Just yesterday, I spent a delightful afternoon at the Chelsea Art Museum attending the first installment of the new Orchestra of St Luke’s eries, curated by Joan Tower, NOTABLE WOMEN (all caps…) The festival kicked off with a panel presentation including Joan Tower and three distinguished musicologists, authors of numerous publications on women’s music: Judith Tick, professor at Northeastern University; Ellie M. Hisama professor of music at Columbia University (and the first woman to hold such a position in about 50 years), and Stephanie Jensen-Moulton, who is writing a daring thesis on three operas by women in the 1950s. The panel took place in one of the museum’s galleries where the art by Miwa Yanagi, a series of interview portraits with what she calls her “grandmothers”, provided an unexpected enhancement to the meeting, as her representations of older women expressing life at its fullest made a statement against the widespread dismissal of women based on age and appearance.

The near-two-hour music program that followed included works by women composers whose names are familiar but whose music is not often heard: Rebecca Clarke, Amy Beach, Miriam Gideon, Ruth Crawford Seeger (remember the popular folk singer Pete Seeger, same family) and a world premiere for clarinet, violin, viola and cello by Asha Srinivasan, which was her first commission. The concert took place in another gallery where Jean Miotte’s oversized abstract bursts of primary colors were a feast for the eyes. Another element that made this event special was the way each piece was carefully introduced.

The music rose in the gallery with exceptional brightness, fullness and resonance(reverberation of the parquet floors or talk microphone accidentally left on, I don’t know) but noticeably, a refinement in the interpretation I have rarely heard in the performance of unfamiliar work; the Orchestra of St Luke’s attention to detail is such that they assign different players to different pieces so the performers have the chance to really ‘get into’ a particular piece, and this in-depth work came through. The presence of the young tenor borrowed from the Met was also treat for the ears on the Miriam Gideon material.

We have to thank Joan Tower for her vision and generosity: this series is what New York has needed for the last twenty years, a real festival of women’s music and it should become an institution. The women whose music is included in the next programs are: Joan LaBarbara, Julia Wolfe, Pamela Z (who was commissioned), Eve Beglarian, Kati Agócs, Tania Leon, Libby Larsen, Jennifer Higdon, Erin Watson and Joan Tower. So it is is same time same place, Saturday June 9 and Saturday June 16, 2PM, at the Chelsea Art Museum (it’s all the way on the west side by the river, you can take the crosstown bus on 23rd). There are other dates and locations for these programs; so please visit: http://www.oslmusic.org/concerts/calendar for details.

Other ‘noteworthy women of notes’… as they figure on Lawrence Dillon’s 111+ most influential pieces since 1970, reads as follows:
Laurie Anderson
Janice Gitek
Sofia Gubaidulina
Bunita Marcus
Elodie Lauten
Pauline Oliveros
Meredith Monk
Ellen Taafe-Zwilich
Galina Ustvolskaya
Lois V. Vierk
Judith Weir

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