By Kathleen McGuire
On May 20th, the Community Womenâ€™s Orchestra (CWO) presented the final concert of its 27th season, my seventh season as its conductor.
The occasion was bittersweet, donating 100% of box office proceeds to the Womenâ€™s Cancer Resource Center of Oakland due to the recent breast cancer diagnosis of a beloved member of the orchestra.
CWO, consisting of more than sixty volunteer musicians, presents three concerts annually: a family concert in November; an International Womenâ€™s Day concert in March; and a Spring Concert each May that is now dedicated to womenâ€™s health. Womenâ€™s National Health Week is the third week in May.
I am often asked: Why an all-womenâ€™s orchestra? From a purely artistic perspective, CWO programs at least one work composed by a woman on each of its programs. While there are certainly more female composers recognized today than ever before, they are still severely under-represented by most orchestras.
CWO is also devoted to uncovering gems from women composers of the past. The recent concert featured Sinfonia da Pacifica by Australian-American composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks. I met Peggy in our hometown of Melbourne in the mid-1980s when I was a composition student. She died in 1990 following an astonishing career, including an extended period in New York City in the 1950s where she earned her living penning reviews for the New York Tribune. 2012 marks her centenary year.
Resurrecting the Sinfonia was a labor of love for CWO. The rented music (conductorâ€™s score and the various instrumental parts) was entirely in handwritten manuscript, so I set about creating a new, printed edition. The music is a combination of traditional symphonic form juxtaposed with idioms of Eastern music. The result, sounding like â€śBollywood,â€ť is not so unusual today, but a bold move in 1952-1953 when it was composed.
The concert also included Richard Wagnerâ€™s Rienzi Overture, celebrating Wagnerâ€™s May 22 birth date (which I happen to share!). Max Bruchâ€™s Romanze, composed in 1912, featured viola soloist Whitney Smith. Smith, a CWO alumnus, is completing her masterâ€™s degree at San Francisco State University. Bill Rudiak, winner of CWOâ€™s inaugural Conductor-For-A-Day auction, conducted the second movement of Beethovenâ€™s 7th Symphony (composed in 1812). Rudiak made history as the first man ever to conduct CWO in concert; the players elected to permit this unusual occurrence because of the significant financial contribution.
While supporting womenâ€™s music is central to CWOâ€™s raison dâ€™ĂŞtre, the most important element of CWOâ€™s all-women membership is the rehearsal camaraderie â€“ and consuming chocolate at break - each Thursday in Oakland. We share a passion for having fun making music together in a non-competitive environment. Orchestras tend to be highly competitive, with players jockeying for position. In contrast, CWO is consensus-based. New members determine where they feel most comfortable playing, which may include joining the entry-level ensemble called Strings Attached for women who consider themselves â€śrustyâ€ť or are perhaps new to their instrument.
CWOâ€™s 28th Season will commence with an open play-along at the end of August. For more information, visit www.communitywomensorchestra.org.