Women are still woefully underrepresented on classical music programs worldwide. The Quad City Symphony Orchestra is working to change that one program at a time.

The next “Up Close” chamber music concert — Saturday, March 25, at 7:30 p.m. at the Figge Art Museum (225 W. 2nd St., Davenport) — will feature all female performers playing mostly music by women.

Among the women composers on the March 25 program is Jessie Montgomery (submitted photo).

After QCSO principal cellist Hannah Holman performs from the J.S. Bach Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat major, the program includes:

  • Kaija Saariaho’s Dreaming Chaconne for Solo Cello (2010)
  • Augusta Read Thomas’s Incantation for Solo Violin (1995)
  • Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s A Little Violin Music in Memory of Elijah McClain for Solo Violin (2020)
  • Rebecca Clarke’s Two Pieces for Violin and Cello (ca. 1916)
  • Jessie Montgomery’s Strum for String Quartet (2006, revised 2012)
  • Amy Beach’s Piano Quintet in F-sharp minor (1907)

In honor of the Figge’s major exhibit Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls 1800 to 1960, as well as Women’s History Month, the museum and QCSO chamber series are celebrating women in music. The first half of the program will take place in the Winter Garden and the second half will be in the lobby.

In addition to Hannah Holman, the concert features the QCSO’s Emily Nash, violin; Janis Sakai, violin; Deborah Dakin, viola, and pianist Marian Lee.

Hannah Holman is principal cellist of the Quad City Symphony.

“It’s a hugely neglected genre,” Holman said Tuesday of music written by women. A major study of 100 orchestras worldwide found that just 5 percent of all programmed works in the 2020-21 season were penned by women.

It’s fitting now to feature female composers and female performers since all four principal string players in the QCSO are women, Holman said. In addition to the principal cellist, the concertmaster (principal first violin) is Naha Greenholtz (who’s also director of the Up Close series), principal 2nd violin is Autumn Chodorowski, and principal viola is Deborah Dakin.

“If you’re going to program the voice of a female composer, it’s kind of nice to do it from a female perspective,” Holman said, noting she appreciated this month’s Masterworks highlighting women composers.

Fierce females

“It was great. I think everybody was especially surprised — I’ll speak for myself. I was especially moved and delighted by the Louise Farrenc. Everybody was like, this is a great piece,” Holman said of the Farrenc Symphony No. 3 in G minor (1847).

A symphony by Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) was on the March 2023 Masterworks concerts.

“I kept singing those tunes like the whole following week,” she said. “It was very rare because almost everybody in the section — and there’s a very experienced cello section of professionals that have played for decades — none of us had played any of those women’s pieces on the last Masterworks,” Holman said.

The “Fierce Females” concerts in early March featured Joan Tower’s “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman” (1987), Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No. 3 in G minor (1847) and Florence Price’s excerpt from “The Mississippi River” (1934).

“The true test will be if we can get enough awareness out there that then they’re programmed more regularly throughout the year, and not just during Women’s History Month,” she added.

Most of the female composers on the March 25 program are living, with the exception of Amy Beach (1867-1944) and Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979).

The number of current women composers is increasing and Holman is friends with several on the Juilliard School composition faculty. “I think we are making progress but sometimes it feels slow,” she said.

A composer, conductor and retired music professor, Rebecca Burkhardt (director of orchestral activities at University of Northern Iowa from 1988-2020) is writing a new cello concerto for Hannah Holman.

She recently commissioned a new cello concerto from Rebecca Burkhardt, former director of orchestral activities at University of Northern Iowa, now living in Santa Fe, N.M. She also wrote a piece in 2016 for the string trio Holman is in, which they recorded.

“Rebecca’s great. And we’ve worked with her; we’ve gone on tour to Brazil with her,” Holman said. “She’s a real force. She really was amazing at University of Northern Iowa.”

The QCSO is one of 30 orchestras nationwide that’s part of the League of American Orchestras’ Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation Orchestral Commissions Program.

The unprecedented national consortium ensures that new works by women composers, each commissioned by the League, will be infused in orchestra seasons to come, with multiple performances throughout the country.

Composer Angel Lam has been commissioned by the QCSO to write a new piece, to be performed in April 2024.

The QCSO will partner with composer Angel Lam for a performance of her new work on its final Masterworks concert of the 2024 season, scheduled for April 6-7, 2024.

Free Figge talk 

The cellist will give a free talk at the Figge on the program Thursday, March 23, at 6:30 p.m.

Holman will explore and celebrate extraordinary female instrumentalists and composers throughout musical history.

Holman is also founder and artistic director of The Deanery School of Music in Davenport.

The string players on Saturday will perform in the museum Winter Garden area, including on the stairs, for the first half of the concert, and patrons will stand for that (an estimated 30 minutes). Holman called that part “a living exhibit.”

“It’s a really cool idea. I’m excited to see how it works,” she said. The second half (featuring piano) will be in the Grand Lobby.

Holman also praised the Figge women’s sporting fashion exhibit and its reaching out to many community groups to partner in complementary programs like this one.

Part of the Figge’s “Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls 1800 to 1960” exhibit, on display through May 7, 2023.

“It’s wonderful. We’re so lucky in the Quad Cities to have so many great things. That space is beautiful and what they bring in is fantastic,” she said. “It’s great that we can expand upon it through music and everything else.”

Tickets for the chamber music concert are $25 for adults, and $10 for students, available on the QCSO website HERE.