Empowering Female Contemporary Composers

If you were asked to name female classical composers, who comes to mind? Most name Clara Schumann, and perhaps Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny Hensel. With all the progress women have made in other fields since suffrage was granted nationwide, with a woman running for president in 2016, why is classical music still the ultimate glass ceiling? Why is that female composers seem to be easily overlooked and forgotten? 2018 has been a turbulent year for the feminist movement, and for some, frustrating and discouraging. This orgy will feature contemporary classical music all composed by women, and interviews with successful female composers such as Jennifer Higdon, Chaya Czernowin, Caroline Shaw, Molly Joyce, and Dale Trumbore. Join us as we explore and discuss the need for female representation and diversity in classical music.

Missed the orgy? Loved the interview so much you want to listen to it again? Here were the five powerful, successful composers that were featured on December 16th’s 9-hour long orgy.

Chaya Czernowin

Chaya Czernowin was born and grew up in Israel. She was the first woman to be appointed as a composition professor at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, Austria (2006–2009). Czernowin composes chamber and orchestral music, with and without electronics and her music has been performed across the world by some of the best orchestras and performers in countries in Europe as well as Japan, Korea, Australia, Canada, and the US. She has composed three operas, with the most recent being her opera Infinite Now, which was written in 2017 and chosen as the premier of the year in the international critics survey of Opernwelt. Besides her works, Czernowin is also a passionate educator, and has previously studied under Abel Ehrlich, Dieter Schnebel, and Roger Reynolds, among others. Currently, Czernowin is a faculty member at Harvard University, where she is the Walter Bigelow Rosen Professor of Music.

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To learn more about Chaya Czernowin and upcoming events, visit her website at www.chayaczernowin.com

Molly Joyce

Molly Joyce’s music has been described as one of “serene power” by the New York Times and “impassioned” by the Washington Post. She’s written commissioned works for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, NY Youth Symphony, Milwaukeee Symphony Orchestra, and more. Molly studied at Juilliard, graduating with scholastic distinction, the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, the Yale School of Music, and is an alumnus of the National Young Arts Foundation. Recently, Molly gave a TED talk entitled “Going beyond ability” in which she discusses her physical impairment as a creative source, and an individual lens to a greater truth.

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To learn more about Molly Joyce and upcoming events, visit her website at www.mollyjoycemusic.com/

Dale Trumbore

Dale Trumbore is a composer and writer based in Los Angeles. Trumbore is Composer in Residence for Choral Chameleon and previously served as Composer in Residence for Nova Vocal Ensemble. Her music has been praised by the New York Times for its “soaring melodies and beguiling harmonies deployed with finesse.” “How to Go On: The Choral Works of Dale Trumbore” debuted at #6 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart and was recently performed by Harvard’s choir Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum. Trumbore is passionate about setting poems, prose and text to music. Besides composing music, she is currently working on her first book entitled “Staying Composed: Overcoming Anxiety and Self-Doubt within a Creative Life” and has written extensively about overcoming creative block and establishing a career in music. Trumbore holds a dual degree in Music Composition and English from the University of Maryland and a Master of Music in Composition from University of Southern California.

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To learn more about Dale Trumbore and upcoming events, visit her website at www.daletrumbore.com

Caroline Shaw

Caroline Shaw is multi-talented, New York-based musician. Not only is she a composer, she is also a vocalist, violinist, and producer. She was the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 for Partita for 8 Voices, which you’ve just heard performed by the Grammy-winning ensemble Roomful of Teeth. She has written film scores for Erica Fae’s To Keep the Light and Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline. With degrees from Rice University and Yale University in violin performance, and pursuing her PhD from Princeton University in music composition, she has produced for Kanye West, sung with Sara Bareilles, currently teaches at New York University, and is a Creative Associate at the Juilliard School.

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To learn more about Caroline Shaw and upcoming events, visit her website at


Jennifer Higdon

Pulitzer Prize and two-time Grammy winner Dr. Jennifer Higdon is a major figure in contemporary Classical music. Studying flute performance at Bowling Green State University, Higdon began exploring composition as an undergraduate. She has a great variety of works, ranging from orchestral to chamber, from wind ensemble to vocal, choral, and opera. Her first opera, Cold Mountain, won the prestigious International Opera Award for Best World Premiere in 2016; the first American opera to do so in the award’s history. Just this year, she won a Grammy for the Best Contemporary Classical Composition for her Viola Concerto. The League of American Orchestras reports that she is one of America’s most frequently performed composers. Her orchestral work, blue cathedral is one of the most performed contemporary orchestral works with more than 600 performances since its premiere in 2000. Dr. Higdon currently holds the Rock Chair in Composition at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

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To learn more about Jennifer Higdon and upcoming events, visit her website at


A survey of programming by the 22 largest American orchestras shows that less than 2 percent of the works in the 2014-2015 repertory were by women. When looking at living composers in the survey, less than 15 percent were women. While the past 100 years have seen great change for a “women composer”, there is so much more to go.

I was so honored and grateful for the opportunity to speak to all five amazing and inspiring contemporary classical composers. Together, they remind us of the importance of representation and diversity in programming and show us that anything is possible as long as we set our minds to it. Equal representation in classical music is not something that can occur overnight, but if more people become aware of the need for equal representation, then progress is already made. Our world is becomingly increasingly multicultural and diverse. It's time for classical music to catch up.

Amy Zhou is Co-Director for WHRB's Classical Department and the Webmaster. Tune in to WHRB for classical music anytime Monday through Friday from 1 to 10pm, Saturday from 1 to 9pm, and Sunday from 2pm to midnight.