable was Cardellina, a charming song about a little bird and Sul Fiume (By The River), an intensely romantic composition. The composer, Giulia Recli (1890-1970), together with many other female composers, appears on Susie Georgiadis’s CD Homage, just out.

The evening ended fittingly with a Brazilian protest song entitled Marielle presente (2018). Composed by Catarina Domenici, in memory of the Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco, who was assassinated last year, it was a rousing song in honour of those women who had died recently in Brazil for their political activities.

All in all a tantalising introduction to the world of female composition.

Hats off to Gabriella Di Laccio for her remarkably enlightening project, which can only grow and grow.


Both of the CD’s below are available from the Donne Musica online shop.

Le Donne e la Chitarra with James Akers.

Homage: Women Composers from Italy and Brazil – Susie Georgiadis, Soprano & Angiolina Sensale, Piano

Gabriella Di Laccio & Clelia Iruzun
Susie Georgiadis
James Akers

Karine Hetherington is a teacher and writer of novels, who also blogs on art and music. Her two published novels, The Poet and the Hypotenuse, and Fort Girard, are set in France in the 1930s and 1940s. Karine promotes singers and musicians performing in the fast-growing Kensington and Olympia Music and Arts Festival. She is also a reviewer for ArtMuseLondon.com