History never represents the whole truth. For one, it’s left us under the impression that the greatest classical composers were all male, from Monteverdi in the 1500s to Mozart in the 1700s up to Adams in the 1950s. Were they famous? Absolutely. Were they the most talented? Yes and no. Various female composers get their notes and nods in the books—most commonly child prodigy Clara Schumann and Catholic saint Hildegard von Bingen—but few receive the time and attention that should be given to applaud their works with the same volume as those of their male peers, even with sheet music to prove their similarities.
Some hundred years later, we’re still leaving most female composers out of the spotlight, but the Cambridge Philharmonic looks to change that. This Saturday, Harvard will host a handful of live works by rising female composers, allowing viewers the chance to see eclectic techniques highlighted that would otherwise be swept under the blanket descriptor of “avant-garde.” Out of the 110 pieces it received this summer, the Philharmonic whittled down its choices to five recent works by Liz Anaya, Carolyn Chen, Emily Cooley, Sara Corry, and Fjóla Evans, and another piece by Emma Flornoy, Clara Sinephro-Cool, and Eva Gertz. On top of that, two women will premiere commissions for large chamber ensembles: composer Kirsten Volness and local harpist, vocalist, and loop-artist Audrey Harrer.
Out of the bunch, be it for her location or her wealth of talent, Harrer stands tall. Her debut studio release, Alphabet Rain, shimmers with six poetic compositions, each more playful and cinematic than the last. Vocally, she mirrors the leaps of Julia Holter and Jenny Hval, but her instrumentation ranks right up there beside the immaculate precision of indie rock’s most well-known harpist, Joanna Newsom. Though harp is uncommon to find onstage, it’s comforting to think we all have a predilection for harp-based music based off the fragility, tone, and calmness at its very core. If you listen closely, you can hear Harrer pluck harp strings in Jamaica Plain right now after she gets home from working at Berklee College. If not, tie your shoes, grab your coat, and head to Female Composers Night. Live, her harp turns into a mystic creature all its own.
All eight emerging compositions and their creators exceed the limits of rational talent, and their youth only emphasizes that all the more. If we’re going to keep our score books correct nowadays, then it’s time we give attention to those creating some of the most layered, intricate, and gorgeous work in years—especially coming from our own backyard.
CAMBRIDGE PHILHARMONIC PRESENTS: FEMALE COMPOSERS NIGHT. SAT 11.14. HARVARD UNIVERSITY’S PAINE HALL, 1 OXFORD ST., CAMBRIDGE. 8PM/ALL AGES/$15. CAMBRIDGEPHIL.ORG.