Joshua Kosman is my favorite music critic. His energy, devotion, precision in focusing on the important issues as well as having a perspective on “the big picture” mean that I never tire of reading his work. I often ponder how fortunate the Bay Area of California is to have his enthusiasm and invigorating insights.
That may sound like pandering to those who know that Kosman was devoted to the cause of The Women’s Philharmonic (TWP is our predecessor organization – WPA was created to continue a part of their mission) – see his heart-warming “obituary” of TWP here. I could disprove the charge of pandering by citing instances in other critics where their writing makes me snort in disapproval or roll my eyes (in contrast to my approval of Kosman’s writing). But that is a task for another day.
Today I’d simply like to point out how Kosman’s recent survey of the 2019 season can serve as a tribute to The Women’s Philharmonic and the enduring influence of their legacy. After all, his enthusiastic declaration —
It’s time to give more attention and support to the music of female composers. Like, a lot more. More performances, more recordings, more commissions, more listening to music we already know and music we haven’t discovered yet. Maybe we even give Bach and Beethoven and the rest of the bro-hort a little time out.
— is what we are all about. And it was a huge part of the work of TWP. Kosman pays tribute in his article by naming three composers who were brought to light by The Women’s Philharmonic. He is rapturous about Louise Farrenc’s Symphony no. 3 (as performed by the Oakland Symphony). Her recognition is overdue, he says — but that was true when her Symphony was performed by The Women’s Philharmonic in 1987, from an edition by TWP’s co-founder, Nan H. Washburn. (This table is a partial listing of the performance history of TWP).
Likewise, Kosman is gobsmacked by Florence Price and her Symphony no. 3 (also performed by the Oakland Symphony). And because some of Florence Price’s music was discovered rather dramatically in recent years, it is easy to overlook those who worked for decades to bring her work to light. TWP first performed her music in the 1980s, and the 2001 recording of Sym. no. 3, and tone poems The Oak and Mississippi River was the first recording of her orchestral music. In performing Price’s music, TWP cooperated with the musicologist Dr. Rae Linda Brown, whose long-awaited biography of Price will be published in the summer of 2020
Again, Kosman found a three-day Grażyna Bacewicz festival to be an “ear-opening introduction.” But followers of TWP had that introduction in the 1980s, with Bacewicz’s music being performed consistently.
The Women’s Philharmonic was ahead of its time — many now are beginning to recognize the worth of the vast quantity of music that TWP worked for decades to bring to performances, and recordings. It would be appropriate and accurate if TWP could be celebrated for their pioneering role. They did much to lay an infrastructure for the wider recognition of the work of women that is unfolding today.