The numbers are impressive: six composers, 30 orchestras, dozens and dozens of performances. But stats alone don’t capture the impact of the latest iteration of the League of American Orchestras’ Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation Orchestral Commissions Program. Created to address the longstanding underrepresentation of women composers at orchestras, the program not only commissions music some of the most exciting women composers working today, it also ensures that these new works will be infused in orchestra seasons for the next few years, with multiple performances throughout the U.S. and in Canada. And the program creates a consortium of orchestras, all collaborating to bring contemporary sounds to audiences nationwide. Composers Anna Clyne, Sarah Gibson, Angel Lam, Wang Lu, Gity Razaz, and Arlene Sierra have each been commissioned to write a new work; each work will be given its world premiere by a lead orchestra; the work will then be performed by four additional orchestras—making for a total of 30 composer/orchestra pairings that started this year and will run through 2024-25. In all, there will be far more than 30 performances of the new scores, with many of the participating orchestras performing the pieces on multiple programs.
The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation Orchestral Commissions Program for women composers (formerly the Women Composers Readings and Commissions program) is an initiative of the League of American Orchestras, in partnership with American Composers Orchestra (ACO) and supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.
The new consortium, comprised of orchestras from nineteen U.S. states and Canada, includes these orchestra-composer pairs (lead orchestras in bold):
Akron Symphony Orchestra (OH) and Gity Razaz
Aspen Music Festival and School (CO) and Wang Lu
Berkeley Symphony (CA) and Gity Razaz
Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra (Ottawa, ON) and Gity Razaz
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (OH) and Wang Lu
Columbus Symphony (OH) and Anna Clyne
Dallas Symphony Orchestra (TX) and Arlene Sierra
Des Moines Symphony (IA) and Wang Lu
Detroit Symphony Orchestra (MI) (lead orchestra) and Arlene Sierra
Idaho State-Civic Symphony and Sarah Gibson
Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra and Arlene Sierra
Jacksonville Symphony (FL) and Angel Lam
Kansas City Symphony (MO) (lead orchestra) and Angel Lam
Knoxville Symphony Orchestra (TN) and Sarah Gibson
Lansing Symphony Orchestra (MI) and Sarah Gibson
Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and Arlene Sierra
National Symphony Orchestra (DC) and Anna Clyne
New York Philharmonic (lead orchestra) and Wang Lu
Orchestra Lumos (CT) and Angel Lam
Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra (FL) and Anna Clyne
Pensacola Symphony Orchestra (FL) and Wang Lu
The Philadelphia Orchestra (PA) (lead orchestra) and Anna Clyne
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PA) and Sarah Gibson
Portland Columbia Symphony (OR) and Anna Clyne
Quad City Symphony Orchestra (IA) and Angel Lam
Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (NY) and Gity Razaz
San Diego Symphony (CA) (lead orchestra) and Gity Razaz
Sarasota Orchestra (FL) (lead orchestra) and Sarah Gibson
Utah Symphony & Opera and Angel Lam
Wheeling Symphony Orchestra (WV) and Arlene Sierra
Already this year, two works in the program have premiered: Wang Lu’s “Surge,” in January by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Dalia Stasevska, and Sarah Gibson’s “to make this mountain taller,” in April by the Sarasota Orchestra in Florida, conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto.
How’d they do?
In a New York Times review of Wang Lu’s “Surge,” Joshua Baron wrote:
“Wang Lu’s ‘Surge,’ given its world premiere at the top of the New York Philharmonic’s Friday concert, is the product of an initiative by the League of American Orchestras to commission new works from six composers—all women—that will be guaranteed performances from ensembles across the country. Too often, premieres have short rehearsal periods; then, unless future performances are lined up, or unless soloists champion concertos written for them, the music can easily disappear. The League’s project at least gives contemporary work a fighting chance at longevity…. Wang’s piece has the elements of an enormous score skillfully accordioned into the shape of a much smaller one. From the flourish of its first measure, “Surge” is a restless succession of swinging gestures, martial flashes and exercises in disparate, assertive voices coming in and out of focus, then occasionally finding common ground in a tutti mass … At the podium was Dalia Stasevska, in her second appearance with the Philharmonic…. Stasevska led the Wang with verve, commitment and, above all, clarity.”
