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MusicWatch Weekly: women’s works

Oregon orchestras play music by female composers, and other January musical highlights

One of the many problems with the classical music establishment’s (finally) waning historical museum mentality is that if its artistic leaders aren’t careful, they can wind up reproducing yesterday’s regressive social attitudes on today’s stages. Long before classical music had its own #metoo revelations (one survivor being the now-wife of Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar), the institution had a long and inglorious history of sexism. Even in the supposedly liberated 20th and 21st centuries, female composers faced institutional discrimination, especially from orchestras.

Hagner plays Chin with the Oregon Symphony

• Yet still it persists. The only work by a female composer on this year’s Oregon Symphony classical season is this weekend’s atmospheric Violin Concerto by Korea-born, Berlin-based composer Unsuk Chin, which won classical music’s most lucrative prize in 2004. Deploying nearly two dozen varied percussion instruments, string harmonics, even a harpsichord, it ranges from surprisingly delicate to skittering to intriguingly colorful then ratchets up the intensity. Rising star violinist Viviane Hagner stars. Naturally, the program also contains symphonies by dead European males: Beethoven’s Haydn-esque first and Schumann’s uplifting third.
Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

• As Thursday’s Eugene Symphony concert demonstrates, women have been writing great symphonic music for decades. Last time, the orchestra featured new music from one of today’s finest composers of any gender, Jennifer Higdon. This week’s program opens with the rollicking 1943 Overture for Symphonic Orchestra by Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz. She was born in 1909, but it’s only recently that her music has begun to be widely played outside Poland. Fortunately for us, ESO music director Francesco Lecce-Chong is a fan. It’s great to see both major Oregon orchestras playing music by female composers this week. Why not every week?

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