PROJECT W: Works by Diverse Women Composers—Chicago Sinfonietta/Mei-Ann Chen — Cedille 

by | Nov 15, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

PROJECT W: Works by Diverse Women Composers—FLORENCE PRICE: Dances in the Canebrakes—CLARICE ASSAD: Sin Frontiers—JESSIE MONTGOMERY: Coincident Dances—REENA ESMAIL: #metoo—JENNIFER HIGDON: Dance Card—Chicago Sinfonietta/Mei-Ann Chen, 74:10 Cedille CDR 90000 185, ****

A rewarding disc of diverse music from (mostly) contemporary women composers.

This CD of (mostly) commissioned contemporary female composers is a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Chicago Sinfonietta and what they stand for: “diversity, inclusion and racial and cultural equality in the arts through the universal language of symphonic music.” Few women hold music director positions of orchestras today and less than 1% of the symphonic repertoire is composed of women. The music here represents different musical cultures, is melodically pleasing, both energetic and contemplative and has enough contemporary musical devices to sound modern.

Florence Price (1887-1953) is the first acknowledged African American woman composer and the first to have a symphony (No. 1) performed by a professional symphony orchestra—the Chicago Symphony in 1933. She attended the New England Conservatory and settled in Chicago where she was a pianist, teacher and organist. Dances in the Canebrakes was originally a suite of African-American melodies written for piano, later orchestrated by William Grant Still, the dean of African-American composers. Divided into three sections, “Nimble Feet,” “Tropical Noon,” and “Silk Hat and Walking Cane,” they are lovely dance evocations of Southern life and spiritual traditions.

Singer, pianist and composer Clarice Assad (b. 1978) was born in Brazil but has spent the last twenty years in America. Sin Fronteras (Without Borders) reflects her belief that “geographic, cultural and moral boundaries disconnect people from one another.” The work is a musical travelogue of South America, from south to north and the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts. The music sways rhythmically back and forth, reflecting the various cultures encountered.

#metoo by Indian-American composer Reena Esmail (b. 1983) expresses her anger and solidarity with the 2017 women’s sexual abuse protest movement. Using elements from western and Hindustani (North Indian) classical music, Esmail opens the work singing a “bandish”—a short melodic introduction that “serves as the protagonist of the piece – a woman who is trying to navigate through a world filled with pitfalls, dead ends, dark turns – each time finding the way back to her own, individual, powerful voice.” The plaintive melody is a meditative and beautiful prologue to #metoo. A longer, more emotionally disturbing orchestral section recalls her own “harm, which happened in high school and college.” There’s a silence and then the woman musicians softly sing the year they entered the Sinfonietta, joining together as if to acknowledge the loss of silenced voices. It’s a powerful and moving tribute to the courage of those who chose to speak out.

Coincident Dances by New York born violinist (and member of the Catalyst Quartet) integrates the different sound worlds she encountered in her daily life in the City—English consort, samba, mbira (the African thumb piano), dance music from Zimbabwe, swing and 21st century techno.

Dance Card by Pulitizer Prize the popular and Pulitizer Prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) is typical of her music—vividly colorful, rhythmically exciting with mercurial shifting textures. It’s a serious, yet light hearted 23 minute “celebration of the joy, lyricism, and passion of a group of strings playing together.” “Raucous Rumpus,” “Jumble Dance” and “Machina Rockus” are roughly spirited and wildly mechanistic. “Breeze Serenade” is melodic and serene. “Celestial Blue” is contemplative and soothing. There’s lots of opportunity for the members of Chicago Sinfonietta to shine individually and as a group.

This is a delightful, diverse and very well performed and recorded disc of women composers. More, please.

—Robert Moon

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