Saw a very nice concert this past week by the Lumina Duo – oboist Merideth Hite-Estevez and pianist Jani Parsons. The program was all music by women from the 12th century to the present. Great to have a program where the women aren’t presented as token reps for their sex, where the performance is just about them. The performers took the opportunity to tell each composer’s story, and a fascinating cross-generational narrative emerged.
A number of highlights to mention. The arrangement of Hildegard von Bingen’s O vis aeternitatis featured a couple of e-bows used to set the piano strings in motion, creating an elusive drone reminiscent of an organ tone but with the special characteristics inherent with a vibrating string. Margaret Bonds’s To a Brown Girl, Dead, composed about sixty years ago, but possibly even more poignant in our time, was pretty much perfect: each harmony, each note given exactly the right weight and space.
If I were a music critic I might feel obliged to comment on each piece, but I’m not, so I don’t. I will say that there were no weak spots on the program, no pieces that were included just to check off a name or a genre. These were all strong compositions, some with bold power, some a bit more on the sneaky side.
The program notes asked the question that we all have to ponder about the number of women who could have been very successful composers if they had been given opportunities or encouragement. I’d like to frame the question from the opposite direction, though: imagine if Beethoven had been required to marry and serve the bidding of a spouse at the age of 25, about the time he was working on his first piano sonata. Would we have heard anything further from him?
Here is the Lumina Duo program I heard:
Hildegard von Bingen: O vis aeternitatis
Rebecca Clarke: Viola Sonata
Tina Nicholson: Moments from Women
Alex Shapiro: Spark
Thea Musgrave: Night Windows
Clara Schumann: Der Mond kommt still gegangen
Margaret Bonds: To a Brown Girl, Dead
Alex Temple: Locations and Times
Lili Boulanger: Nocturno
Madeleine Dring: Italian Dance