Just in: NY Phil flies flag with 19 commissions to women

Just in: NY Phil flies flag with 19 commissions to women


norman lebrecht

February 05, 2019

From the season announcement, just released:

Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic will mark the centennial of the ratification of
the 19th Amendment, granting equal voting rights to women, by commissioning works by 19 women. The multi-season Project 19 initiative will launch with three consecutive weeks in February 2020, each featuring a World Premiere complemented by collaborations with partners across the city. The 19 commissioned composers, whose works will be premiered over multiple seasons, are Unsuk Chin, Mary Kouyoumdjian, Joan La Barbara, Tania León, Nicole Lizée, Caroline Mallonee, Jessie Montgomery, Angélica Negrón, Olga Neuwirth, Paola Prestini, Ellen Reid, Maria Schneider, Caroline Shaw, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Joan Tower, Melinda Wagner, Nina C. Young, and Du Yun.

Jaap van Zweden will conduct the Orchestra in the first three Project 19 World Premieres. 2015
Rome Prize winner Nina C. Young’s commission will be premiered February 5–6, 8, and 11,
2020. Pulitzer Prize–nominated Tania León’s commission will be premiered February 13, 15, and
18, 2020. Ms. León will also curate a new-music program as part of Nightcap at the Stanley H.
Kaplan Penthouse, February 15, 2020. The Project 19 commission by Ellen Reid — co-founder of
Luna Composition Lab, a mentorship program for young self-identified female, non-binary, and
gender non-conforming composers — will be premiered February 20–22, 2020.

Also in the strikingly bold and different season are a staging of Schoenberg’s Erwartung and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, with Nina Stemme; a World Premiere by Olga Neuwirth conducted by John Adams; World Premiere of Nico Muhly’s Concerto for Two Pianos, with Katia and Marielle Labèque; and Daniil Trifonov as artist in residence.


• Susanna Mälkki returns October 18–19 and 22, 2019, to conduct Unsuk Chin’s Sheng Concerto, with Wu Wei as soloist in his Philharmonic debut.
• Philippe Jordan returns October 30–November 2, 2019, to conduct works by Prokofiev; Mendelssohn, with violinist Julia Fischer as soloist.
• Esa-Pekka Salonen returns November 6, 8–9, and 12, 2019, to conduct two of his works, including the New York Premiere of Castor; Schoenberg orchestrations of works by J.S. Bach; and Hindemith.
• Santtu-Matias Rouvali makes his Philharmonic debut November 14–16, 2019, conducting the New York Premiere of Bryce Dessner’s Wires, with the composer as soloist on electric guitar in his debut.
• Daniel Harding returns January 9–11, 2020, to conduct works by Grieg, with pianist Paul Lewis as soloist, and R. Strauss.
• Gustavo Dudamel returns for two consecutive weeks: January 15–18 and 21, 2020, to conduct works by Ives; the New York Premiere of Esteban Benzecry’s Piano Concerto, Universos infinitos, with Sergio Tiempo as soloist in his Philharmonic debut; and Dvořák, and January 23–25, 2020, to lead works by Schubert and Mahler with mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung and tenor Simon O’Neill.

• Simone Young returns January 30–February 1, 2020, to conduct the New York Premiere of Brett Dean’s Cello Concerto, with Alban Gerhardt as soloist in his Philharmonic debut.
• Franz Welser-Möst returns February 27–29, 2020, to conduct works by Jörg Widmann and R. Strauss.
• Valery Gergiev returns March 12–14, 2020, for an all-Russian program featuring works by Shchedrin; Rachmaninoff, with pianist Denis Matsuev as soloist; and Stravinsky.


  • Bruce says:

    That’s an impressive amount of new music (not just by women), including some real heavy hitters (not just the women).

  • James says:

    An unpredictable, surprising, exciting, and groundbreaking season. Congrats to the New York Philharmonic!

  • RW2013 says:

    Heartening to read that NewYorkers are demanding to hear so much new music, but does anyone keep track of how many of last year’s glorious commissions were ever performed again?

    • Grace says:

      I’m sure there are logistical and financial factors that make this difficult, but I sure would welcome repeat performances of new works – repeated the following season, or even within the same season. Or even on the same program, if it’s brief! A first hearing is often about impressions, whereas subsequent hearings allow for more nuanced listening, evaluation, etc.

