10 of the best new releases in 2018 of women composers.

As usual at this time of year there’s a lot of reflection going on about the year we’ve just had. In music terms this means a round up of the year’s best new releases. The  Guardian’s Top 10 list featured all male composers, mostly dead white ones including ‘neglected composer’ Hindemith, plus Bach, Stravinsky, yada yada yada. See the list here which comes at the end of an article which only mentions releases with male composers.

And this is from a generally left wing newspaper, who have published at least 4 articles this year about the lack of female composers being performed, why they have been unfairly marginalised, looking at what is being done and should be done to change that. Way to support this stance, am I right?

Go round the internet and look at all the major sites about classical music and you see the same story pretty much everywhere. Major independent retailer Presto Classical picked their Top 10 recordings of the year. Also all male, including yet more recordings of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, yawn.

There have actually been some amazing new releases of women composers this year, both historical and living so here is my own list for you. A list of 10 great releases from 2018 to check out, all featuring exclusively women composers.

  1. Global Sirens – Christina Petrowska Quilico. Released 16th November 2018.

Various composers of piano music from the 19-21st century. A brilliant selection of everything from romantic to ragtime to post modern. Some more well known composers including Lili Boulanger and Meredith Monk with other maybe slightly less well known composers such as Ilse Fromm Michaels and Susanne Erding-Swiridoff. Listen here.

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2. Chaminade Piano Music – Mark Viner. Released 9th November 2018.

Selection of piano music by Cecile Chaminade, French Romantic composer. Great selection from the masses of piano music she wrote, some lighter music, some serious. Listen here

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3. Elena Ruehr – 6 String Quartets. Released 16th February 2018.

String quartets by contemporary composer Elena Ruehr. I love these quartets, simply amazing. I can’t do them justice in words so here is ArkivMusic’s notes on the recording:

“Elena’s Six String Quartets are a magnum opus, three of them commissioned by the Cypress String Quartet, two by the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, and one an ASCAP Award winner. “…sumptuously scored and full of soaring melodies and piquant harmonies.” (The New York Times) “Music with heart and a forceful sense of character and expression.” (The Washington Post)”

Listen to the album here.

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4. Louise Farrenc – Symphonies 2 and 3 by Naxos Records. Released 27th April 2018

Orchestral works by French Romantic composer. Symphony Number 3 was performed on 23rd November as part of Trinity Laban’s Venus Blazing series, definitely deserves to be performed by major orchestras on a regular basis. Listen here.

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5. Linda Lister – Pleas to Famous Fairies. Released 18th June 2018.

Song Cycles by soprano and composer Linda Lister, the title cycle features pleas to such fairies as Ariel, Titania and Tinkerbell. Listen here.

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6. Emilie Mayer – Symphony No. 4 and other major works by Chandos Records. Released 12th October 2018.

Major works from German Romantic composer Emilie Mayer. Absolutely gorgeous, forget Brahms, forget Mendelssohn. Just listen to Emile Mayer, this is Romantic music at its finest. Listen here.

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7. Jessica Krash – Past Made Present. Released 26th March 2018.

Fantastic collection of chamber music by contemporary composer Jessica Krash. Several pieces for various chamber combos including flute and piano, solo cello, and soprano and piano. Strangely haunting music exploring the emotional connections between old and new. Listen here.

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8. Ruth Gipps – Orchestral Works by BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Released 7th September 2018.

Prolific 20th Century composer. Symphonies 2 and 4 that feature on this disc along with the tone poems should be on every major orchestral programme at least once per year. Glorious music that’s just at that point between modern and contemporary. Music that’s melodic, intriguing and edgy but not too dissonant, wonderfully listenable. Listen here.

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9. Stories For Our Time: Music for Trumpet by Women Composers – by Thomas Pfotenhauer and Vincent Fuh.

6 contemporary composers, 6 pieces, 1 amazing album. Listen here

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10. Arlene Sierra – Butterflies Remember A Mountain.

Volume 3 of chamber music by Sierra composed between 1997 and 2013. The title piece was written for and played by the acclaimed Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio. Listen here.

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There we are, that’s 10 of the best new releases.

Disclaimer: These are not specific rankings, not a Top 10, just 10 OF THE best releases of 2018. There are so many more awesome recordings out there. Recordings that are not on the list were not deliberately excluded, it’s not a judgement on other work merely an exploration of some of the brilliant and still unjustly neglected work that is out there.

I didn’t include above any of the fantastic albums I’ve played on the radio show on my album of the week section. 5/6 albums I featured since I started the show were new releases this year and are all phenomenal. Check these out below too.

