10 contemporary women composers to add to your music rotation
March is Women's History Month, a time to highlight and honor the achievements of women. There are many women composers, performers and conductors who have shaped the face of classical music, a genre that is constantly evolving and changing. Here are 10 contemporary composers to add to your listening rotation.
Gabriela Lena Frank
Gabriela Lena Frank is a multifaceted composer and pianist who serves as composer-in-residence with the Philadelphia Orchestra. She takes a storytelling approach to her music, encouraging listeners to read her program notes to enhance the experience of her work. She has received many accolades and awards, including the 25th anniversary Heinz Award, awarded for her work breaking gender, disability and cultural barriers in the classical music industry. In 2017, she founded the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music in California, with a mission of creativity, arts citizenship and activism.
LISTEN: Gabriela Lena Frank Canto De Velorio
New York City native Jessie Montgomery has received recognition for her compositions and a firm place in the millennial generation of American composers. From songs to full orchestral pieces, her work has been commissioned by the Sphinx Organization, the National Symphony and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among many others. Her work is shaped by her upbringing in a community that allowed for artistic expression with a focus on social justice, as well as her heritage as a Black woman. An active violinist performer and educator, she has performed with Sphinx Virtuosi, Catalyst Quartet and is a founding member of PUBLIquartet.
LISTEN: Jessie Montgomery Strum
Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón stretches the boundaries of classical music by incorporating electronics, visual effects and nontraditional instruments into her compositions and performances. In addition to fulfilling commissions and performing, she also teaches for the New York Philharmonic's Very Young Composers Program, nurturing the next generation of aspiring composers. Her ability to create immersive soundscapes is shown in her film scores, which have been featured in the Tribeca Film Festival.
LISTEN: Angélica Negrón Pescadores
Hildur Guðnadóttir made history as the first woman to win an Oscar for original score in almost 20 years, for Joker — and one of three women to achieve this accolade. She also was the first solo female composer to win the BAFTA and Golden Globe awards for best score. An accomplished cellist who was raised in Iceland in a family of musicians, she also has released solo recordings and toured with bands.
LISTEN: Hildur Guðnadóttir Bathroom Dance from 'The Joker'
Caroline Shaw is an accomplished composer, musician and producer who made waves after becoming the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 with her Partita for 8 Voices. Her work transcends genres, as she has production credits on albums by Kanye West and NAS alongside commissioned pieces for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and other major orchestras. Her work combines the structural integrity of classical forms with the whimsy and playfulness of reinvention that will keep you on your toes.
LISTEN: Caroline Shaw Plan & Elevation V. The Beech Tree
Sarah Kirkland Snider
Sarah Kirkland Snider's work has led to her being touted as "one of the decade's most gifted up-and-coming modern classical composers" by Pitchfork. Her music invokes storytelling in a confident and sophisticated way, creating imagery that you can't help but see when hearing her pieces. From yMusic to eighth blackbird to the New York Philharmonic, her music has been performed by orchestral and chamber ensembles around the world.
LISTEN: Sarah Kirkland Snider Nausicaa
Indian-American composer and vocalist Shruthi Rajasekar's work proves her place as a rising star in the classical music world. She has received international acclaim for her compositions that combine her expertise in Carnatic (South Indian classical) and Western classical styles to create work that is complex, yet heartfelt and genuine. From grappling with the concept of community and identity to political commentary on the state of our world, Shruthi's work doesn't shy away from any one topic, instead facing concepts head-on.
LISTEN: Shruthi Rajasekar Numbers
Violinist and composer Chen Yi was born in the 1950s in Guangzhou, China, and was the first woman to receive a master's degree in music composition from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She has lived in the United States for many years, teaching composition and composing music with a unique blend of Chinese and Western influences. Her music is performed all over the world and she has received many awards in both China and the United States.
LISTEN: Chen Yi Symphony "Humen 1839" III. Adagio tragico
Scottish composer and performer Anna Meredith emerged on the British avant-garde classical music scene in 2008 with her piece froms on the BBC's Last Night of the Proms broadcast. In addition to her work with orchestras (including holding composer-in-residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) and other classical music ensembles, she also has branched out into electronic music and released studio albums. In 2016, her debut album, Varmints, won the Scottish Album of the Year Award and in 2020 she was on the shortlist for the prestigious Mercury Prize for her second studio album.
LISTEN: Anna Meredith Nautilus
Mari Esabel Valverde
Award-winning composer and singer Mari Esabel Valverde is a rising star in the American choral scene and is highly sought after by ensembles around the country. One of her greatest achievements was when her piece Our Phoenix premiered in 2016 at the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses Festival. Fluent in Spanish and French and a student of Brazilian Portuguese and Swedish, she also does vocal music translation work. A former voice teacher for high school students, she teaches singing and voice training for transgender voices through TruVoice lessons.
Are you looking to add even more contemporary female composers to your listening rotation? Follow our playlist highlighting more music you'll love.