By Christine Facciolo
For centuries, women composers were little more than a footnote in music history. Considered a novelty, their work rarely left the confines of the drawing room or recital parlor, if they got performed at all. Even the celebrated pianist Clara Wieck Schumann felt compelled to fill her programs with the works of her husband or their friend Johannes Brahms rather than her own.
So it was only fitting that a program honoring women composers open with one of Wieck Schumann’s own compositions, the Scherzo No. 2 in C minor (1845). The little sonic gem received an expansive and probing interpretation from Holly Roadfeldt Wednesday, February 17 at The Music School of Delaware in Wilmington.
The concert, which benefitted the Anthony G. Simmons Scholarship Fund and other scholarships, served to encourage young female musicians by emphasizing the works of living women composers. Roadfeldt remembered her disappointment at hearing one of her students say she felt she could not pursue composition because she was a woman.
Roadfeldt’s muscularity and poetic power were on fine display in three of the four pieces from Joan Tower’s No Longer Very Clear collection. Her fingers never stopped from the moment she placed them on the keyboard for Or Like a…an Engine (1994). Think Ondine from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. The second piece, Vast Antique Cubes (2000), gave Roadfeldt the opportunity to play in legato before tackling Throbbing Still (2000), Tower’s recollection of the rhythms she experienced growing up in South America. Think Inca Empire meets Stravinsky.
The Serafin String Quartet offered two works by Julia Adolphe. Just twenty-eight years old, Adolphe, a doctoral student in music composition at the University of Southern California, has already achieved considerable success. In 2014 she became one of three young composers chosen to have their work performed by the New York Philharmonic. She is now working on a commission from the Phil, a viola concerto for its principal violist.
Serafin and Adolphe share a passion for exploring new musical worlds. Veil of Leaves (2014) shows Adolphe’s potential for becoming a premier composer for this most intimate of forms. The work begins with the strings in unison but continuously diverges and converges in a swirl of pitch and texture. This is a piece that demands not only supreme musicianship but deep concentration which was etched on the players’ faces.
Between the Accidental (2010) engaged the quartet in a contrapuntal tour de force, juxtaposing jarring dissonances with modal melodies in a netherworld of tonality.
Roadfeldt took the stage again to perform two works by Philadelphia-based composer Kala Pierson. Spark (2014) and Flare (2016), the latter of which received its World Premiere at the concert with the composer in attendance. As their names suggest, these works are rhythmically fluid and vividly expressive — perfectly suited to Roadfeldt’s flair for intensity and meditative focus.
Pianist Jennifer Campbell appeared as both performer and composer, offering Perceptions of Shadows, a work she wrote in 2013. This is an intensely introspective piece, showing that as shadows change with time, so do our perceptions of life’s struggles. This work proves that Campbell is not only an acclaimed pianist but a composer of great insight and sensitivity.
Campbell joined forces with violist Esme Allen-Creighton for a first-rate performance of Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola and Piano. This work written in 1919 is packed with big-hearted melodies and delicate colors. It’s hard to fathom how and why it missed winning first place in competition and why it doesn’t get more outings than it does.
Allen-Creighton brought together all the right elements — robust sound, free-flowing legato lines, unbridled lyricism as well as a technically assured presentation — to make us want to hear more from an instrument that continues to play, well, second fiddle to the violin. Campbell supplied the virtuosic pianistic accompaniment which was as demanding as any concerto.
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