 

  1. Nasty Women: Piano Music in the Age of Women’s Suffrage by Joanna Goldstein and Centaur Records.

Just the title alone demands a closer look. Love this album, it’s broad look at piano pieces by 14 American women composers in the first half of the 20th century. Something for everyone including late Romanticism, impressionism, American spirituals to ragtime, including works by Florence Price, Amy Beach and May Aufderheide. Available to listen and buy at Presto Classical here.

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2. In The Theatre of Air from NMC Recordings and champions of women composers Marsyas Trio. Featuring 5 contemporary British composers and one historical American composer including legends Thea Musgrave and Judith Weir with rising stars Georgia Rodgers and Laura Bowler. Available to listen and buy on Presto Classical here.

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3. Four Women by pianist Samantha Ege, featuring music from 4 spectacular women composers including the American Florence Price and Margaret Bonds, Vitezslava Kapralova and a world premiere recording of Ethel Bilsland’s The Birthday Party, written 100 years ago. Available to listen and buy from CDBaby here.

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4. Homage by Drama Musica, featuring soprano Susie Georgiadis and pianist Angiolina Sensale. This amazing new release brings to life songs by women composers from Italy and Brazil including Chiquinha Gonzaga and Geni Sadero. Some of the pieces are over 100 years old and are only just receiving their world premier recordings on this album. The album also features a protest song from contemporary Brazil composer Catarina Domenici. Overseen by founder Gabriella Di Laccio this is a spectacular record. Listen and buy here.

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5. Magic Lantern Tales by contemporary English composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Magic Lantern Tales is a beautiful collection of choral music. Listen here

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Happy listening everyone and here’s to a more gender balanced 2019!

Gender parity is for life, not just for Christmas

This is a message for all those orchestras out there playing one concert of women composers then sitting back and patting themselves on the back thinking the job is done. It’s no good just playing music by women composers in one concert or even one season of women composers.  Gender parity, or the work towards creating gender parity in music needs to be consistent, a constant consideration in every programme, every concert, every season.

We can’t just play one concert full of women composers then forget about them the rest of the year. It’s not enough, one concert could be said to be tokenism. One concert to satisfy the raging masses, pretending that gender parity is a consideration, only to go back to the usual programme of mostly dead white males for the rest of the year.

2018 has been great, there have been lots of concerts with female composers including a major performance of Dame Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D at Southwark Cathedral. Having said that, I can’t help thinking that it’s not so much to do with genuine thought towards gender parity but more to do with the Vote 100 anniversary. It’s been 100 years since some women got the vote in the UK and lots of orchestras have celebrated that by playing a concert of women composers.

Everyone loves an anniversary or birthday. Peter Maxwell Davies got an entire Proms concert on his 70th, John Williams’ 85th was the same plus you have the birthdays of long dead composers being remembered with whole concerts or programmes dedicated to them.

In particular this year there have been a lot of performances of Dame Ethel Smyth, a composer and suffragette.  I also wonder if performances of her work are more because of her connections to the suffrage movement? She is known in both camps, classical music and feminism so playing her music makes sense.

And what about whole seasons of music by women composers? Are they any better? Trinity Laban’s Venus Blazing and Kings Place Venus Unwrapped seasons are both one year programmes playing music by women composers in every concert. But what about next year, will it just go back to the usual? Or will people have got used to hearing women composers in every concert that they will start clamouring for more of the same?

Then there are the orchestras themselves. The English Symphony Orchestra is playing two concerts in Venus Unwrapped at Kings Place next year, 2 out of 13 concerts next season. That being said these 2 concerts are the only concerts that contain works by women composers. Are they just jumping on the bandwagon, thinking being involved will make them look progressive or diverse when in fact the rest of the time they don’t have to bother with thought toward gender parity or don’t want to?

Lot of questions, lots of things to consider. Some of these decisions may not be as conscious as orchestras realise but it needs to be conscious. If we hope to change things we need to consciously think about the messages we send by the music we choose to play.

I hope this year is not just an anniversary year, I want this year to be a stepping stone towards a 2019 season that plays even more women composers. Let’s work on making that happen. Donne, Illuminate and Scordatura are just 3 of the amazing organisations committed to playing music by women composers plus I’m continuing with my weekly radio show playing women composers, listen to past shows here. We are not going anywhere, we are spreading the word.

Just a few thoughts I needed to express, I’ll be back with some more blogs on gender and music soon.