Also on the Philharmonic program were Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with soloist Lisa Batiashvili and Sibelius’s Second Symphony.
In a Sarasota Herald-Tribune review of Sarah Gibson’s “to make this mountain taller” conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto,
Gayle Williams wrote:
“The final concert program of the Sarasota Orchestra’s Masterworks season took the audience on an expansive journey…. A world premiere is always a highlight and the program introduced us to composer Sarah Gibson with ‘to make this mountain taller.’… She stands firmly as a composer of note with plenty of work, including this commission from the League of American Orchestras and its new Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation Orchestral Commissions Program…. Inspired by her own feelings on the day that Roe v Wade was overturned last year, Gibson drew on images of women scaling the many mountains over the centuries only to find there are still more to tackle. Using the full orchestra, Gibson does not shy away from altering the sound and using extended techniques to create the world she imagined…. I was moved nearly to tears by the impression of squelched voices … The voices clearly struggled against forces from every side and eventually broke through for glorious moments and clear vistas.”
The Sarasota Orchestra also performed Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto with soloist Gil Shaham and Richard Strauss’s “Ein Heldenleben.”
One of the heartening aspects of the program is that these works are already scheduled for performances at multiple orchestras next season. And they will continue to be performed the season after next, too. So these scores and works by the other Toulmin composers will get multiple hearings—a way of addressing the one-and-done syndrome that can hit new scores. You know what happens: an orchestra commissions a new piece from a composer, gives the world premiere, plays the work a couple more times on subscription programs that same week—and then the piece might not be heard again. But in this case, repeat performances are already on the slate across North America.
Here are the upcoming premieres and events in the Virginia B. Toulmin Orchestral Commissions Program:
–Niloufar Iravani’s new work will be premiered by the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and conductor Delta David Gier on April 29, 2023.
-Gity Razaz’s Methuselah will be premiered by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra and conductor Rafael Payare on May 20-21, 2023.
-Xi Wang’s Lotus Prayer will be premiered by the Berkeley Symphony (California) and music director Joseph Young on June 4, 2023.
-Anna Clyne’s This Moment will be premiered by The Philadelphia Orchestra and music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin at Colorado’s Bravo! Vail on July 14, 2023 and performed again in Philadelphia on October 6-8, 2023.
–Gity Razaz’s Methuselah will receive its New York State premiere by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and music director Andreas Delfs on September 28 and 30, 2023.
–Anna Clyne’s This Moment will receive its Pennsylvania premiere by The Philadelphia Orchestra and music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin on October 6-8, 2023.
–Arlene Sierra’s Kiskadee will be premiered by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and conductor Kevin John Edusei on October 19-21, 2023.
–Sarah Gibson’s to make this mountain taller will receive its Pennsylvania premiere by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and music director Manfred Honeck on November 24 and 26, 2023.
–Arlene Sierra’s Kiskadee will receive its Louisiana premiere by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and music director designate Matthew Kraemer on January 25, 2024.
-Sarah Gibson’s to make this mountain taller will receive its Tennessee premiere by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and music director Aram Demirjian on February 22 and 23, 2024.
-Angel Lam’s new work will be premiered by the Kansas City Symphony and conductor Michael Stern on March 22-24, 2024.
–Angel Lam’s new work will receive its Iowa and Illinois premiere by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra and conductor Mark Russell Smith on April 6-7, 2024.
–Anna Clyne’s This Moment will receive its Washington, DC premiere by the National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Thomas Wilkins on May 16-19, 2024.
Want to know more? Visit https://americanorchestras.org/learn/artistic-programs/women-composers-readings-and-commissions-program/.