Audiences Finally Waking Up to Contemporary Female Composers

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), May 8, 1998 | Go to article overview

Audiences Finally Waking Up to Contemporary Female Composers


Byline: Bill Gowen

The Chicago Chamber Musicians' "Music at the Millennium" series at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art shares the contemporary music spotlight this weekend with another concert of interest and importance.

American Women Composers Midwest will continue its 15th anniversary season at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Northwestern University's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 1977 South Campus Drive, Evanston.

The program, titled "Keynotes," will feature soloists Ursula Oppens and Aki Takahashi in works for one and two pianos.

This awakening of interest in contemporary music in the Chicago area is an exciting experience for composer Patricia Morehead, whose "The Handmaid's Tale" will be receiving its world premiere at Saturday's concert.

"When I first moved here in 1984, I looked at the Chicago Symphony's programs, and I'd either played every piece on the program as an oboist, or had studied them at school," said Morehead, whose husband Philip Morehead is artistic director Bruno Bartoletti's right-hand man as head of the musical staff at Lyric Opera of Chicago. "Having studied and played the oboe myself, the only incentive I had to go to Orchestra Hall back then was to hear (then-CSO principal oboist) Ray Still. Other than that, there wasn't one single program the entire season that I had any interest in going to."

But times have changed, she notes, with the CSO's infusion of 20th century music under the leadership of music director Daniel Barenboim and principal guest conductor Pierre Boulez.

"Yes, it's changed enormously, along with groups like the Chicago Chamber Musicians, which have a number of its players drawn from the Chicago Symphony," Morehead said.

However, there are danger signs out there, like the dire situation of the University of Chicago's Contemporary Chamber Players, which have seen their concert attendance at Mandel Hall drop precipitously since the retirement of the group's founder, Ralph Shapey.

"This month's concert may be their last, and if it is, that would be a shame," she said.

Morehead's new work, "The Handmaid's Tale," is based upon the novel of the same title by Margaret Atwood. It is scored for two pianos and was commissioned by Saturday's performers, Oppens and Takahashi, in honor of American Women Composers Midwest's 15th anniversary.

"When I first read Margaret Atwood's book, I thought it had 'opera' written all over it," said the composer, a native of Montreal who grew up in Winnipeg and studied oboe with the Boston Symphony's legendary Ralph Gomberg at the New England Conservatory of Music. …

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