      • Grace, You are so right. I had the good fortune to have the world premiere of my Harp Concerto last May, by the Rochester Philharmonic, and then in September, they performed it again. It was amazing how different the orchestra sounded (there were no revisions to the music), because they were coming to it a second time. AND a large number of audience members said they had returned to hear it again. It’s actually a win-win situation.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Grace writes: “I’m sure there are logistical and financial factors that make repeat performances difficult”

        I am not sure I agree that a second performance (perhaps at a different venue) is more expensive. Sure, you pay for the performance rights, but you didn’t pay for the commission. And providing the piece is written for a standard orchestra, then it shouldn’t be difficult to do logistically.

        Really, I would like to see an orchestra play the pieces that have been written in the last few years that they think are worth another listen. (This is the only way new pieces will enter the repertoire.)

    • BrianB says:

      Like hamsters and Bic lighters, most new music, after the cachet of a world premiere is disposable and forgettable. Perhaps it’s always been that way. I’d like to hear more underplayed older works of quality like, say, Peter Mennin’s Moby Dick Concertato

    • Bruce says:

      I agree, it would be nice to have a “bring them back” project devoted to second performances of previous commissions. Maybe give the composers a chance to revise.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    I for one would welcome hearing works by unfamiliar living women composers. They can’t do any worse than most of the living male composers we seem to hear.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Filtering-out of new works to be performed is, mostly nowadays, a process not defined by musical considerations but by ideological and/or political ones. Why? Because the standards created by a living tradition, have been rejected, for ‘being no longer compatible with modern society’. This makes it difficult for orchestras to ensure their survival in such modern society. The problem is that such strategies are entirely ‘over the head’ of audiences and players, they are entirely artificial and not culturally-rooted, i.e. rooted in musical practice; they are rooted in non-musical ideas.

      Thereby comes the problem of how to define any artistic standards in a field where there are so many totally different contexts. This means that any new work can only be evaluated – i.e. understood – according to its own standards. This results in the only standard still ‘operating’: I like it, it is fun, I don’t like it, I was bored, I was fascinated, etc. etc. – so: entirely individual, subjective reactions without any possibility of surviving beyond the purely accidental. That is why we see / hear all kinds of new music being played once and then forgotten, indifferent to the occasional brilliant piece that may have been heard – but how, and by whom? The misunderstandings about what a cultural tradition is, and what it is not, have created a barrier to development, and bound new music to the eternally-now which changes every day.

  • anon says:

    [redacted] Everyone else went to Carnegie Hall to buy next year’s subscription and 2 Beethoven cycles.

    Well, that had Borda’s fingerprints all over it. She just got herself a year worth of good reviews from the NYT.

  • Anne says:

    I find this really sexist. In my 40 years in classical music, I have never seen anyone turned away because of their sex.
    If they were good they were rewarded. I was recently on a panel with Joan Tower who was asked if she felt she was treated differently and passed over because she was a women. Her response was “I never felt like I was treaty any differently then anyone else. However, I did notice that many times I was the only women in the room, but I was never treated differently than anyone else.” So, this program excludes men because of their sex. I understand why this is done, that women, historically did not have the same opportunities as men, but for the sake of music as a field we need to be extremely careful in the choices we make about the people we elevate and the ones we don’t. There is some truly great music out there being written and played today. Filtering it by sex, politics, et. al. will not work in the service of music.

    • Bruce says:

      You might notice (although you might not care) that (a) this is a special occasion to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, not an official from-this-day-forward policy of the NY Philharmonic, and (b) there is also a goodly amount of new music by male composers on the season. Salonen, Dessner, Bezencry, Dean are all men.

      If the numbers had been reversed, 4 women and 19 men (there might be other male composers I didn’t catch, and I don’t think this is a complete repertoire list for the entire season), it would still be hailed as quite progressive, if not quite groundbreaking… and there would still be complaints about the exclusion of men.

    • Kevin Scott says:

      If this was a more perfect world I would concur with everything you have said, but we don’t live in that world right now. As an male African-American composer, many of us – male as well as female – still have to struggle with our works being accepted on face value and rightfully judged and placed alongside our peers of other races and creeds. Yet the classical world still stereotypes black composers as being involved in music that reflects their ethnicity (Jazz, Soul, Rap, Gospel et al.) and that some of us are unable to grasp other idioms which simply is not true.

