“Were there female composers before the modern era?”
– Katherine, Pacific Palisades

The short answer is yes! While the classical music landscape has long been dominated by male artists, there have been female composers throughout history whose works are still played today (and likely many more whose contributions have been lost).

Here is a brief and incomplete list of a few notable women from classical music history:


Also known as Saint Hildegard and Sibyl of the Rhine, Hildegard was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, and polymath. She is considered to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany. A composer of Christian music, over 70 of her original works survive to this day, comprising one of the largest repertoires of any medieval composer.


An Italian composer, singer, lutenist, poet, and music teacher of the early Baroque era, Francesca wrote music for at least sixteen staged works. Her only surviving work, La liberazione di Ruggiero, is widely considered the oldest opera by a female composer.


Sister of the composer Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny composed over 460 pieces of music, including several books of solo piano works. A number of her songs were originally published under her brother’s name, in his opus 8 and 9 collections. Many of her piano works carry the name Lieder für das Pianoforte (Songs for the piano), a parallel to Felix’s Songs without Words.

CLARA SCHUMANN (1819-1896)

Considered one of the most distinguished composers and pianists of the Romantic era, Clara exerted her influence over a 61-year concert career, changing the format and repertoire of the piano recital. She wrote her first Piano Concerto at age 14, and went on to write a vast body of piano concertos, chamber works, and choral pieces. However, in middle age, she questioned whether it was even possible for a woman to find success as a composer, saying “A woman must not desire to compose — there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?”

She was married to composer Robert Schumann.

DAME ETHEL SMYTH (1858–1944)

Ethel was an English composer and a member of the women’s suffrage movement. Her extensive body of work includes the Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra, and the Mass in D. Her opera The Wreckers is considered by some critics to be the “most important English opera composed during the period between Purcell and Britten.” Another of her operas, Der Wald, mounted in 1903, was for more than a century the only opera by a woman composer ever produced at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

AMY BEACH (1867-1944)

Amy Marcy Cheney Beach was an American composer and pianist. She was the first successful American female composer of large-scale art music. Her Gaelic Symphony, premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896, was the first symphony composed and published by an American woman. She was one of the first American composers to succeed without the benefit of European training, and among the most acclaimed American composers of her era.

REBECCA CLARKE (1886-1979)

Rebecca Clarke was an English classical composer and violist best known for her chamber music featuring the viola. She was born in Harrow and studied at the Royal Academy of Music and Royal College of Music in London, later becoming one of the first female professional orchestral players when she joined the Queen’s Hall Orchestra in 1912.She was not well known at the height of her career, however, scholarship and interest in her compositions began to build near the end of her life. The Rebecca Clarke Society was established in 2000 to promote the study and performance of her music.

FLORENCE PRICE (1887–1953)

At age 14, Florence graduated from high school as valedictorian, and enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music. In 1910, she became the head of Clark Atlanta University’s music department in Atlanta, Georgia. Florence was the first African-American woman to have a composition played by a major orchestra, when her Symphony in E minor was debuted by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933. A number of Price’s other orchestral works were played by the WPA Symphony Orchestra of Detroit and the Chicago Women’s Symphony. She was inducted into the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers in 1940 for her work as a composer.

Meet Anna Vosbigian

2019 Citizen Musician Fellow

The program for our 2019 Citizen Musician concert was selected by our 2018/19 Citizen Musician Fellow, Anna Vosbigian, to complete the “Year of the Woman” season with a selection of works by female composers throughout history.

Anna collaborated with Maestro Izcaray and AYS staff to plan and program this year’s Citizen Musician Concert. This is the second year for this project — inspired and supported by a program Yo-Yo Ma developed at the Civic Orchestra of Chicago — teaching leadership in the use of classical music to transform lives and build community. The aim is to bridge the gap between high art and community art, and in the words of Yo-Yo Ma “transcend technique in order to seek out the truths in our world in a way that gives meaning and sustenance to individuals and communities.”

