Anne Midgette is Chief Classical Music Critic for The Washington Post. Her article, “The top 35 female composers in classical music,” was written in response to National Public Radio’s July 2017 article “The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women.” The NPR article “was inspiring,” Midgette writes,”but where were the composers? In the wake of much discussion about the chronic underrepresentation of female composers on American concert programs, I came up with my own best-of list.”
Midgette narrowed her focus to artists in the recorded music era, naming historic greats like Hildegard von Bingen, Fanny Mendelssohn, and Clara Schumann, before turning to a list of 20th and 21st century composers. The list included two E. C. Schirmer composers, Libby Larsen and Elena Ruehr.
Libby Larsen (b. 1950) is one of America’s most prolific and most performed living composers. She has created a catalog of more than 200 works spanning virtually every genre from intimate vocal and chamber music to massive orchestral and choral scores. Her music has been praised for its dynamic, deeply inspired, and vigorous contemporary American spirit.
Libby Larsen has received many awards and accolades, including a 1994 Grammy as producer of the CD The Art of Arlene Augér, an acclaimed recording that features Larsen’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. Her opera Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus was selected as one of the eight best classical music events of 1990 by USA Today.
The first woman to serve as a resident composer with a major orchestra, she has held residencies with the California Institute of the Arts, the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, the Philadelphia School of the Arts, the Cincinnati Conservatory, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Charlotte Symphony, and the Colorado Symphony. Larsen’s many commissions and recordings are a testament to her fruitful collaborations with a long list of world-renowned artists, including The King’s Singers, Benita Valente, and Frederica von Stade, among others. Her works are widely recorded on such labels as Angel/EMI, Nonesuch, Decca, and Koch International.
In 1973, she co-founded (with Stephen Paulus) the Minnesota Composers Forum, now the American Composers Forum, which has been an invaluable advocate for composers in a difficult, transitional time for American arts.
Elena Ruehr says of her music “the idea is that the surface be simple, the structure complex.” An award winning faculty member at MIT, she is also a Guggenheim Fellow and has been a fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute and composer-in-residence with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, which performed and recorded her major orchestral works (O’Keeffe Images, BMOP Sound) as well as the opera Toussaint Before the Spirits (Arsis Records). Three of her six string quartets were commissioned by the Cypress String Quartet, who have recorded How She Danced: String Quartets of Elena Ruehr. Her quartets have also been performed by the Biava, Borromeo, Lark, ROCO, and Shanghai string quartets. Her other recordings include Averno (Avie with the Trinity Choir, Julian Wachner, conducting), Jane Wang considers the Dragonfly (Albany), Lift (Avie) and Shimmer (Metamorphosen Chamber Ensemble on Albany).
Dr. Ruehr was a student of William Bolcom at the University of Michigan, and Vincent Persichetti and Bernard Rands at The Juilliard School. Elena Ruehr‘s oeuvre includes compositions for chamber ensemble, orchestra, chorus, wind ensemble, instrumental solo, opera, dance and silent film. Her work has been described as “sumptuously scored and full of soaring melodies” (The New York Times), and “unspeakably gorgeous” (Gramophone). Dr. Ruehr has taught at MIT since 1992 and lives in Boston with her husband and daughter.