Rob Gebelhoff

The Last Art Form to Recognize Women?

Present Music presents “Women in the Chamber,” mixing music and politics.

By - Jan 9th, 2014 12:19 pm
Liza White will be one of nine female composers featured in Present Music's Women in the Chamber. Photo courtesy of Liza White.

Liza White will be one of nine female composers featured in Present Music’s Women in the Chamber. Photo courtesy of Liza White.

About 30 years ago, the classical and new music scene was sparsely sprinkled by women composers. Today, however, the scene has been transformed.

As part of an exposé examining gender parity in the arts, Milwaukee’s Present Music will feature the works of nine contemporary female composers from around the world in its concert series titled “Women in the Chamber,” which will be performed this week at unorthodox locations around the city.

“The development of women in this kind of music has been very glacial, but if you look at it, it’s kind of a revolution,” says Kevin Stalheim, artistic director at Present Music. “And I think that’s something to celebrate.”

The performances accompany a panel discussion entitled “An Even Playing Field” that took place Tuesday evening at the Woodland Pattern Book Center. Panelists include Suzan Fete from Renaissance Theaterworks and Lisa Schlenker from Skylight Music Theatre, who discussed the issue of gender disparity and its impact on their careers.

The heavily electronic new music from Zosha Di Castri, a Canadian composer, will also be featured in the Women in the Chamber performances. Photo courtesy of Zosha Di Castri.

The heavily electronic new music from Zosha Di Castri, a Canadian composer, will also be featured in the Women in the Chamber performances. Photo courtesy of Zosha Di Castri.

“The disparity is universal in all facets of life,” says Stalheim, who founded Present Music in 1982. “I think music is one of the last art forms to bring women to the forefront.”

Melissa Czarnik, an eclectic songwriter-poet who will be performing live following the concerts at the after-party, says she has seen a clear gender disparity in music composition.

“Having moved from Milwaukee to New York City, I see that there are a lot of women composing in underground performance spaces around New York,” Czarnik explains. “And yet I notice that the amount of music actually being put out by classical or new music labels … is very slim compared to how male composers are represented.”

Czarnik says she thinks the concert series and discussion is a good way to bring attention to the issue. “It is definitely a much needed event and I thank them for putting the energy into making this happen,” she says.

Stalheim also stresses that the concert attempts to fulfill an even more basic mission: to expose new music to a wider audience.

“New music has this reputation of not being accessible or being weird,” Stalheim says. “There’s such a huge variety and it’s really blossomed. This gives us the chance to see that variety of music — from beautiful to raucous, from wild to sensitive.”

Variety there certainly will be. Present Music artists will take on the experimental, atonal works of the composers Liza White and Zosha Di Castri, as well as a more traditional piece for a string quartet by the Uzbekistani composer, Elena Kats-Chernin.

Milwaukee-based artists will also be represented in the program, as Present Music will perform String Quartet No. 1, composed by Judith Moy. Moy is a violinist in the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra who composed the piece as part of the John Downey Creation Project.


Kevin Stalheim. Present Music photo by Joo Photography.

These works among others will comprise the second installment of what has is  becoming a tradition for Present Music: one concert per year devoted to chamber music. The intimacy of the music and the venues Present Music uses give the audience the opportunity to get to know the pieces on a more personal level.

“It’s a positive thing,” Stalheim says. “I’m happy that there are such great musicians out there, and we get to feature them.”

Czarnik, however, stresses that this exposure for top female composers cannot stop there.

“There are amazing female composers, emcees, deejay’s, poets, musicians,” Czarnik says, “But it is up to us as consumers, artists and media to pay equal attention to all genders — not just for one concert celebrating that gender, but all year long.”

The concerts will begin at 2 p.m. on Jan. 9 at the Women’s Club in Milwaukee and at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 10 and 11 at Anodyne Coffee. Tickets for the Jan. 9 performance are $23.20 and the Jan. 10 and 11 tickets are $34.05. They can be found at Present Music’s website.

Other events coming up:

Brahm’s “Fifth” by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Edo de Waart and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will team up with guest violinist Jennifer Koh, lauded by one critic as the “high octane, risk-taking player of the kind who grabs the listener by the ears and refuses to let go.” She will solo in Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25, which was dubbed his “Fifth” (symphony) by composer Arnold Schoenberg, who did this unusual orchestral arrangement of the chamber work. This powerful piece, written to be played by the legendary pianist Clara Schumann, becomes far bigger in this version. It will be accompanied by works by Alban Berg and JS Bach.

Concerts will begin at 8 p.m. Jan. 17 and 16 at the Marcus Center for Performing Arts. Tickets are available at the MSO’s website or at (414) 291-7605.

El Cimarrón by the Skylight Music Theatre

The Skylight Music Theatre moves onto the second and final week of its show, El Cimarrón, a 1970 composition by classical composer Hans Werner Henze about a Cuban runaway slave. The performance is part of the theatre’s season focusing on freedom and revolution.

The show will run for the next two weeks, but will being Jan. 3 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $37.50, available online or by calling (414) 291-7800.

Milwaukee Children’s Choir audition

Milwaukee children can start their own music career by joining the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, which is opening for auditions this week, beginning Jan. 6.

Auditions may be scheduled with the MCC’s office at 414-221-7040 and will take place at the Broadway Theatre Center. More information can be found at the MCC’s website.

Categories: Classical, Music

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