Five ways to celebrate International Women’s Day...

We select five performances that celebrate women composers and performers

Kate Whitley
Published: March 8, 2017 at 3:11 pm

1. The world premiere of Kate Whitley’s Speak Out

Tonight, tune into BBC Radio 3’s In Concert at 9.30pm, for a live broadcast of a world premiere by contemporary composer Kate Whitley (above). Speak Out is a BBC commission which sets the words of Malala Yousafzai’s 2013 UN speech campaigning for women’s education in Pakistan. It’s a centerpiece of the BBC’s celebrations of International Women’s Day and takes place at Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall, with Xian Zhang conducting the combined forces of the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales and the youth choir Cor y Cwm.


2. Discover the musical nuns of the 17th century

On Sunday 12 March, soprano Ruby Hughes (above) is performing on a special edition of Radio 3’s Early Music Show (2pm) which looks at rarely performed arias by the Italian nuns Claudia Sessa (c1570-c1617) and Lucrezia Orsina Vizzana (1590-1662). The nuns were composing in difficult times and it seems that Vizzana – who was influenced by Monteverdi – sadly retired early from musical life due to her convent in Bologna being the subject of a stressful investigation. Hughes is joined by lutenist Jonas Nordberg and cellist Mime Yamahiro-Brinkmann. Click below to hear Vizzana's O, Magnum Mysterium.

3. What do paintings of women musicians tell us about society?

A fascinating digital exhibition of paintings and photographs, entitled Beautiful Objects/Beautiful Subjects has been put together by the Royal College of Music to explore depictions of women musicians since the 17th century. It gives an insight into the social conventions of each era and gender stereotypes. Women were often presented as objects of beauty and would only play a limited range of acceptable drawing room instruments – strings were fine but woodwind was seen as 'indecent'. Included are photos of Ethel Smyth, the pioneering and ‘formidable’ suffragette who helped challenge prejudice in the early 20th century.

4. London's Women of the World Festival

Tonight at London’s Southbank Centre, at 7.30pm, the Women of the World festival is marking International Women’s Day with a special musical celebration. One of this year’s festival highlights is the jazz and world music influenced Hejira, given by the Nu Civilisation Orchestra (above) under Peter Edwards, alongside the Southbank Centre’s Voicelab Choir. Founded in 2011 the festival celebrates the achievements of women worldwide and tackles the obstacles that they face.


5. Learn about and listen to music by the best women composers

If you’re wondering where to begin your International Women’s Day listening, we suggest the BBC Music Magazine guide to ‘10 female composers you should know’. This begins with Hildegard of Bingen (pictured), the 12th-century Abbess and multi-talented musician who wrote divinely inspired vocal works including the haunting Nunc aperuit nobis. Then, why not sample pieces by the famous 19th-century greats such as Fanny Mendelssohn, who has 460 pieces to her name, including the beautiful String Quartet in E flat, or a piano masterpiece or Lieder by Clara Schumann. There’s also plenty of lesser-known gems such as Elizabeth Maconchy’s String Quartet No. 4 or Louise Farrenc's Symphony No. 3… there's so much to discover. Head to our iTunes Music Playlist to enjoy these works and many more.


Neil McKimFormer Production Editor, BBC Music Magazine

Neil McKim is the former Production Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He is now the production editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

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