Concert highlights two
(who happen to be women)
Music, like so many other fields, has a gender issue. It crops up when a music student is asked to name a female classical composer, and the most recent they can come up with is Alma Mahler. We still see composer profiles that refer to the artist as a “woman composer”, as if this one were from another planet. Despite many liberated decades of excellent work by thousands of prominent and spectacularly talented chicks, there is still a surprising amount of discussion of gender in regard to classical composers and conductors, in particular. (This resource list may prove interesting.)
Much progress has been made, and leading conductors like Marin Alsop (who leads the LA Phil into battle this weekend) are changing the public’s perspective. But there’s still plenty of room for she-focused programming, at least until the gender modifier loses its function. In Los Angeles, we have Vox Femina to bring us new repertoire and sisterly spirit, and this weekend, they’re bringing us music from two female choral creators: Joan Szymko and Gwyneth Walker.
First, let’s assume that the music is good — it is. Both composers have succeeded because their talent is considerable, and because both use compositional language that, while certainly modern, is neither mired in pure technique nor dumbed down for easy sale: Walker calls her music ‘readily comprehensible’, rather than the overused ‘accessible’, as part of an excellent interview on what an “American sound” might be. Both could be described in this way, and in the end, they create beauty that means something. (That’s the job, right?)
But what jumps out when reading about these artists is that they have not only survived in the classical world — they are thriving, better than many of either gender. Szymko is an active conductor, and has served as the artistic director of a large community women’s ensemble in Portland, Oregon for nearly twenty years. Her work with innovative organizations such as Do Jump! Extremely Physical Theater, as well as her work as a drum circle facilitator, makes the most of her creative gifts, and keeps her plenty busy.
Walker spent some years in the academic world, but left in 1982 to pursue composing full-time. While other composers would have foundered, she has been busy, supporting herself through her extensive catalog of compositions for more than forty years, with hundreds of commissions and making her arguably one of the most prolific composers in the country. She spent thirty of those years living and working her small farm in Vermont, but has lives in Connecticut, traveling extensively to work on recordings and orchestrations of her pieces.
Vox Femina is an organization with this same go-getter energy, now in their 16th year and doing well. This concert starts their new season with fresh vigor, and we look forward to hearing the results.
Originally published in Next 7 — Vocal events through 11/8/12