Tuesday 8th March was International Women’s Day, a worldwide event dating back to 1909 which celebrates the economic, political, and social achievements of women. The position of women in music is no less underrepresented and deserving of recognition, and consequently Music Durham decided to honour the occasion with a concert dedicated entirely to female composers. A wide range of repertoire, ranging from the 1600s right up to the present day, was on display, which demonstrated the contributions female composers have made to music throughout history. Furthermore, the pieces had been directed and rehearsed entirely by female conductors from the student body of the Music Department.
The programme began with a welcome talk from the Dean of Culture and Diversity, Prof. Catherine Alexander, before a string quartet led by third-year Music student Rebecca Howell performed the first two movements from Fanny Mendelssohn’s only string quartet (in E♭ major). Fanny was the sister of the more famous Felix Mendelssohn, and occasionally used his name to get her works published. Like her brother she had a prodigious mind, composing over 460 pieces of music, and excelled as a pianist from an early age. This sumptuous performance was followed by a vocal duet (third-year sopranos Rachel Newell and Gwen MacNaughton) accompanied by departmental member of staff Dr Hector Sequera on theorbo. They performed Begli Occhi by seventeenth-century Italian composer Barbara Strozzi, who has been described as “the most prolific composer—man or woman—of printed secular vocal music in Venice in the Middle of the century.” Cécile Chaminade’s Air de Ballet followed, which was a beautiful duet for flute and piano played with grace and confidence by third-year Music student Jen Morphet. Morphet also featured in the concert as a composer; her string quartet Degradation used Shostakovich’s famous waltz as the basis for a work which explored timbral variations of this theme, which gradually breaks down over the course of the composition.
The second half of the programme featured a selection of songs from Clara Schumann’s 6 Lieder, Op. 13. Clara—the wife of the more-famous Robert Schumann—was considered one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era, and wrote her Piano Concerto at the age of fourteen. The department’s contemporary music ensemble (New Art Music Ensemble) provided an interesting work that explored a novel soundworld in contemporary Norwegian composer Kristin Boldstad’s FRI………SK, which examined the long-term effects of temporal stasis. The programme ended with another student composition, Cindy Chang’s Magic Mushroom, an attractive, light-hearted work for piano trio. After the concert the audience retreated upstairs for wine and nibbles in the Common Room.