March is Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate women’s achievements—and also a time to think critically about what all of us can do to create a more equitable world.
On this Saturday’s episode of Second Inversion, we’re celebrating women’s voices. We’ll hear music from women who have helped shape, inspire, and expand the world of classical music. From the modal musings of Hildegard von Bingen to the ear-expanding experiments of Pauline OIiveros and the vibrant, cross-cultural folk songs of Nathalie Joachim, we’ll hear music from women who have made a mark on classical music history. Plus, we’ll talk about why women composers have been historically underrepresented in classical music—and what you can do to help.
“I wish I could live in India and America at the same time,” says Reena Esmail, the daughter of Indian immigrants who has become one of the most respected young composers in the United States; “I wish they shared a border, and I could build a little home right in between them. I know I can’t do that in the physical world, but this is where I live every day in my music.”
Esmail’s compositions straddle two of the world’s most sophisticated musical traditions. On one side is the art music of Europe and its system of tonal harmony that developed over the last 400-plus years, and on the other, Hindustani classical music from North India, organized around collections of tones known as raags that go back many centuries further. Studies at the Juilliard School and the Yale School of Music grounded Esmail in the practices of the West’s classical music, including its precise system of notation that allows performers of any background to interpret unfamiliar nuances. As a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar, she was able to spend a year in India studying the classical music of her ancestors, absorbing the oral tradition built on complex patterns and pitches that often can’t be categorized within Western norms.
Writing a Piano Trio has fulfilled one of Esmail’s oldest ambitions as a musician. Growing up as a talented pianist, trios with violin and cello were her favorite form of chamber music, and she won a life-changing competition that resulted in her performing Mendelssohn’s Second Piano Trio with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She also counts Ravel’s Piano Trio as an all-time favorite work, noting, “So much of what I’ve learned about color and texture in my writing comes from Ravel.” After three years of work and a pile of sketches that is up to 300 pages and counting (with less that three weeks to go before the premiere), Esmail is still polishing off this substantial score that reckons with the rigorous tradition of the four-movement piano trio.
Authentic raags appear
in each movement of the trio, including the monsoon season raag known
as Megh that informs a chorale from the strings and other
gestures in the first movement. In a tempo marked “Ephemeral,” the smooth modal
phrases and long slurs highlight Esmail’s affinity with Ravel, who also looked
outside the Western canon to expand his shimmering soundscapes. Flutters,
slides and harmonics continue in the slow movement, creating a sense of
improvisatory freedom while the music slips in and out of time.
casting the quivering third movement as a scherzo, Esmail acknowledges her debt
to Mendelssohn (the king of those elfin, lighter-than-air diversions), but
moments of manic hilarity and sheer muscle recall a more subversive master of
the piano trio, Shostakovich. In the finale, a singing string melody supported
by “luminous” piano filigree surges to a droning climax marked “powerful,
broad, intense.” When the unhurried ending arrives with glimmering harmonics
and crystalline chords, this work completes an arc that places it squarely
within the storied lineage of the “classical” piano trio—while making it clear
just how irrelevant such boundaries truly are.
If you attended a major symphony performance anywhere in the world this year, chances are you didn’t see any works by women composers on the program.
In the 2019-2020 concert season women composers have accounted for only 3.6 percent of the total works performed by major orchestras worldwide, according to research conducted by Drama Musica’s Donne project.
We’re proud to feature women composers every week on Second Inversion, but in honor of International Women’s Day this weekend we’re dedicating this week’s entire episode to women who have helped shape, inspire, and expand the world of classical music. Plus, we’ll talk about why women have been historically underrepresented in the classical tradition and where you can find more resources on women in music.
Not all classical music unfolds onstage. Behind the scenes, there is an entire ecosystem of artists, audiences, administrators, educators, and innovators who bring classical music to life in the Pacific Northwest.
Second Inversion is thrilled to be a part of KING FM’s Northwest Focus Stories, a new show airing select Friday evenings at 8pm on KING FM. Join host Dacia Clay and your favorite KING FM announcers as we highlight the vibrant classical music community of the Pacific Northwest through in-depth interviews and audio stories built around people who create, curate, or contribute to classical music in a meaningful way.
Our first episode, which aired on October 18, highlights women leaders in Seattle’s music community, with special guests ranging from experimental percussionist Bonnie Whiting to Seattle Opera General Director Christina Scheppelmann, arts advocate Leslie Chihuly, music historian Melinda Bargreen, KING FM CEO Brenda Barnes, and Seattle Rock Orchestra Music Director Kim Roy.
Listen to the episode on-demand below:
Host and Executive Producer:Dacia Clay; segment producers and interviewers: Dacia Clay, Maggie Molloy, Nikhil Sarma, Marta Zekan, Mike Brooks, Dave Beck; audio engineering: Mike Brooks and Nikhil Sarma; theme music: “a storm of our own making,” by Daniel Webbon.
Music in Bonnie Whiting Segment:
Annea Lockwood: Amazonia Dreaming Bonnie Whiting, percussion (recorded in studio)
With fall now fully underway, it can often feel like there’s nothing but gray clouds on the horizon. Every once in a while, though, the sky clears up for a moment or an afternoon, reminding us that the sun keeps shining just beyond the clouds.
The simple pleasure of these moments is part of the impulse behind composer and vocalist Annika Socolofsky’s piece Turadh, which is titled after a Scottish word for a “break in the clouds.” A collaboration with the New York-based Parhelion Trio, the piece features the ensemble of flute, clarinet, and piano accompanying recordings of Socolofsky playing her 10-stringed Norwegian hardanger d’amore fiddle, an instrument she used to play for her grandmother at her home in rural Kansas. These evenings spent in the warmth of her grandmother’s home inspired a piece that provides its own unique warmth and resonance.
For their new video, Socolofsky and the Parhelion Trio draw on the talents of media artist and filmmaker XUAN, whose ambient lighting and experimental video editing present the piece in an elegant new light.
We’re thrilled to premiere the new video for Socolofsky’s Turadh.