We Asked 11 Composers About the Women Who Have Inspired Them
By Merrin Lazyan
In celebration of International Women's Day, WQXR asked 11 composers (Julia Adolphe, Victoria Bond, Valerie Coleman, Jennifer Higdon, Hannah Kendall, Missy Mazzoli, Thea Musgrave, Roxanna Panufnik, Kaija Saariaho,Caroline Shaw, and Julia Wolfe) to tell them about the single most influential woman in their professional lives. Here, in their own words, are touching tributes to teachers, mothers and other composers who have championed and inspired them every step of the way.
"The most important woman in my professional life was my mother. A child prodigy, she enjoyed a remarkable career as a concert pianist, winning awards and performing throughout the United States and Europe. She was my role model and set a high standard early in my life. As my first teacher, she taught me not only the standard repertory, but also introduced me to the music of Bartók, with whom she studied in Hungary, having won the prestigious Liszt Competition. She had a keen ear for the contemporary idiom and performed numerous premieres of living composers. I attribute my compositional career to her encouragement and guidance.
In addition to composition, she insisted that I develop skills in performing. As my first instrument was the piano, I performed four-hand works with her in concert and also accompanied my father, a professional singer. Later, when my path turned towards conducting, she introduced me to one of her colleagues, a conductor, who gave me the opportunity to conduct his orchestra. That first step gave me the confidence to apply to The Juilliard School, where my mother had studied, and where I later graduated as the first woman awarded a DMA in orchestral conducting.
She was very proud of my work, attended my concerts, and was gratified that the musical tradition of her family, which stretched back many generations, was bearing fruit in her daughter."