My August 11th Steinway Series recital at the Smithsonian American Art Museum will feature rarely performed gems by trailblazing female composers. This concert is especially meaningful to me because my first concert after moving to DC in 2017 was part of the Steinway Series, my first opportunity to show my art to this city. This time, I am using this opportunity to showcase works that have not been performed as often as their artistry deserves—because women composed them. They also represent a wide variety of styles that showcase the range of women’s compositional creativity across time, fitting well with the Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Initiative: “Because of Her Story.”
Each composer in the program paved the way for future generations of women to pursue their skills and talents. Amy Beach was the first American female composer who wrote a symphony performed by a major orchestra. She was so successful, in a field thought suitable only for men, that the women’s suffrage movement used her example to rebut sexist arguments that women were suited only for a limited set of careers. I’m proud to present pieces by a contributor to the women’s suffrage movement here while the American Art Museum celebrates the sacrifice and achievements of women we have to thank for rights we often take for granted. Concertgoers should stop by this “Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence” exhibition before or after the concert.
In a way, I owe my career to another composer on the program, Clara Schumann, who was the first internationally successful female concert pianist and gifted composer. Fanny Mendelssohn helped create the important genre of Songs without Words, but her brother Felix got the credit and glory for many of her works because her family would not allow her to publish her works under her own name. Lili Boulanger was a prodigy, the first woman to win the then most prestigious composition prize in the world, the Prix de Rome, at the age of only 19. Grażyna Bacewicz’s second sonata, which I will perform, is a work of stunning ambition that demands a virtuosic performer. Joan Tower is one of the most awarded and highly reputed living composers.