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Adelaide Symphony Orchestra shines a light on female composers

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A new initiative named in honour of trailblazing South Australian pianist and composer Miriam Hyde has been launched by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to celebrate women composers of the past, present and future.

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The Miriam Hyde Circle is a giving circle that will support the performance of works by female composers throughout history and the commissioning of new work by female composers.

In announcing its launch, ASO board chair Kate Gould says women composers have not been given the recognition they deserve in Australia or the rest of the world, and are still under-represented today.

“There really needs to be an opportunity to shine a light on women composers,” she told InDaily.

“I think that what’s happened is that they often get sidelined into teaching institutions and not valued for who they are as artists. It’s very important as a performing arts organisation that when we have an opportunity to present women artists as composers that we do it.”

Catherine Branson, Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, will be the inaugural chair of the circle, which she says brings together like-minded donors to support the ASO’s ambitions.

In 2021, the orchestra will feature at least one work by a female composer in each of its Symphony Series concerts and will also present a mini festival called She Speaks, dedicated exclusively to the music of women composers.

Miriam Hyde’s Adelaide Overture, created in 1936 to honour the centenary of the founding of Adelaide, will be performed at the third Symphony Series concert in July.

Hyde, who was born in Adelaide and attended the Elder Conservatorium of Music, wrote the overture in her early 20s when she returned home after three years studying at the Royal College of Music in London.

Throughout her music career she performed as a concert pianist, music educator and composer, creating more than 150 works for piano and 50 songs. She was made an OBE (1981) and an AO (1991), and was presented with an APRA and Australian Music Centre Special Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music the year before she died in January 2005, shortly before her 92nd birthday.

Gould describes Hyde as “a trailblazing South Australian”.

Miriam Hyde composed more than 150 works for piano and 50 songs.

“She was a pretty extraordinary person and she had a prolific output of compositions. But she was very humble and a person of great humility who never pushed herself forward, and that’s a story we hear often of women artists…

“She had all the attributes of great talent – ability, virtuosic playing, and [she was] a great teacher and mentor – and yet most people wouldn’t know her name in Australia. She’s a great person to celebrate.”

Miriam Hyde’s daughter, Christine, describes her mother as “incurably modest and quiet in her achievements”, and says she would have been excited that the ASO is highlighting the contribution and creativity of female composers.

Christine nominates Miriam’s first Piano Concerto, composed while at the Royal College of Music, as one of her favourites of her mother’s compositions.

“The sheer exuberance and energy and joie-de-vivre bring me to tears every time,” she says.

“I think it reflects her excitement at living in the great city of London, the privilege and stimulus of her musical environment at the Royal College of Music.

Adelaide contemporary composer Anne Cawrse is the curator of the She Speaks mini-festival.

“For a 19-year-old girl from the small city of Adelaide to conceive the orchestration was a quantum leap from anything she had written before then. The thrill of performing it with the London Philharmonic Orchestra must have been one of the greatest experiences in her life.”

The ASO’s 2021 season will feature works by female composers from a range of different time frames, from early artists such as Clara Schumann (1819-1896) ­­and Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847) through to contemporary composers including Australians Elena Kats-Chernin and Anne Cawrse.

Schumann was described in a New York Times article last year as “music’s unsung Renaissance woman”, better known as the wife of composer Robert Schumann than for her own “brilliant compositions”, while Mendelssohn composed more than 460 pieces of music but published a number of them under her brother’s name because of the social mores regarding the role of women.

“It’s important to celebrate some of the forebears of composition – to find out who they are and to see more about how they existed and, against the odds, composed and were not forgotten by history,” Gould says.

She believes that increasing representation of female composers and celebrating their achievements will also raise awareness of career pathways for other women who want to become composers.

Those interested in joining the Miriam Hyde Circle can find out more about the membership options on the ASO website.

See InDaily tomorrow for more details of the ASO’s 2021 season.

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