By Mark Homsany
The Trio Fibonacci paid tribute to female composers Friday, September 29th by presenting Athena at Bourgie Hall. In this first concert of the season, the Trio played pieces written by influential women of the 19th and 20th century as well as women of today.
Women’s Condition in Classical Music
The Trio Fibonacci kicked off the evening with a round table. Julie-Anne Derome, the Trio’s violinist, went up on stage with luthier Isabelle Wilbaux, composer Marie-Pierre Brasset, and musicologist and host of the round table, Emmanuelle Majeau-Bettez.
“I got the idea of presenting this concert while reading an article about Louise Farrenc in the New York Times”, Derome states.
“She fought for equal pay in the 19th century!” said the violinist with amazement. She continues by stating: “Although she was known and respected in her time, especially as a teacher, her name doesn’t appear in the Guide de la musique de chambre.” Derome also attributes lack of recognition for Farrenc’s work to trends. Farrenc composed instrumental music in France at a time when opera was the most popular genre.
Marie-Pierre Brasset notes that there are few women in university composition programs: “Maybe it’s because there are few [female] role models. The composers we’re told about are men.” However, Brasset never felt any discrimination: “I never felt inferior for being a woman.” She also believes that there are few women in composition programs because of financial reasons: “Emancipation of women is usually done through financial means. It’s not true of composition: making a living out of it is not easy”. Despite the fact that few female composers are famous, Isabelle Majeau-Bettez thinks progress is being made: “When I was a student 30 years ago, 25% of the students in composition programs were women. Now, it’s 50%”.
Introducing Works by Women of Yesterday and Today
Gabriel Prynn, cello, and Steven Massicotte, the Trio’s new pianist, then join Derome on stage to present the premier of Marie-Pierre Brasset’s L’amoureux. Massicotte gives a taste of what’s to come by showing the tarot card, the lover, in the background: “There are three people on this tarot card. Which one of them is the lover? It’s ambiguous”. Brasset drew inspiration from this tarot card to represent ambiguity through music. Massicott begins by playing deep, ominous and dramatic chords. Derome and Prynn make their instruments screech and with their vibratos, make them wail. The changing tonal centre and rhythm evoke a sense of mystery and … ambiguity. The premier is a success.
Prynn leaves the stage to let Derome and Massicotte present Trois romances opus 22 by Clara Schumann. On the screen behind the musicians, a painting depicting Schumann and Joseph Joachim, the violinist for whom the piece was written, appears. “I’m very moved to present Trois romances because it’s a very vivid memory”, states Derome. The piece and the Trio Fibonacci’s performance are moving indeed. This romantic piece is at times cheerful, at others sad, but always gentle.
The musicians leave the stage and come back. Massicotte remembers that the next piece, Hope Lee’s Imaginary Garden IV … beyond, isn’t for piano and goes backstage. The crowd chuckles. At times a duel, at others a conversation, the violin and the cello’s tremolos and pizzicato sometimes harmonize, and sometimes call to each other. At the end of the performance, Hope Lee, who is sitting on the balcony, rises from her seat grinning. She applauds the Trio Fibonacci and blows them a kiss.
The next song is D’un matin de printemps by Lili Boulanger. This female composer won the Prix de Rome the first year women are eligible. She died at the age of 25. “I can’t be sad because Lili’s music is cheerful”, states Prynn before playing the piece. He cheerfully swings his head left to right while playing this rhythmic and happy composition. The crowd applauds loudly.
The Trio Fibonacci ends the concert with Louise Farrenc’s Trio No. 2, opus 33. “Her style is classical and romantic rather than typical 19th-century style”, Massicotte explains. The piece mixes skillfully the elegance of the classical era with the emotion of the romantic era.
A Point Well Proven
The Athena concert is worthy of a goddess. It demonstrates that female composers can be as interesting as their male counterparts. Derome claims that women’s music can’t be categorized and demonstrates it too. The violinist would like to do a concert on “other interesting women”. The sequel to Athena will be interesting.