Joan Tower Launches New Festival of Women's Music

Classic Arts News   Joan Tower Launches New Festival of Women's Music
A new festival dedicated to works by women composers, curated by composer Joan Tower, kicked off on this past weekend at the Chelsea Art Museum.

The works featured in the "Notable Women" festival are being performed by the St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble, where the 69-year-old Tower is composer-in-residence.

The first program in the festival (on June 2) was dedicated to past composers and included works by Rebecca Clarke, Amy Beach, Ruth Crawford (Seeger) and Miriam Gideon. The concert also included a premiere by 27-year-old Asha Srinivasan.

Next Saturday (June 9) at the Chelsea Art Museum, the program features works by major living composers: such as Tania Le‹n's Singin' Sepia for soprano, clarinet, violin and piano four-hands (1996); Jennifer Higdon's Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano (2003); Tower's String Quartet No. 1, titled Night Field (1994); and Libby Larsen's Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano (2001) — plus the premiere of a new work by Kati Ag‹cs.

A concert on June 16 features Joan La Barbara's L'albero dalle foglie azure for solo oboe and tape (1989), Julia Wolfe's Early That Summer for string quartet (1993) and Eve Beglarian's Cave for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, keyboard and tape (2001), as well as a new work by Erin Watson.

According to data from the American Symphony Orchestra League, one percent of the music American orchestras played in 2004-05 was written by women. That figure climbed to two percent in 2005-06, as Tower's Made in America was played by 65 orchestras nationwide. The work was commissioned by a consortium of small orchestras through the League.

Tower told The New York Times that there are several reasons the gender divide remains, saying, "One problem is in academia. For a long time there were no women teaching in academia ... Then there's the whole thing of your family. Do you have a husband that's supportive, and is he going to take care of the kids? A lot of these women that we are featuring on the festival, the pioneers, they died by the wayside because they didn't get any encouragement at certain points in their lives."

"I don't think of music in terms of gender," Elizabeth Mann, the principal flutist of the Orchestra of St. Luke's, told the Times. "But I realized: I'm Jewish, and I feel a sense of being Jewish. I'm a woman, and I feel a sense of being a woman. I feel quite moved to be a part of the series. It's a missing piece of my own personal heritage."

Tower hopes that this year's inaugural Notable Women festival could become a larger event.

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