Carnegie Mellon University
February 01, 2019

now it's time: Carnegie Mellon University Contemporary Ensemble Presents Four World Premieres in All Female Composer Concert

By Haley Nordeen

Emily Rybinski-Benish
Pam Wigley
  • College of Fine Arts
  • 412-268-1047

The Carnegie Mellon University Contemporary Ensemble's next concert will feature five outstanding composers who happen to be women.

The ensemble, directed by Daniel Nesta Curtis, will perform four world premieres: "Little boy blue" by alumna Annika Socolofsky, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in 2012; "Everything Flows" by Professor of Composition Nancy Galbraith; "stacked emotions" for chamber ensemble by alumna Binna Kim, who graduated with a master's degree in 2012; and "Songs of Strength" by Professor of Theory and Composition Marilyn Taft Thomas. The concert also features "The Vermeer Room" by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe and will take place at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 16 at the historic Kelly Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave. in Pittsburgh.

"Little boy blue," is the second movement of "Don't Say a Word," by Socolofsky. Calling the movements "feminist rager lullabies," she rewrites nursery rhymes to share messages she wished she heard at a young age.

"Seeing yourself represented in the field you want to be in is an extremely powerful message." — Annika Socolofsky

The title of the concert "now it's time," comes from Socolofsky's lyrics: "Hush now, baby. Don't say a word. Now it's time for the women's turn."

"Not only is it time for the women's turn, the world of classical music to needs to hear from all new voices: from women of color, people of color, trans and nonbinary composers," Socolofsky said.

Nancy Galbraith's percussion concerto, "Everything Flows" is her fifth concerto that CMU has premiered and was written for Abigail Langhorst, who graduated in 2018 with a master's degree in percussion. Langhorst will perform the work with the ensemble.

A fan of all genres of music, Galbraith's concerto was inspired by styles ranging from rock 'n' roll to gamelan, traditional music from Indonesia.

"[The piece] goes from western to eastern, from in-your-face to very serene and ethereal, but it flows — everything flows," Galbraith said.

In five movements, Kim's "stacked emotions" unfolds as a series of waves where emotional intensity bubbles over before being reined in.

Thomas's song cycle "Songs of Strength," was composed in honor of long-time CMU Voice Professor Mildred Miller Posvar. It is a setting of poems by Maya Angelou, performed by mezzo-soprano Hannah Shea, who graduated in 2018.

"The text of the song cycle brings the ideas and themes of the concert out in a powerful way," Curtis said.

The concert sparks a larger conversation about the experience of women composers in the classical music world today. Why do female composers continue to face a glass ceiling?

Galbraith said that it is due in part to networking. Conductors and others who are able to give platform to emerging composers are overwhelmingly male, and therefore tend to raise up other young men.

Socolofsky and her colleagues recognize the importance of mentorship and networking,

"If I'm offered an opportunity that I can't take, I always try to pass it on to someone whose voice needs to be heard," Socolofsky said.

Her first composition professor at CMU was Thomas, and she took classes with Galbraith.

"To have these amazing women as mentors meant that, even though I was one of very few women in the program, I never felt out of place," Socolofsky said. "Seeing yourself represented in the field you want to be in is an extremely powerful message."

Another large part is the programming and commissioning decisions of orchestras, festivals and other institutions.

Curtis said he sees it as an imperative to create programming which is a direct representation of the human experience.

"These changes often start in places like universities" Curtis said, "and our responsibility is greater, because we're educating the next generation."

While nearly all of the Contemporary Ensemble concerts already feature composers who are women, "now it's time," came about naturally, and Curtis decided to celebrate it.

"It's actually not difficult to program and perform the music of women composers," Curtis said, "I actually find it's difficult to exclude them."

Four of the five composers are connected to CMU, either as faculty or alumnae.

"Education is lifelong," Socolofsky said, "and having an institution who keeps caring and providing opportunities is wonderful."

Following the concert there will be a reception and Q&A with composers and performers.

Support for this concert and commissions comes from the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry and the Carnegie Mellon School of Music.