Anna Vosbigian graduated magna cum laude from Northwestern University with a degree in Music and International Studies. She currently teaches privately and conducts the orchestra and band at New West Charter Middle School. While at Northwestern, she studied with Almita Vamos and Shmuel Ashkenasi and was previously a recipient of the Richard D. Colburn scholarship as a student of Danielle Belen. After graduating, she was part of a piano quintet for Lincoln Center Stage on Holland America Line cruises in Alaska. As a winner of the Young Stars of the Future, she soloed with the South Coast Symphony and has also soloed with Symphony Irvine and the Luzerne Symphony Orchestra. She has been a member of the American Youth Symphony since high school, was concertmaster of the Colburn Chamber Orchestra and has also performed with the Colburn Conservatory Orchestra. With a strong interest in giving back to the community, she enjoys performing at retirement centers and while at Northwestern, volunteered regularly with Music Matters, an organization that brings musicians to the hospital to perform for long-term patients. In addition to classical violin, she has studied Irish fiddling, performs in a post-modern trio and plays viola and piano.

“Being an AYS fellow has been an immensely rewarding experience, as I learned to curate a full concert and journeyed through the history of female composers and their chamber music. This program spans almost a century, showcasing the diverse capabilities of string instruments – from melancholy to fierce to joyful – and displaying the virtuosity of the AYS musicians.” – Anna Vosbigian

The Musician Citizen Fellowship is Sponsored By
Peter Mandell and Sarah Coade Mandell

AYS at Bacchus LIVE in Pasadena

This Sunday, April 14

This Sunday, the AYS String Quartet and Colburn Jazz Ensemble will be performing at Bacchus’ Kitchen in Pasadena.

To reserve, call Bacchus Live
at: 626-594-6377

Read the announcement in Pasadena Now.

Our thanks to
Bacchus LIVE for inviting our musicians to participate in this event.

Bacchus LIVE Presents:
American Youth Symphony String Quartet and Colburn Jazz Combo
When: Sunday, April 14th, 2019, 6pm Dinner / Show at 7:30pm
Where: Bacchus Kitchen 1384 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91004
Tickets: $85 ticket includes 3 course meal and the performance
Reserve: Call Bacchus Live at (626) 594-6377 (Zagat Rated Restaurant)

Imagining Classical Music Without Patriarchy

by Jazmín Morales

A few months ago — as I was about half-way down the rabbit hole that is my Instagram explore feed — I stumbled upon the account of @terrilynecarrington as she announced the launch of her Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice at Berklee College of Music. The image she posted with the announcement was a combination of three words I had never seen together before.

 It read “Jazz Without Patriarchy”.

 My first thought was “Wait, that sounds amazing but what does it even MEAN?!” and my second thought was “Oh, yes, this is God’s work.” And I snapped my fingers and did a happy dance around my living room as I reveled in the knowledge that there are other women (of color!) out there working to dismantle systems that no longer serve our art forms and imagining new futures instead.  

But my happy dance was quickly interrupted by a question that arose and stopped me in my tracks: What about classical music…what is classical music without patriarchy?

When it comes to gender parity among musicians, classical music is actually in much better shape compared to jazz. For example, the New York Philharmonic currently has 46% women (just about average for top American orchestras), whereas there are currently no women whatsoever on the same property in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. However, when we consider the gender makeup of conductors, composers, conservatory faculty, board and leadership in our field, the numbers are utterly dismal in comparison. Not to mention that even though many American orchestras are approaching gender parity, there are still huge gender disparities among instruments in those same orchestras.

Clearly, there is still much work to be done. So, we arrive back at the question: what is classical music without patriarchy?

There is no denying that our tradition, like many others, has historically been driven by men – largely because classical music pre-dates important milestones in women’s history, including our rights to education, voting, and equal wages (actually, we’re still working on that one). Of course, this didn’t stop a handful of exceptional, trail-blazing women who went against the odds and composed and performed classical music anyway.

I believe it is time to begin deeply questioning and re-examining the history of our tradition, and determine which elements are worth hanging on to, and which need to go. Patriarchy, I believe, falls in the latter category. 

To be clear, classical music without patriarchy does not mean classical music without men. In fact, we need men – awakened, egalitarian men – to champion and support this cause alongside us. But it does mean classical music will look different than it does now, and we need to be okay with that. Considering that we specialize in preserving music that is hundreds of years old, it seems natural that, as a field, we have been very resistant to change. But the moment has arrived to make a critical decision about the future of classical music: evolve or die.  

Though I alone cannot determine what classical music is without patriarchy (we have to do that together!), I do have some suggestions to help us get started: 

  • Center Women

Prioritize the voices and experiences of women in every aspect of the field as corrective action for the historic marginalization of women in our tradition. We need to focus on equity over equality, because treating everyone the same ignores the systemic oppressions that place us all at different starting points. In order to level the playing field, we need to provide additional support and resources to those who have been historically marginalized. 

