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Celebrating Women Composers

Celebrating Women Composers

In 1929, Sir Hugh Allen said to Elizabeth Maconchy, who later became one of the most distinguished English composers of her generation: “If we give you the Mendelssohn Scholarship you will only get married and never write another note.” Generations of female composers must have had similar experiences, finding themselves confronted with seemingly insurmountable difficulties. In today’s classical music world, they are still a long way from achieving equal treatment and even farther from gender equity in programming. That the situation is at least improving – on the way to greater variety – we owe to the pioneers, those persevering women composers, whether outspoken or reticent, who were able to move an audience with their works as soon as they were given an opportunity.

Today, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, we are pleased to introduce you to some these outstanding artistic personalities.

Please contact your local UMPC office or agent for further information about our composers and their works.


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Sivan Eldar

*1985 in Tel-Aviv (Israel)

Sivan Eldar, winner of the Fedora 2021 prize for her first opera Like Flesh, combines the commitment of a 21st century artist with the immemorial know-how of a musician whose vocal and instrumental catalogue already includes several masterpieces. Nourished by the cultural, social and environmental concerns of our time, she combines the performing arts, which she often serves with faithful artistic partners, with the wider creation of an overwhelming mark on the international artistic landscape.

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Liza Lim

*1966 in Perth (Australia)

Liza Lim is a composer, educator and researcher whose music focusses on collaborative and transcultural practices. The roots of beauty (in noise), time effects in the Anthropocene and the sensoria of ecological connection are ongoing concerns in her compositional work. Her music is published by Ricordi and on CD labels such as Kairos, Hat Art, WERGO, HCR and Winter & Winter.

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Elizabeth Maconchy

*1907 in Broxbourne (UK), †1994 in Norwich (UK)

Dame Elizabeth Maconchy is a true pioneer in the UK and was the first woman elected Chair of the Composer’s Guild of Great Britain in 1959. Prior to that, her music has been performed in the UK but also in Eastern Europe, France, Germany, as well as in the USA and Australia. Maconchy once declared that: "for me, the best music is an impassioned argument".

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Lucia Ronchetti

*1963 in Rome (Italy)

Music theatre, choral operas and dramaturgies. Even when expressed through voices, musical forms, and landmarks of the past, Lucia Ronchetti’s music always speaks the language of our time. Her fix upon the mirror of the past is part of an unremitting search for the most authentic expression of our cultural identity. (Stefano Nardelli)

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Erzsébet Szőnyi

*1924, †2019 in Budapest (Hungary)

Szőnyi’s style cannot be classified in any of the trends of 20th-century Hungarian music history, her approach being characterized by both conservatism and openness to experiments. Her most remarkable orchestral work is an Organ Concerto, but she also had a keen interest in oratorical genres and opera. In her rich and varied oeuvre, works for youth receive special emphasis.

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Julia Wolfe

*1958 in Philadelphia (USA)

Julia Wolfe’s music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. She draws inspiration from folk, classical, and rock genres, bringing a modern sensibility to each while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them.

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Luna Alcalay

*1928 in Zagreb (Croatia), †2012 in Vienna (Austria)

Luna Alcalay on her music: “Initially caught up in the serial style; successive individualising moves, towards a personal system, preference for a signifying communicative language; ultimately one should mention a non-conformist attitude to music and tradition as very important factors in the working method.” This critical approach was expressed in her openness to various styles such as jazz, but above all in her commitment to humanity and deep emotionalism.

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Lili Boulanger

*1893 in Paris (France), †1918 in Mézy-sur-Seine (France) 

Wunderkind, sister to internationally famous Nadia, first woman having ever been awarded by the French Grand Prix de Rome: for anyone but Lili Boulanger, this could have made her a musical myth, duly revered in art history books. Llli Boulanger's tour de force was to build in the quick 24 years of her life a much acknowledged corpus of masterworks which are still on everyday's orchestra stands.

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Carmen Maria Cârneci

*1957 in Racila (Romania)

Carmen Maria Cârneci is a Romanian composer and conductor. She worked as an assistant to Michael Gielen at the Donaueschinger Musiktage and conducted Salvatore Sciarrino’s opera Perseo e Andromeda at the Staatsoper in Stuttgart, and then reprised the work as the first female conductor in the history of La Scala in Milan. In 1994/95 she wrote her own chamber opera Giacometti, directing the world premiere herself, at the Bonn Opera in 1996; a revised version was performed in Zurich in 2001. "After all, my music represents myself – without consideration – with all my facets, feelings and my attitude to life." (2010)

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Silvia Colasanti

*1975 in Rome (Italy)

In Silvia Colasanti's production, the musical gaze often turns to forms, genres, languages of the past. Stimulated to confront the history of the music of her masters, she does not reject the experience of the musical avant-garde, but tries to relate it to the musical heritage inherited from the past. (Gianluigi Mattietti)

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Violeta Dinescu

*1953 in Bukarest (Romania)

Violeta Dinescu was strongly influenced by Romanian folk and Byzantine Orthodox church music. With her compositions, she builds bridges between European and Eastern European traditions, Early and New Music, and so-called popular and serious music. The folkloristic sounds of her children’s opera Der 35. Mai are characterized by rich colors and rhythmic variety. 

