News & Stories

History-Making Women Part 2

March 12, 2024 | Noel Morris

Haitian-American artist Nathlie Joachim will present a world-premiere composition, commissioned by the Grant Park Music Festival

This year, there's a wave of trailblazers bringing their voice to Festival 2024.

Angélica Negrón: Color Shape Transmission (July 3 & 5)

Angélica Negrón"In Angélica Negrón's music, childlike wonder meets the pull of Puerto Rico" [NPR]

Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón first emerged as a singer and member of the electronic indie band Balún. Settling in Brooklyn, the band released Prisma Tropical and hit #4 in Rolling Stone magazine's Top Ten Latin Albums 2018. A fascination for film scoring inspired Negrón to write music down. Today, she's writing works for the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Though she's a regular in places like David Geffen Hall, she stays connected to family and friends back home—especially in light of the suffering (In recent years, Puerto Rico has been hard hit by hurricanes, including a storm that knocked out the electrical grid for a record eleven months.) 

"Being away from home, and having such a complex relationship to the idea of home as part of the Puerto Rican diaspora, has shaped a lot of how I move in the world and the work I create," she told NPR.

Florence Price: Nimble Feet from Dances in the Canebrakes (July 4)

Florence PriceFlorence Price grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, where her mother was her first music teacher. She studied piano, organ, and composition at the New England Conservatory. She returned to the South to become a music teacher but became increasingly concerned about public safety. When a lynch mob brutalized and murdered a young Black man, Price joined the Great Migration and moved to Chicago. In 1932, her Symphony in E minor won Chicago's Wanamaker Music Contest, which led to a performance with Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It was the first time a major American orchestra had played a symphony by a Black woman.

Price wrote Dances in the Canebrakes not long before she died. It's a set of piano pieces orchestrated by William Grant Still. A nod to the composer's heritage, the canebrake refers to a thicket of giant grasses such as sugarcane or bamboo, which grows in the southern United States. Nimble Feet draws its musical inspiration from ragtime.

Joan Tower: 1920/2019 (July 10)

Joan TowerLauded by The New Yorker as "one of the most successful woman composers of all time," the octogenarian Joan Tower trailblazed her way into concert halls, writing compositions for the world's most prestigious performers and ensembles at a time when women were few in the composition field. Her Made in America, recorded by the Nashville Symphony with Leonard Slatkin conducting, won three GRAMMY awards. She's a native of New York State and spent part of her childhood in Bolivia, where she learned to play percussion. In 1969, she co-founded the Da Capo Chamber Players and served as the group's pianist. She received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1976 and is a longtime professor at Bard College.

Nathalie Joachim: World Premiere (July 24)

Nathalie JoachimIn 2019, Haitian-American Nathalie Joachim joined with the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet to issue a recording of her large-scale Fanm d'Ayiti for flute, voice, electronics, and string quartet. The recording garnered a GRAMMY nomination for Best World Music Album, which gives some indication of the genre-bending style of this composer. Joachim graduated from The Juilliard School and is a professor of composition at Princeton. Meanwhile, she's writing new music for Carnegie Hall, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Spoleto USA, and the 2024 Grant Park Music Festival. 

According to her website, audiences can expect a work that is fresh and cross-cultural and "centers on an authentic commitment to storytelling and human connectivity while advocating for social change and cultural awareness." 

Lili Boulanger: Of a Spring Morning (July 26 & 27)

Lili BoulangerHistorically, publishing music was considered improper behavior for women of higher social standing. At the conservatory level, female students couldn't access counterpoint and more advanced theory classes—the fundamentals of composition. For centuries, they struggled against academics who questioned their ability to handle the intellectual rigors of composition. Lili Boulanger offers a case study of what happens when access meets breathtaking talent.

Born in 1893, she was the daughter of a prestigious composition professor at the Paris Conservatoire, and he opened doors for his girls. Lili was only two when the composer Gabriel Faure noticed she had perfect pitch. Though medical issues dogged her life, she continued to develop musically. In 1913, Boulanger entered and won the Prix de Rome. Six years younger than the next youngest competitor, she made international headlines. 

By 1917, she was nearly out of time. Twenty-three and bedridden, she worked on an opera and wrote two pieces: Of a Sad Evening and Of a Spring Morning. Too weak to write her last piece, Pie Jesu, she dictated the music to her sister, Nadia. Lili died of Crohn's Disease at twenty-four.

Elena Kats-Chernin: Mythic (August 9 &10)

Elena Kats-CherninElena Kats-Chernin is a citizen of the world, born in Uzbekistan and raised in the Russian city of Yaroslavl. At fourteen, she went to study in Moscow and, at seventeen, moved with her family to Sydney, Australia. Later, she won a scholarship to study in Germany and stayed there for fourteen years. Today, she lives with her family in a suburb of Sydney. Musically, she emerged as a modernist before falling in love with traditional music, including dance forms, folk music, and classical models. 

Her creative energy takes her in many directions, from opera to silent film to musical theater. She's famous for writing crowd-pleasing music while expanding the concept of musical sound scoring for such things as rocks or the toy piano. In her 2004 piece Mythic, the timpanist doubles on "corrugated iron," playing something that looks like a washboard.