“The challenge for women in music is the lack of institutional support”

ROISIN MAHER

Artistic director and co-founder of Finding A Voice with her sister Clíona

Who is the composer who means the most to you?
It’s delicate. I’ve always had this penchant for Lili Boulanger’s music. She was truly ahead of her time. She is like that missing link between Debussy and Messiaen. She died tragically young [aged 24 in 1918]. But I just think his talent…especially in his orchestral music, there’s so much going on. I’ve always been drawn to his music and would love the opportunity to program some of the orchestral music at some point. She was truly a pioneer. She was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome. She had a sister, Nadia, a fascinating composer, conductor and teacher. This connection between siblings is something that has always interested me too, as someone with a close connection to my own brother.

Which performer matters most to you?
I love Mitsuko Uchida’s game. His style is so beautiful and clear and crystal clear. There’s something she brings to the music that’s really unique. I love listening to it.

The individual work that matters most to you?
It’s really difficult to choose an individual work, because there are different works that have meant different things to me at different times in my life. As a teenager, I remember hearing Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and how blown away I was by it. I love Hildegard of Bingen’s music. Just this idea of ​​someone centuries ago writing and being such a force of nature. There’s something so beautiful about music, so unique in this era to have someone writing, and also having agency. His music is very compelling. So basically anything from Hildegard. It’s so special to have someone from that time, almost a millennium ago, with such a unique voice and such a level of influence on all of their surroundings.

Curator Róisín Maher. Photography: Clare Keogh

The biggest problem for composers?
If you look at western classical music in general and the continued emphasis on 19th and early 20th century repertoire, it’s quite a contested space. There is not just one type of contemporary music. There’s a quote from John Cage where he talks about the river splitting into all these little tributaries and streams and flowing into the sea. There’s no one way to approach music now. There’s so much out there that it’s hard for songwriters to find a place for themselves.

The biggest problem for artists?
Particularly in the past two years, their livelihoods have been effectively decimated. We’re all now more aware of the importance of live music, of listening to people performing in a space and of that closeness and contact, and that sense of performance that you don’t get with the online version. It’s been incredibly difficult for the independent and entrepreneurial freelancer.

MARY DULLEA

Pianist, member of the Fidelio Trio

Mary Dullea

Mary Dullea

Composer who means the most to you?
As a pianist and as a starting point, I would say Clara Schumann, for the pleasure I have in playing her music. I’m still fascinated by her positioning in the musical circle she lived with her husband and friends and her career. And his particular approach to chromaticism, harmony, the use of the piano as a sound instrument. You have all these strands of her life coming together as a musician, as a mother, as a concert performer on tour. I refer to it as a potential starting point – so much has happened for pianists and composers since then. She is an inspiring composer and pianist and a female figure of the 19th century.

Which performer matters most to you?
For a pianist, sound and timbre are absolutely essential characteristics. Thus Dame Myra Hess, in particular her recording of Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. There is also a connection: where I studied in London was just opposite Albert Hall, where she was such an important figure. My teacher, Yonty Solomon, studied with her. So there’s this lineage, I guess, of this approach to sound. What you hear in his recordings, I just think is magic.

The individual work that matters most to you?
I will give three. Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Violin Sonata that we play in Clonmel. There’s a song I love to listen to by Julia Wolfe called Reeling. And Deirdre McKay, who we also play in Clonmel [Secundum; and A Quarter Million Miles from the Moon]. There’s something utterly captivating about Deirdre’s music, where every note is there because that’s absolutely the essence of what it means. She’s a composer who absolutely draws you into her craft, and the way she paces events, whatever the dynamic levels, is a real privilege to explore.

The biggest problem for composers?
I was actually thinking about it last night. It’s a huge question, because it depends so much on where you are – what country you’re in, what city you’re in, what access to education you have, what access you have to performance opportunities. As a true creator, there’s the issue of work-life balance and having the time to compose, regardless of your current home and household situation. It’s different for everyone, and I don’t generalize about people’s life or lifestyle choices or families. And it’s not specific to women. But this recognition of the need for time and space to germinate and produce their work is not so simple.

The biggest problem for artists?
In general, as performers, recognition of what you are actually doing and how long it takes to get to that position. And, for many people, the other things you might be required to do for a living. The idea of ​​having universal acknowledgment regardless of gender, of how much real work goes into that. It’s not a one day a week thing, it’s a lifetime occupation that requires time, space and security to do it. And to provide opportunities for composers, because people need to work together.

SAMANTHA EGE

Pianist and musicologist

Composer who means the most to you?
Florence Price means the most to me because learning about her life has opened up new possibilities for me as a classically trained pianist. When I was an undergraduate exchange student at McGill in Montreal in 2009, I was 19 years old and had studied piano and classical music all my life. And while I knew there was something unusual about me and what I was doing, as a black woman and usually the only black girl in music class, I never really stopped to question or think about the fact that there must surely have been other people of African descent in classical music, too. It wasn’t until I heard of Florence Price that I became curious about this story. I wanted to incorporate her music into my repertoire and – I’m also a musicologist – I also wanted to develop scholarship around her. And that’s exactly what I’ve done since.

Which performer matters most to you?
I don’t think I have specific interpreters. I’m definitely inspired by Althea Waites, whose album called Black Diamonds had music by composers of African descent. It was really illuminating, because I had never heard black composers in this classical context before. And Maria Corley had an album called Soulscapes which focused on African American women. I’ve never seen either of them play live. But these albums were real revelations.

The individual work that matters most to you?
I will choose Troubled Water by Margaret Bonds. It’s been in my repertoire for a long time, and every time I hear it, I hear something new that I can bring out. It’s just such a rich piece of music.

The biggest problem for composers?
In my research as a historian, the issues I have found around women in music are often having to contend with conceptions around their abilities, their intellect and their ability to compose – the limited opportunities that women have because of these ideas that are historically ingrained about women being less than. The challenge for women in music is the lack of institutional support.

The biggest problem for artists?
In my work, sometimes the audience is very, very open to an unknown repertoire, and sometimes not. This can be a problem, as it suggests there is something scary about the unknown as opposed to something that could be truly enlightening and life-changing.

DEIRDRE McKAY

Composer

Deirdre McKay

Deirdre McKay

Composer who means the most to you?
Hildegard of Bingen is an inspiring figure, and there are a number of fearless and very courageous works by Julia Wolfe and the extraordinary Cassandra Miller that I cherish.

Which performer matters most to you?
I hate having to choose. So many people I’ve worked with have been brilliant. I have so many incredible memories of special moments in rehearsal and in concert. It would hurt me to have to choose. It’s easier to step back and pick someone I haven’t worked with, soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan, who knocks me over.

The individual work that matters most to you?
The extraordinary duo for cello and orchestra by Cassandra Miller. I was deeply touched when I first heard it. A piece that makes you hold your breath.

The biggest problem for composers?
The problem for composers in all fields is maintaining support.

The biggest problem for artists?
The world has been changed by the dreaded Covid. What happens in the future is essential. The question is exactly how the performance scene will get back on its feet in this altered order of things. How do we rehabilitate, post-Covid, when we are still dealing with Covid.

Finding a voice works in ClonmelMarch 58th. findavoice.ie

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