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Justė Janulytė

*1982 in Vilnius (Lithuania)

The works of Juste Janulyte claim to build a "monochrome music" collection: they explore time-space perception through large-scale multilayered textures and extremely gradual metamorphoses. Juste Janulyte's catalogue, balancing between the aesthetics of minimalism, spectralism and acoustic electronica, has become one of the most fascinating focal points in the contemporary musical world.

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Betsy Jolas

*1926 in Paris (France)

Despite being an exact contemporary of the Darmstadt generation, Betsy Jolas has always known how to elegantly and effectively defend her independence of mind. A large catalog, ranging from chamber pieces to the Schliemann opera created in the flagship years of the Opéra de Lyon, as well as prestigious educational missions on both sides of the Atlantic, attest to the relevance of a recognized and admired "savoir faire" around the world. At almost hundred, Betsy Jolas is a contemporary grand lady who continues to move and inspire us.

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Sarah Nemtsov

*1980 in Oldenburg (Germany)

Sarah Nemtsov’s innovative music is characterized by powerfully conceived sonic combinations; complex, energetic textures; musical layering; and interaction between acoustical instruments and electronics. Literature and other art forms are important inspirations, and her compositions often address political and social topics—through the lense of her personal experiences.

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Olga Neuwirth

*1968 in Graz (Austria)

Olga Neuwirth’s works explore a wide range of forms and genres: operas, radio-plays, sound-installations, artworks, photography, and film-music. In many works, she fuses live-musicians, electronics, and video into audio-visual experiences.

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Younghi Pagh-Paan

*1945 in Cheongju (South Korea)

Younghi Pagh-Paan is one of the most important female composers of her generation; she was the first woman to receive a commission for an orchestral work at the Donaueschinger Musiktage (1980) and the first woman to be appointed professor of composition at a German university (Bremen, 1994). As a composer and teacher, she influenced several generations of composers.

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Annette Schlünz

*1964 in Dessau (Germany)

“Annette Schlünz's music is worked out with extreme precision, densely woven from small motifs. The composer favours an ascetic soundscape of delicate, tentative shreds of sonority that often have the effect of being dabbed into the space like pointillism.“ (Süddeutsche Zeitung on her opera Tre Volti - Drei Blicke auf Liebe und Krieg (2016-2017), an encounter with Monteverdi).

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Bettina Skrzypczak

*1962 in Poznan (Poland)

Bettina Skrypczak is a composer of solo, vocal-instrumental ensemble and orchestral works. The compositions of the former artistic director of the festival Tage für Neue Musik Zürich are performed regularly in Germany, Switzerland and Poland. In 2020 she was awarded the renowned Heidelberg Women Artists' Prize.

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Lisa Streich

*1985 in Norra Rada (Sweden)

Much of her work is quiet, timbrally fragile and temperamentally reticent – but as in singular, wonderfully imaginative, tightly bounded and strongly characterized, immediately compelling to the ear and more or less immediately graspable, with a musical significance that lies less in development or elaboration than in inherent properties and eventual juxtapositions.

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Shiori Usui

*1981 in Japan

Shiori Usui, Japanese composer based in Scotland and ricordilab laureate 2016-2019 composes radical instrumental music and has worked with motion capturing sensors and biophysical technology. Many of her compositions are inspired by the sounds of the human body, the deep sea, and many other weird and wonderful organisms living on Earth.

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Francesca Verunelli

*1979 in Pietrasanta (Italy)

For Francesca Verunelli, composition is the throwing up of artistic questions which find their preliminary answers in the resulting works. It involves the formulation of paradoxes that can only make sense in an artistic context, and not least the representation of aesthetic experiences for its communication unto others. (Markus Böggemann)

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Isidora Žebeljan

*1967, †2020 in Belgrade (Serbia)

One of the most outstanding and internationally acclaimed Serbian composers, Isidora Žebeljan drew international attention with her opera Zora D.. Her works are packed with fiery energy and the tricksy dance rhythms of home, in a totally unique musical language which is deeply affecting and wildly exciting. BBC Music Magazine celebrated "her music’s intense originality and fiery emotional expression"

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Illustration: Amrita Marino
Photos: Lea Girardin, Harald Hoffmann, Katherine Church, Vanessa Francia, Gyula Czimbal MTI, Peter Serling, Stiftung Die Höge, Max Pucciariello, Dmitrij Matvejev, Coupannec Leemage, Camille Blake, Si-Chan Park, M. Creutziger, Priska Ketterer, Manu Theobald, Jo+úo Quirino, Julian Hargreaves (Académie de France, Villa Medici), Kristina Milković