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Chintimini puts the spotlight on female composers

Chintimini puts the spotlight on female composers

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A powerful social movement — and a bit of soul-searching — helped give shape to this year's Chintimini Chamber Music Festival.

Erik Peterson, the artistic director and founder of the festival, was making programming decisions for this year's festival while keeping tabs on the growth of the #MeToo movement. Eventually, the two merged, and Peterson started to wonder how this year's festival, the 18th, could reflect that political climate.

"What can I do that might make any sort of difference?" he remembered asking himself.

Then came the soul-searching: During his years as a professional musician, he asked himself, "How many women composers have I ever programmed?"

He wasn't happy with the answers he found. For one example, his Colorado Symphony, in which Peterson performs, programmed just three works by women out of some 250 pieces it performed this past season. And those numbers aren't particularly unusual in the world of classical music: Peterson said that just 15 percent of composition teachers in college music programs are women.

This year's Chintimini Chamber Music Festival is meant, to some extent, as a way to start to correct that imbalance.

Peterson started looking for works by women composers that were suitable for the festival, which holds its first concert on Friday, June 15. "The internet does some great things," he said, and among them is making it easier to seek chamber music works.

He tracked down five works by women for this year's festival — not quite enough to have one such piece on the program at each of the festival's four concerts, but a start. And Peterson said his goal with future festivals is to have at least one work by a female composer on the program for each concert.

During his research, he also uncovered some compelling stories about women composers that start to suggest the barriers they face in making their mark in a world that has been dominated by men.

In fact, no selection in this year's festival exemplifies those barriers better than the work that begins the festival's first concert, Rebecca Clarke's "Morpheus," from 1917.

Clarke was an English classical composer and violist who moved to the United States in 1916. She premiered "Morpheus" at a recital in 1918, but the work was attributed to the pseudonym "Anthony Trent." Other works at the recital listed Clarke as the author.

Perhaps you can guess what happened: Reviewers lavished praise on "Morpheus," by "Anthony Trent," and ignored the other pieces attributed to Clarke.

(That wasn't the first or only time Clarke suffered such indignities: In a 1919 competition, a sonata by Clarke tied for first place with a work by Ernest Bloch, but Bloch was declared the winner, in part because of speculation that "Rebecca Clarke" was a pseudonym for Bloch; surely, reporters at the time speculated, a woman could not have written a piece of such quality.)

Today, Peterson believes that Chintimini can help to right these wrongs, one piece at a time. "Chintimini can help take a lead in promoting these works," he said.

And each performance gives audiences yet another exposure to a female composer, he said, which perhaps helps prepare listeners for the next piece. And the piece after that, and so on.

This year's festival includes works by Judith Weir, Lili Boulanger, Joan Tower and Jessie Montgomery. At some point, Peterson said, maybe some of those names will be as familar as some of the other male composers on the festival's program: Beethoven, Bernstein, Mozart, Piazzolla.

But that won't happen, Peterson said, if audiences "don't get the chance to hear them in the first place." 

Chintimini aims to offer those opportunities.

This year's festival offers four main concerts, and one new locale: The final concert, on Sunday, June 24, will be held at the Ashbrook Independent School, 4045 SW Research Way in Corvallis. Peterson said he's always wanted to hold an afternoon concert as part of the festival, and the air-conditioned Ashbrook venue allows him to do that.

Peterson also is pleased that the festival has been able to expand its outreach to families and schools this year. The festival features five free concerts for families, featuring "Tunji and the Giant," an African folk tale with music written by David Mullikan.

In addition, the festival also features a session at 6:15 p.m. Friday, June 22, in which children can assemble a real mechanical-action pipe organ and then watch as the instrument is played as part of a chamber music piece. (This is limited to first 12 people who apply; call 541-753-2106 for details.)


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