It took place a week ago—the presentation of the first ever AMY Award—and what a thrill it was. I was so honored to give the award before the full orchestra (the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra), and the near-capacity audience (almost 2400, including the 500 violists in attendance for the International Viola Congress). It took place just after intermission—the first half of the program was works by Margaret Brouwer and Sofia Gubaidulina (it was actually quite extraordinary to have two works by women on a single program), and after the presentation, the program concluded with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. I thought I would share the entire text of my speech:
Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy was launched four years ago with the goal of encouraging orchestras to program more works by women. We wanted to carry on part of the mission of The Women’s Philharmonic, a professional orchestra that was based in San Francisco from 1980 to 2004. Over those 24 years, they performed more than 300 works composed by women from the 17th century to the present.
Of course recent decades have seen considerable change, so we have, on the one hand, women who are among the most performed and recognized contemporary composers—but on the other hand, if you look at statistics provided by the League of American Orchestras, you find that the overall number of works composed by women is still only no more than 1.7 percent of the orchestral performance repertoire. That is a very tiny sliver of the composer pie.
So when we noticed what was happening here in Rochester, with Maestro Remmereit and the Philharmonic, we thought we had better come up with an award for this. This is what we want to see as the new normal, a model for orchestras across the country: to explore new new repertoire—commissions and works by living composers—and also new, old repertoire—that is, works from the past decades and centuries, the buried treasures that today’s audiences have never had a chance to hear.
We decided to name our award the AMY Award, after Amy Beach. As you know, Beach was the first American woman to have a symphony performed. She published more than 300 works, yet—after her death, like every other female composer she was erased from the repertoire and from music history.
Last fall you had the exciting opportunity to hear Beach’s masterpiece, her Gaelic Symphony. This fall you will get to hear her Piano Concerto. Perhaps in 2013 it will be time for her monumental Mass, a work which, despite its grandeur, has never been professionally recorded. And in 2014 maybe we will hear her Balkan Variations. And perhaps in 2015 her concert arias. And did I mention her Mass has never been recorded?
I hope you will agree that in embarking on this pathway of discovery, Maestro Remmereit has not forced you to listen to a lot of crummy music. By introducing new works to our classical traditions—creating classics—the orchestral world will be strengthened and invigorated, and audiences will be excited by the discoveries that span continents, centuries, and genders.
Will Maestro Remmereit please come forward to accept the award.
The sculpture is by artist Rita Blitt. It stands ½ inch taller than the Oscar statue, and we think it is much more beautiful!
On behalf of WPA, I am happy to present Maestro Remmereit and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra with the AMY award for excellence in orchestral programming.
Everyone was so excited by this, and Maestro Remmereit was very moved. We didn’t get any pictures, but there is this one from the reception afterwards. But I am definitely going back in the fall!
ALSO: Our Board plans to announce the details (on June 18) of another program to encourage including more works by women to the orchestral repertoire, our WPA Performance Grants.