Celebrating Women Composers

Celebrating Women Composers

As Women’s History Month closes out, we’re spotlighting some of the women composers programmed during the 2021–22 Season. Learn more about their backgrounds and hear their music at upcoming performances!

Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was a French music teacher, composer and conductor. Her students included prominent artists like Quincy Jones, Aaron Copland, and Astor Piazzolla. This February, pianist Alexandra Dariescu performed the U.S. premiere of Boulanger’s gorgeous Fantaisie variée for Piano and Orchestra with the Houston Symphony.

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) was a French composer and the first woman to win the Prix de Rome composition prize. She was deemed a prodigy at age two by Gabriel Fauré when he discovered she had perfect pitch. Following in the footsteps of her older sister Nadia Boulanger, Lili attended the Paris Conservatoire at age five and studied violin, harp, organ, cello, and piano. This February, the Houston Symphony performed Lili Boulanger’s Scenes from Faust et Hélène, the work that won her the coveted Prix de Rome when she was just 19 years old!

Unsuk Chin (b. 1961) is a South Korean composer who has lived in Berlin since 1988. Her contemporary compositions have been championed by renowned conductors including Gustavo Dudamel, Simon Rattle, and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Her music has been performed internationally by the Berlin Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic, among many others. The Houston Symphony performed Graffiti last November, a composition that “celebrated the idea of street art, from primitive to refined, labyrinthine to stark” (The Observer).

Sofia Gubaidulina’s (b. 1931) musical upbringing in Soviet-Russia was quite unconventional. Many Western contemporary pieces were banned from her compositional studies, but Gubaidulina and her peers studied these scores nonetheless. Many critics deemed her music as “irresponsible” due to her unique compositional methods, but Dmitri Shostakovich encouraged her to continue down the “incorrect path”. She has become internationally known for her musical philosophy that is rooted in experimentation and spirituality. The Houston Symphony will perform Gubaidulina’s Fairy Tale Poem April 15 & 16.

Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) is a Pulitzer Prize and three-time Grammy award-winning composer. She began her compositional journey at 21 and is considered a major figure in contemporary Classical music with commissions from top orchestras around the nation. This May, the Houston Symphony will premiere Higdon’s Duo Duel for Two Percussionists and Orchestra, performed by Associate Principal Timpani and Percussion Matthew Strauss and internationally acclaimed percussionist Svet Stoyanov.

Women composers have been longstanding contributors to the classical music repertoire, and we are thrilled to share their music with you. Reserve your seat to hear these works, and many others at houstonsymphony.org.

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