  • Empower Women

Work to place women in more positions of power by helping them find the power within themselves. Patriarchy teaches us that women do not belong in positions of power and that women are even powerless over their own bodies.  We must work to undo this by intentionally re-distributing power to women in all aspects of the field. (Bonus tip for men: next time you’re in a meeting and a female colleague says something brilliant that is ignored by the group and a male colleague later says the same thing and is lauded for it, speak up and recognize her for having made the point first because chances are she has been conditioned not to do that for fear of seeming “bossy” or “intense”).

  • Accept Women

Make space for our bodies, emotions, and experiences in all areas of the field. Allow us to fail and try again. See us in our full humanity and give us room to grow.

  • Support Women

Invest in our development. Mentor us. Make sure we have what we need in order to succeed (and, yes, for many of us that includes a generous parental leave policy).

  • Invest in Women


  • Heal from Patriarchy

Ok, yes, this is the toughest but most important one. We all have some major inner work to do to around this. In my humble and very personal opinion, many men need to heal their wounds around hyper-masculine conditioning which leaves them unable to express and cope with emotions, on top of the societal pressure to achieve and be in charge. Women need to heal collective rage against men for oppression and abuse in big and small ways throughout human history. Once we can hold space for all of these wounds, we can begin to reconcile and heal from the fallout of patriarchy. Men will be able to acknowledge, validate, and take responsibility for the violence of patriarchy. And women will be free to grow into their true power without fear.

  • Practice Intersectionality

Surprise! This is actually not just about women. This is about all marginalized groups. But I’ll save that discussion for another blog – imagining classical music without white supremacy, perhaps?

  • Remember we are Connected

Lila Watson, an indigenous artist, activist, and academic famously said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Let these wise words guide our work.

The suggestions I offer above are merely a starting point. Those of us actively working to make our field more accessible and accepting of marginalized people have some difficult work ahead of us, but I truly believe that we can all work towards equitable solutions and ultimately see classical music grow and flourish by embracing others. The good news is that we are not alone on this journey. Other disciplines are grappling just as intensely with these questions, and if we are smart, we will watch and learn from them.

Jazmín Morales is a violinist, activist, and administrator dedicated to helping artists use their gifts to enact meaningful change in the world. Currently, she serves as the Manager of Community Engagement and Career Development at the Colburn School. A classically trained violinist who also grew up playing mariachi and other regional Mexican music, Jazmín has spent her life and career navigating the space between Western and folk art traditions, and working to support others — especially other women of color — in those fields. She recently launched a pilot program called Fortissima, which is a leadership development program for young women of color in classical music. Before joining the Colburn School, she was the Artist Services Coordinator at La Jolla Music Society. Jazmín earned her B.A. in Ethnomusicology from UCLA and M.A. in Arts Management from the Center for Management in the Creative Industries at Claremont Graduate University. 

Travel with AYS

Get to know our AYS musicians! Read about where they dream of traveling in the world.

“I would really like to go  to  the  Mediterranean,  places  like Greece or Italy. I have taken courses in ancient Greek mythology and  Roman/Greek  archeology  and  have learned how modern society has largely  developed  from the Greeks. It would be awesome to go and see all of the

Hamden Chamber of Commerce: Santorini, Greece

ancient structures that have been there for thousands of years, where modern civilization. started.  I  love  the  idea  of seeing different cultures  that  haven’t been influenced by West.” -Elizabeth LaCoste, Flute

“I would love to go back home to Hawaii to be surrounded by my friends and family. Everything about it screams home to me, like the mountains and the beaches. It really is a paradise that everyone should get to experience. I would also love to travel to Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. Europe, and Japan, are also on my bucket list! ” -Chris Fujiwara, Oboe

“I do not get to travel a lot but I want to backpack around Europe, more specifcally Italy. On my mom’s side, there’s still family in Polermo, Sicily. I want to get to know more about my family’s cultural history. .” -Freddy Hernandez, Bass

“I have always wanted to go to Kyoto, Japan to see the cherry blossoms. But a big thing that I want to do is go back to Europe. In high school, I went to Prague, Vienna, and Salzburg with my orchestra. I was pretty young and was not as educated in music as am I today. I knew how to play, but I didn’t understand music history and culture. I have matured a lot since then and it would be a lot more enriching to go now.” -Richard Dobeck, Clarinet

