Women Composers to Celebrate in 2018-2019

Classical music enthusiasts love to celebrate big years – and we certainly are no exception, as we celebrated Amy Beach’s 150th in 2017. In general we are in favor of any reason to have a party and spend some time immersed in great music. But it is only fair that orchestras spread their attention, and concert time, to more composers than “the usual suspects.” After all, there are plenty of birthdays to go around!

This year there is nothing less than a deluge of ensembles across the country dedicating concerts to dear ol’ Lenny because of his 100th birthday (in August, 2018). It’s hard to find a major ensemble that isn’t including at least one work in honor of his life – and many are devoting entire events. Also the upcoming concert schedules and press releases reveal a fair share of works by Debussy in the coming months, as March 2018 marks 100 years since his death.

But there is far more to celebrate and commemorate!

This year also marks the 100th birthday of English born composer Denise Tolkowsky (1918-1991). A celebrated pianist and composer, Tolkowsky studied at the Royal Flemish Conservatory in Antwerp and wrote for theater, orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo piano, and voice.

Denise Tolkowsky

It is also the 100th birthday of Icelandic composer Jórunn Viðar (1918-2017) – who only passed away last year! Viðar studied at the Music Academy in Berlin as well as the Juilliard School of Music. Included in her oeuvre are many works based on Icelandic folk songs. What a great opportunity to celebrate the life and music of a celebrated contemporary composer!

This year is also the 100th anniversary of the death of Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) – beloved sister of composer, conductor, and educator Nadia Boulanger, and the first woman to win the Prix de Rome. Lili achieved an amazing compositional maturity in her incredibly short life dying tragically young, but leaving behind great works that are still treasured. We can only imagine what more she could have accomplished.

The opportunities to expand repertoire are there – and what could be an easier way to introduce a new work or unknown composer, than in the tried-and-true “celebration year” method that classical music programmers have turned to for decades?

As conductors and artistic directors are looking to not only 2018-2019 but 2019-2020 let’s all do our part in reminding them of the opportunities they are missing – for diverse programming, enthusiastic and new audience members (and potential new donors), and, as conversations continue to draw attention to the importance of representation, stay relevant.

Next year (2019) will mark Clara Schumann’s 200th birthday. This will be an exciting and easy opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the diverse history of classical music – but how many ensembles will actually take it?

Be reminded of all (well, a lot of) the upcoming women composers birthdays with the 2018 Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy calendar!