“Remember the Ladies” Program Notes

Concert info: https://philharmonianw.org/concert-1-remember-the-ladies/

“I long to hear that you have declared an independancy—and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”  Abigail Adams in a letter to her husband, John, March 1776

The opening concert of Philharmonia Northwest’s 23/24 season is a celebration of women composers and the imprint of women on the contemporary musical landscape. The program, chosen by Music Director finalist Dr. Christopher T.F. Hanson, highlights three living composers and Florence Price (1887–-1953), an important Black composer and one of the most prolific composers of any era. The sounds heard today are at times deeply emotional, at others historical in the ways they allude to the past, and occasionally jarring in their call—echoing Abigail Adams—to remember the ladies.

Joan Tower: Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 1

One cannot read the title of Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 1 and not think of a similarly titled composition from Aaron Copland, Fanfare for the Common Man. Is Tower’s work inspired by Copland’s work? A reimagining of it? A rebuke? The answer may be all of the above. The work we hear this afternoon is one of six such fanfares created by Tower as a tribute to “women who take risks and are adventurous.”  The first of her fanfares in the series is dedicated to conductor Marin Alsop and was premiered in 1987. The instrumentation is similar to Copland’s fanfare but adds new percussion colors, which are employed at the onset in contrast to Copland’s initial statements in the brass section. Once Tower brings in the brass, they engage in a continuous stream of action for the length of the work, highlighting the concept of adventurousness. Listen especially to the interplay between the higher brass—trumpets and horns—and the shimmer from percussion colors of glockenspiel and chimes. Joan Tower (b. 1938) is one of modern music’s most celebrated composers and offers us in this fanfare a sonic call to remember the importance of contributions from women who take risks, as she herself has done in this fanfare and all her works.

Barbara Harbach: Demarest Suite

We turn from the sonic world of brass and percussion to strings in this rich work of American composer, harpsichordist, organist, and educator Barbara Harbach (b.1946). Taking its name from the New Jersey city where the high school that originally commissioned and premiered the work resides, Harbach’s suite is a compilation of previously explored themes from her operas, as well a new tango in the second movement inspired by this afternoon’s theme from Abigail Adams. The movement “Echoes of Youth” explores lush, bold themes that signify elements of youth including insecurity, joy, and nostalgia. The frequently shifting key centers give a further sense of restlessness. “Remember the Ladies Tango” offers the listener both a rhythmic call to action and a bit of a lament in the closing moments as Harbach reminds us that Abigail Adams’ request to her husband was never realized. The suite’s final movement, entitled “Joyous Day,” is exactly as the title suggests: pure joy. The ebullient themes brought forth in the string writing are drawn from Harbach’s opera O, Pioneers!, and juxtapose melodies that suggest a gathering of beloved family members in a moment of hope. Many of the extra musical themes found in Demarest Suite take on extra layers of meaning when we consider the initial performers of the work: high school students searching for identity and meaning in a complex society.

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: American Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra

Composed for trumpet player Doc Severinsen of The Tonight Show fame and first premiered in 1994, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s American Concerto is a highly regarded work that entered the trumpet repertoire as a “standard” shortly after its premiere. Born in Florida in 1939, Zwilich was the first woman composer to win the Pulitzer Prize and her music is performed and studied widely around the globe. Though not a direct concern of her compositional approach, Zwilich’s music is often regarded as having helped build a distinctly contemporary American sound.

A unique aspect of the American Concerto is the consideration of how American brass players differ from those trained in other countries. “Unlike his or her European counterparts, the American brass player typically has had a broad background encompassing orchestral, band, and jazz idioms,” offers Zwilich in her original notes on the concerto. The highly varied and virtuosic writing in the work allows the trumpet to explore many aspects of its vernacular, from soaring melodies to punchy exclamations to jazzy riffs that dance on top of the other instruments in the orchestra. Our soloist for today, Pacific Northwest native Natalie Dungey, has been delighting audiences and winning accolades since she was 10 years old. In addition to being an in-demand soloist, Dungey has premiered several works written for her by leading composers including Calling The Calvary by film composer Mateo Messina (soundtrack for Juno), which premiered at Benaroya Hall in 2010.

Florence Price: Symphony No. 1 in E minor

Florence Price was an American composer and the first Black woman to have her music performed by a major orchestra. Much of Price’s music was concerned with Black American experiences in history and contemporary life, and, with over 300 works in her catalog, she is one of the most prolific composers of any era. Yet her music has only been championed in recent years after lost manuscripts were found in 2009 in a dilapidated home in St. Anne, Illinois, a small town about 70 miles from Chicago where Price often spent summers. As stated by Alex Ross in a 2018 article for The New Yorker, “not only did Price fail to enter the canon; a large quantity of her music came perilously close to obliteration. That run-down house in St. Anne is a potent symbol of how a country can forget its cultural history.

Price’s Symphony No. 1 was premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in June of 1933. While classical in instrumentation and organization, the symphony also makes use of melodic shapes and rhythms drawn from Black music idioms including harmonic material drawn from African Spirituals, and Juba, an African-American communal stomping dance that enslaved people used to create rhythmic accompaniment for dancing, since instruments were banned at their gatherings. Profoundly, Juba was also a means of communicating messages between slaves in the manner of African talking drum traditions, an allusion Price was no doubt intending in her use of this dance in the third movement. There is also a comparison in this symphony with Antonín Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony, also in E minor, not so much in content but in the intent of a composer developing a “national” composition style. Though many American composers have striven to develop a national style, it may be Florence Price, as a Black American, who understood this concern most deeply.

James Falzone
Dean and Professor of Music
Cornish College of the Arts