“I have traveled to Europe a fair amount, even lived there briefly, and will continue to expand my love for this continent. South America is also in amazing place to explore over and over again. But I would

Marriott Traveler: Japanese Cherry Blossoms

love to go to Japan. It just looks like a place that I would love because of the hustle and bustle of its cities.” -Nico Bejarano, Trumpet

“So far, I have really enjoyed Asia because I go often to see my family. I embrace different cultures, foods, and traditions and I want to learn as much as possible. I have extensively been to China, but I love Japan because there are so many new and different things than the US. It is important to travel to different countries in order to gain a new perspective on the world and others.” -Jaimee Cao, Violin

Meet the Musicians: Chris Fujiwara

Chris is a 26-year-old oboe player that is currently a graduate student at the University of Southern California.

When did you start playing your instrument?

When I was in the seventh grade, we had the choice of picking our instrument. When people started to pick their instruments, I noticed that no one was in the oboe char. It was unique.

What do you like to do outside of AYS?

I freelance around LA and play with the Bakersfield Symphony, La Sinfonietta, and USC ensembles. I also do outreach with Kinetic Wind Quintet. Outside of music, I love to go hiking all around LA and go to the beach as much as I can.

How do you prepare for a show?

I do not do anything special really, I typically run through the program in my head and show up. The biggest part is making sure that I am at the venue ahead of time in order to make sure that I am comfortable.

How do you like to relax?

I am from Honolulu, so I love to go the beach as much as possible. Much of my time is spent making reeds and practicing them.

Do you have an advice for aspiring Oboe players?

Practice your scales when you are young. I also would recommend to start learning how to make your own reads, only after you can pay the instrument. Do not learn how to make reeds at the beginning when you are starting.




Ms. Magazine Interviews Maestro Iscaray

Crosspost from Ms. Magazine. See Original

On February 23, a new vision for classical music will resound in Los Angeles.

Susan Botti’s EchoTempo, a setting of Native American translations for soprano, percussion and orchestra; Lera Auerbach’s Icarus; and Grammy- and Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra will fill UCLA’s Royce Hall. The trio of works, performed by the equitably gender-split American Youth Symphony’s 2018 cohort as a salute to its 2018/19 theme, “The Year of the Woman,” will set a new tone in the field for advancing gender equality—and provide audiences with the rare opportunity to spend a night surrounded only by the sounds of works composed by women. (Ms. and Feminist Majority Foundation are sponsoring the free event, and will be on-site to participate in a pre-concert conversation about gender gaps in classical music.)

Though the orchestra’s season will eventually come to an end, AYS’ commitment to advancing women’s representation—behind the curtain, backstage and in the conductor’s pit—will not waver come summer. The Year of the Woman, inspired by the mounting global fight for women’s equality in every sector and sphere, is only the beginning of AYS’ enduring commitment to shaping the future of classical music.

Carlos Izcaray is steering that powerful vision for progress. He is no stranger to the AYS mission to foster young talent and set a new tone in the field: Just last year, Izcaray’s Strike Fugaz was premiered by AYS in association with Human Rights Watch to celebrate global fights for justice; throughout his career, he has worked with young musicians in workshops and led tours by youth orchestras.

The AYS Music Director, who is splitting his time between AYS and a parallel role at the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, is also a legendary figure in classical music with a storied career, lending more than a note of gravitas to his efforts to diversify the field. Izcaray leads ensembles across the U.S. and around the world, from the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphonies to the Kwazulu-Natal Philharmonic. He has performed in opera theaters as nearby as Utah and as far as Peru. He served as Principal Cello and Artistic President of the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra and was featured as a concert soloist and chamber musician worldwide. He won top prizes at the 2007 Aspen Music Festival and the 2008 Toscanini International Conducting Competition, took home the Best Opera prize at the Irish Theatre Awards, received rave opera reviews and saw praise pour in after the release of “Through the Lens of Time,” his latest release.

Izcaray talked to Ms. about how AYS plans to continue advancing women’s representation, what comes after the Year of the Woman and just what we can expect to experience this weekend.

I always start with an inception story. Tell me how the 2018/2019 AYS season became known as the “Year of the Woman.”

