Female composers take center stage

05:00 AM, Mar 24, 2013

Written By Daniel J. Kushner

If you go

Here are highlights of concerts that are part of Eastman School of Music’s Women in Music Festival. The festival also includes free lunchtime concerts Monday through Friday. Go to esm.rochester.edu for a full list:
3 p.m. Sunday (March 24). Viola professor Carol Rodland performs with pianist Tatevik Makatsian, violinist Patricia Sunwoo and cellist Mimi Hwang in the opening concert of the festival, which is also part of the Eastman Faculty Artist Series in Kilbourn Hall. Tickets are $10.
7 p.m. Tuesday (March 26).
Dana Suesse: The Girl Gershwin will be a lecture recital with pianist Tony Caramia at 7 p.m. in Hatch Hall. It’s free.
8 p.m. Wednesday (March 27).
Women in Music Festival at SUNY Geneseo will feature Eastman and Geneseo students and faculty performing in Wadsworth Auditorium in Geneseo. It’s free.
2 p.m. Saturday (March 30). Greater Rochester Women’s Philharmonic, with conductor Nancy Strelau and soloists Bonita Boyd, Emlyn Johnson and Johanna Gruskin on flute and Timothy Lee on violin, performs at Kilbourn Hall in a free concert.

Woman composer. This term causes collective bristling among composers who happen to be women, and rightfully so.

They’re not woman composers, they’re just composers. But it’s like dentistry. If I (tell) somebody, ‘Oh, I have to go see my dentist today,’ they say, ‘Oh, who is he?’ And then I have to correct them — ‘Who is she?’ ” says Sylvie Beaudette, founding artistic director of Eastman School of Music’s Women in Music Festival. “This kind of societal bias may seem relegated to the distant past, but its remnants sometimes linger subconsciously.”

This is the ninth year for the festival, which will hold concerts in several venues this week, a number of them for free.

That the festival takes place during Women’s History Month is no accident.

We’re celebrating — in music — Women’s History Month. That’s basically the goal,” says Beaudette, also assistant professor of chamber music and accompanying at Eastman. “And the second goal is to bring forth the fact that for every nine male composers, there’s only one female composer, and so we’re still a minority in that field. (That) is not because women were not interested — it is because of years and years of them not being allowed to do what they loved, and so we’re bringing this forth as well.”

This week in Rochester also features Women in Power: The Women’s History Film Series at the Little Theatre and co-sponsored by WXXI Public Broadcasting Council and UR’s Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies. Go to TheLittle.org for more information on that series.

Melinda Wagner, who won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for her “Concerto for Flute, Strings, and Percussion” is composer-in-residence at this year’s music festival.

The prize-winning composition will be performed by flutist Bonita Boyd and the Greater Rochester Women’s Philharmonic Saturday in the festival’s closing concert.

While everything I am — pianist, mother, teacher, daughter, etc. — to some degree informs my creative life, I have always considered myself to be a composer, period,” Wagner says.

Beaudette hopes increased public awareness of female composers and their works will bring about a tangible change in concert programming.

The ultimate goal, of course, would be that in every program we would have a woman composer being represented,” she says. “But that’s what happened, that the canon is set in such a way that it’s hard to break.”

The Women in Music Festival is broad and ambitious in its scope. The works of historical luminaries such as the Middle Ages’ Hildegard von Bingen and the Romantic-era composer-pianist Clara Schumann, influential 20th century figures Amy Beach and Nadia Boulanger, as well as contemporary composers like Libby Larsen and Kaija Saariaho, are all featured in this year’s festival.

The festival also sets itself apart with how the individual concerts are curated.

I call this festival a performers-based festival, which means that most of the pieces on the noontime concerts are chosen by the performers themselves,” Beaudette says. “People really care for the piece that they choose.”