Masterworks Choral Ensemble Celebrates Female Composers

by Karen Lunde for OLY ARTS

When one thinks of Mendelssohn, one likely thinks of Felix. But Felix Mendelssohn’s older sister Fanny was a virtuoso pianist and a prolific, gifted composer. Her talents were obscured by the societal constraints of her time, which kept women from pursuing musical professions. For its April concert, Masterworks Choral Ensemble (MCE) will bring women in music to the forefront, highlighting female composers in a performance entitled Hidden Musical Figures: Women in Music.

“I was inspired by the movie Hidden Figures about the black women mathematicians that worked for NASA,” said MCE Artistic Director and Conductor Gary Witley. “Our concert title … is a play on the movie title. The current multi-part movements about equal pay, no harassment, etcetera, made it a good time to focus on the artistic achievements of women composers.”

The concert will feature works dating back to the 12th century German mystic Hildegard of Bingen, to Fanny Mendelssohn, to Clara Schumann, to present day pieces by contemporary artists like Emma Lou Diemer and Laura Farnell, and Northwest composers Karen Thomas and Dr. Gloria Swisher. “The hardest part about picking music for this concert was narrowing down the choices from literally 17 pages of single-spaced names of women composers throughout history,” said Witley. “Sadly — and probably to be expected, given the lack of attention to women composers — there was not much music currently in print for the more historical figures.”

“The most challenging and, I think, the most beautiful piece is ‘The Peace of Wild Things’, by Joan Szymko,” said Witley. “This piece is for four-part women that expands to seven parts at times. The harmony is close, dense and immensely beautiful. I picked this work to showcase the women in our chorus as well as the artistry of the composer.” Witley noted that Joan Szymko is a Pacific Northwest composer whose work was featured recently at the American Choral Directors Association conference in Portland.


Masterworks Choral Ensemble’s

Hidden Musical Figures: Women in Music


7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14


Washington Center for the Performing Arts

512 Washington St. SE, Olympia


(360) 753-8586 | Washington Center Masterworks Chorale Event


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