As I was envisioning the season as a whole, I wanted to make a statement regarding women composers. The initial idea was to do a program where all featured composers were women, something that I hadn’t done before. As soon as I started the process though, it quickly became evident that doing just one program wouldn’t be enough. There are just too many great works by an incredible diverse pool of women composers to chose from, and sticking to a single event didn’t have the impact I desired. So the main goal quickly evolved into something much more powerful and meaningful, where AYS would perform a whole season where the majority of living composers were women. Add to that the involvement of several female guest artists and, voila!, the Year of the Woman season was born. This felt like a real statement that we could all stand by, and an example to follow in the future.

You’ve also made your own firm commitment to gender equality in time with this powerful public devotion to the issues women face in getting to the stage. Can you also tell me a little bit about your pledge to produce gender-equitable shows?

One of the challenges with classical music is that our past doesn’t collaborate with the gender gap. In other words, women of previous eras sadly didn’t get the opportunities to shine in the field, or even to start in the musical path, hence we have very little repertoire to choose from. But our era is quite different.

A brief glance at databases like shows that the resources are there for us to level the field. So we, as a field, can really make it proportionally fair if we desire, and it’s something we at AYS will continue to do so from here on. Our goal is that 50 percent of all living composers through each of our programming cycles, which last 2-3 years, will be women. From a performing angle, it is also key to give equal opportunity to guest artists, and make sure that there are no gender gaps.

I just want to mention some statistics here about gender in classical music: A 2018 study by Quartz at Work found that, of 2,438 full-time musicians from the world’s 20 greatest orchestras, 69 percent were men. A Post analysis the same year found that women made up nearly 40 percent of the country’s orchestras members—but then held only 21 percent of the principal, or titled, slots. Last year, women occupied just 12 of 73 principal positions in the “big five” orchestras in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia and New York. Of the 1,445 classical concerts performed across the world from 2018 to 2019, only 76 included at least one piece by a woman.

Beyond feminist programming and individual commitments, how do we close these gaps? What will it take for women to achieve parity in classical music, and how can leaders in the field follow your lead and play their own part in making it happen?

I believe the best way to deal with the gender gap is to tackle it head on at every single front. First comes the exposure and instruction for our youth, where every child, no matter that gender they may be, feels that there is equal access and fairness during the first steps of the musical path. Second, there must be equal opportunity for those musicians who strive for advancement in an extremely competitive field. Blind orchestral auditions, where the jury panel is positioned behind a screen and can’t view who is playing, are a great example. Since the practice started a few decades ago, the gender gap has been drastically reduced, and I’m very glad that we at AYS have adopted this practice since the beginning of my tenure. The last part of the equation is the leadership. Whether we’re talking about composers, featured artists, administrators, members of boards of directors, or conductors, it is important to provide an even field and opportunities so that women can also display their talents at the helm of the industry.

What impact do you hope the “Year of the Woman” has, locally and on a larger scale—and how will it shape what’s yet to come from AYS?

With regards to AYS, I hope that our young musicians will see this as a model to follow as they advance in their careers. I foresee that a good number of them will be involved in making artistic or executive decisions in the future, so hopefully they can consider this methodology when it comes to programming and hiring. I also want our audience to feel enriched by being exposed to this diverse roster of composers and performers. On a larger scale, I would encourage other artistic leaders and administrators to apply similar concepts with their respective organizations. This initiative is truly universal in spirit, so it can and should be applied worldwide.

I’m already so looking forward to the “Year of the Woman” celebration concert later this month, produced in partnership with Ms. and the Feminist Majority Foundation. What can those of us in attendance expect that night? 

You can expect to be moved by three amazing composers. Lera Auerbach’s Icarus is driven and fiery, and it provides an energized spark for the concert to take flight. Susan Botti’s Echo Tempo, based on Native American poetry, provides a music tapestry that is truly enchanting. We are also extremely fortunate to have Susan as our voice soloist, and Ted Adkatz will join her with the incredibly complex percussion part. Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra, our closing work, is a journey of epic proportions that features and challenges all the sections of the orchestra. Each composer provides a completely different sound world, with a wide spectrum of emotions to discover.

You can follow Carlos on Instagram @carlos_izcaray and learn more about him at

Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. , co-host of TRIGGER HAPPY on Binge Networks and co-founder of Argot Magazine. Her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed, Bitch, Mic, MEL, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle. Like everyone else in LA, she once had a podcast; unlike everyone else, she stays pretty zen in traffic. You can find her on TwitterInstagram and Tumblr.