      You are right – there is some truly great music out there, but a whole lot of it is not being given a chance, let alone its proper due.

  • Steven Ledbetter says:

    The announcement of the season makes a glaring error with regard to the 19th amendment: it gave women the right to vote, but did not guarantee any other kind of equality. An Equal Rights Amendment was attempted late in the 20th century, but in the end, it lacked approval from only one state of the 3/4 required, and failed.

    • Bruce says:

      “Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic will mark the centennial of the ratification of
      the 19th Amendment, granting equal voting rights to women…”

      I didn’t see a mention of any other kind of equality. Perhaps NL changed the text after what he originally posted?

  • BrianB says:

    “Also in the strikingly bold and different season are a staging of Schoenberg’s Erwartung and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle…” Really? The LePage production of precisely that double bill is well-traveled and frequently performed. I saw it in Seattle. So how is that strikingly bold and different?

    • Bruce says:

      To be fair, the text (not sure if it’s NYPO’s or NL’s) says “Also in the strikingly bold and different season are a staging of Schoenberg’s Erwartung and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle.”

      In other words, it’s the season that’s being called “bold and different,” not this particular program. The Grieg/ Strauss and Prokofiev/ Mendelssohn programs are also part of this “bold and different season.”

  • Couperin says:

    This is really great for the women, but honestly, do we need more Nico Muhly and Bryce Dessner? The NY Phil does NOT need to be playing that drivel. Marnie was a big snooze, and Muhly’s previous piece written for the Contact series was terrible. But as another commenter mentioned, Borda seems to be gunning for good press, and overall it’s a welcome season for the Phil. Mostly, I’m really excited!

  • phf655 says:

    New Yorkers aren’t clamoring for new music, Anthony Tommassini (NY Times critic) is. And the Philharmonic accomplished what it wanted – a long, warm, and prominently placed article about the new season in today’s paper. Whether it is 19 women, 19 men, or some combination, one thing is certain, that the the number of these pieces that will be heard again is a quantity less than one, and only a handful of new music specialists, composers or performers, will care.

    • John Borstlap says:

      NY is in an odd situation concerning the classical arts, including classical music, because the city is a symbol of a certain opinion of modernity which excludes cultivation of ‘the past’. For audiences, classical music may offer a much-needed alternative to what they find outside the concert hall, but critics want their NY credentials confirmed and need thus symbols of what they think represents modernity. The NY Phil has thus to find a way through the maze of mutually-exclusive cultural symbols.


  • debusschuberttussy says:

    A noble gesture, but let’s be honest, will this attract more/new/younger audience members? I doubt it. Most people don’t go the NY Phil to hear new music, they want to hear names/works/titles they can recognize and enjoy.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    No Libby Larsen? At least it’s not more Muhly.

  • What is this, a feel-good classical music white-guilt patriarchy idea of “reparations”? There may not be 19 composers alive right now worth listening to and the commissions are being doled out based upon your genitalia? When merit gives way to other factors things can only get worse.

    • Harrumph says:

      There are indeed at least 19 composers alive right now worth listening to but they will never be allowed to win these prizes and you will most likely never hear their work.

  • CS au says:

    I am delighted to have music composed by living women featured in mainstream programming. What’s more they are getting repeat performances over several evenings.
    This is an awesome piece of programming by the NY Philharmonic. So what if some of the music is dull or, the reverse, intellectually challenging. Isn’t this a sign of broadminded thinking (and listening).

    How much boring music by men have we been subjected to over the years…both conventional and avant-garde? Didn’t musicology arise during the 20th century out of the need to explain existing conventional art music to the broader public because the artform is so abstract and non-referential?

    Some commentators seem to be disturbed that men are missing out, despite the announcement that how many male composers are to be performed in the rest of the 2019 program! Convenient to ignore that over the centuries, in the western art music tradition, genitalia seriously determined who could perform on stage, have their music published, or even be taken seriously as a composer.

    I guess the angst of these commentators demonstrates the inherent weakness of the xy chromosome combination, not only in terms of longevity, but now intellectually as well.