Living Color

The recent seismic events in the U.S. – particularly the long overdue revolution to address police brutality and systemic racism – has had the welcome and yet sad side-effect of adding to my listening list a number of living composers of color I’d never heard of before. Sad because my listen-to lists, which admittedly rely on well known outlets, rarely include this demographic (and that’s a whole other and much longer post). A situation the current times is happily changing.

Aside from a handful with whom I’m personally acquainted – Shelley Washington, Omar Thomas, Evan Williams, Kevin Day, Tania Leon, Marcos Balter (whose gorgeous Pan I had the honor to perform in) – I feel like I’m rarely exposed, virtually or at concerts, to the music of composers of color, particularly black composers.

Politics and optics aside, this baffles me. In particular this album of string quartets by British Jamaican composer Eleanor Alberga, has been a repeat listen since it was recommended several weeks ago by Evan. I would place any these vivid, imaginative, colorful, varied and voyaging works ahead of a number that are routinely trotted out on concerts because of name recognition. I hope that happens, especially with these superb performances by Ensemble Arcadiana. These pieces should be in the top of any quartet’s repertoire of living composers, regardless of demographics or box checking.

I realize one can’t listen to everything – well, Frank Oteri can, but some of us actually need sleep. I can’t wait to have my listening horizons expanded even wider, especially exploring more of Alberga’s work.

Symphonic Sisters


This blog really ought to be run by the extraordinary Frank J. Oteri, who is a considerably more omnivorous listener than myself – many of his explorations wind up on my list.

In addition to being a remarkable composer, Frank is the Composer Advocate at New Music USA and the Co-Editor of NewMusicBox, a web magazine he founded, which has been online since May 1999. He is also the Vice President of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) and serves on the board of directors of the International Association of Music Information Centres (IAMIC).

All these roles feed Frank’s insatiable interest in new music of all forms. One fascinating exploration he recently made was a single numbered symphony, in ascending order, each by a different female composer. (He actually went considerably more in depth and farther afield than that, but let’s start here).

This has been my listening for the last several days, and it’s a fascinating range of either works or composers I didn’t know.

N.B. While I’ve posted youtube links where possible, I urge you to purchase these works. Streaming pays next to nothing to the living composers. Album purchases actually compensate the artists.

Symphony No. 1 in f minor, op. 41 (1916-17, rev 1920) [ca. 48’]
by Dora Pejačević (1885-1923, Croatia)
Recorded by Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz conducted by Ari Rasilainen
(cpo 777-418-2)

Published by Muzički informativni centar, Zagreb

Symphony No. 2 (1993) [ca. 18’]
by Chen Yi (b. 1953, China; based in U.S.A. since 1986)
Recorded by The Women’s Philharmonic conducted by JoAnn Falletta (New Albion NA 090)
Published by the Theodore Presser Company

Symphony No. 3 in c minor (1938-40) [ca. 29’]
by Florence Price (1887-1953, U.S.A.)
Recorded by The Women’s Philharmonic conducted by Apo Hsu (Koch International Classics 3-7518-2)
Published by G. Schirmer

Symphony No. 4 ‘A Passing Shadow’ (2000) [23’]
by Tsippi Fleischer (b. 1946, Israel)
Score published by the Israel Music Institute (IMI 7265)
Players of the Prague Philharmonic conducted by Jiri Mikula (Vienna Modern Masters VMM 3053)

Symphony No. 5 ‘Amen’ (1989-90) [ca. 14’]
by Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006, Russia)
Recorded by The St. Petersburg Soloists conducted by Oleg Malov (Megadisc MDC 7854)
Published by Musikverlag Hans Sikorski

Symphony No. 6 ‘Patria eterna’ (1988-89) [26’]
by Liana Alexandra (1947-2011, Romania)
Recorded by the Romanian Radio Orchestra conducted by Paul Popescu
Score from the Liana Alexandra Estate available at the International Music Score Library Project via a Creative Commons Licence

Symphony No. 7 in f minor (1855-56 premiered 1862) [ca. 34’]
by Emilie Mayer (1812-1883, Germany)
(sometimes misidentified as Mayer’s Symphony No 5, a work which is actually lost)
Performed by the Kammersymphonie Berlin conducted by Jürgen Bruns (Dreyer Gaido)
Published by Furore Verlag

Symphony No. 8 ‘Indian Sounds’ (1991)
by Gloria Coates (b. 1938 U.S.A.; based in Germany since 1969)
Performed by Kathleen Eberlein and Rose Bihler Shah (voices and stones) with the Musica-viva-ensemble Dresden conducted by Jürgen Wirrmann (New World Records 80599)

Symphony No. 9 ‘Celestial Symphony’ (2014-15) [ca. 15’]
by Barbara Harbach (b. 1946, U.S.A.)
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Angus (MSR Classics MS 1614)

Black Out Tuesday

In honor of the fight to confront the systemic racism and police brutality still ingrained in the United States, I am pausing my weekly recommendations to commemorate the murder of George Floyd, the latest in an abhorrent line of racially charged murders.

Please: put down your devices. Go out. On the streets. In person. Peacefully. But raise your voice.

We all must be the change. The authorities and government will never do it. We must. Us. Me. You.