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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Whilst Alice is on vacation,
deputy Classical Music Agony Aunt KELLY FERJUTZ
writes about women composers

Gentle readers: You may recall this letter from last week's Aunt Alice, er, Aunt Kelly column.

Dear Alice,
Your answer to the JSB question was delightful! I wonder why I never see anything on living women composers? There are many -- ranging from Joan Tower to many others.
Bob Jordahl

To which I (Kelly) replied that I would happily provide more information about women composers in one week. And now, here it is! Another week, more information. Much more information!

Gentle reader! You can have no idea what treasures lie in store for you just from reading this column.

A bit more than three years ago, I was privileged to meet Lori Laitman, an American woman who composes marvelous art songs and song cycles of various kinds. She writes instrumental music as well, but she has a terrific feel for vocal writing. At that time, three of her song cycles had been appropriated-with-permission and rearranged into a one-act opera as a partner to another one act opera about Anne Frank. I wrote about this for Music & Vision here and reviewed the performances here.

Shortly after that experience, I attended a concert here in Cleveland that featured a work for organ by a woman I knew. True, I'd not seen her for a while, but I had no idea she'd progressed this far in her composing career! This was Monica Houghton, and the piece I heard that night -- Erebus -- is now available on a recording from Azica Records. As I chatted with Monica later that evening, I discovered to my amazement that she'd just finished her degree in composition and was nearly finished writing her first opera! An opera! Good heavens! I don't know why I was so surprised: I certainly knew that other women had composed operas. Maybe it was because I didn't know any of those other women.

At any rate, Monica's opera, The Big Bonanza, set in Nevada during the silver mining days of the mid 1800s, is now complete, and looking for readings or a production. Details and a sound clip are available at her web-site.

I began to think that I needed to do a piece for Music & Vision about women composers, when -- all of a sudden -- it was time for Aunt Alice to take her well-deserved holiday. What could be more auspicious than to simultaneously receive the above note from Mr Jordahl, whom I swear I do not know. This was not rigged between us.

A recital I'd attended in March featured a work by Nancy Van der Vate, an American-born woman now residing in Austria. I must confess I'd not heard of her previously, and was totally blown away to find her website and discover that she is 'one of the most recorded living composers of orchestral music in the world', and she writes for orchestra, opera and musical theater.

In the last year or so, at Severance Hall, the Cleveland Orchestra has performed works by Susan Botti, Chen Yi and Kaija Saarijaho. In previous years, we've heard Shulamit Ran and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.

Our NPR (national public radio) had broadcast an opera composed and conducted by Thea Musgrave which appealed to me because she'd composed a piece for horn, which I'd seen performed by Eric Ruske, when he lived in Cleveland. The head of the composition department at CIM is a woman -- Margaret Brouwer.

Certainly, living in Cleveland as I do provides me with more musical opportunities than many people can ever take part in, but still, I was surprised when I started investigating for this report. A friend suggested three women composers he knew: Cecilia McDowall, Hilary Tann and Judith Sainte Croix.

Oh, and lest we forget -- Joan Tower, whose name started this particular compendium.

Okay, this is a fairly respectable list, although woefully incomplete, I know. But -- hang on to your bonnets! Go here, and revel in more than seven hundred women composers! And get this! All these composers of classical music have to have been recorded on CD in order to be eligible for inclusion. Yes, Yes! YES!!!!!

Oh, joy! You'll love it. Guaranteed.

Copyright © 10 August 2007 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA

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