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Classical Album of the Week: Project W, Orchestral Works by Women Composers

March 18, 2019. One older and five new orchestral works by women composers comprise Project W, our Classical Album of the Week. Recently released by Cedille Records, Project W is performed by the Chicago Sinfonietta, under the direction of its music director, Mei-Ann Chen.

The Chicago Sinfonietta hasa history of diversity, beginning with its founding by African-American conductor Paul Freeman. Its historical roots are represented with the first selection on the album, Dances in the Canebrakes, by Florence Price, who was educated at the New England Conservatory, and whose First Symphony became the first orchestral work by an African-American female composer to be performed by a major symphony orchestra. (The Chicago Symphony gave its premiere in 1933.)

Price’s charming suite, “Dances in the Canebrakes,” originally for solo piano, receives a sensitive interpretation by Chen and the Chicago Sinfonietta in an orchestration by William Grant Still.

Listen to excerpts of the album here.

The remainder of the album consists of commissions of contemporary female composers, including Brazilian-American composer Clarice Assad’s “Sin Fronteras” and “Coincident Dances” by Jessie Montgomery, who was born in New York City and is now a member of the dynamic Catalyst Quartet.


Indian-American composer Reena Esmail brings to her work the shimmering sound of Hindustani classical music in “Charukeshi Bandish,” on which she also performs classical Indian singing. The exotic colors of this vocal work find their way into her composition called “#metoo,” whose nidus began with trauma the composer experienced in high school and college. She describes “#metoo” as the journey of “a woman who is trying to navigate through a world filled with pitfalls, dead ends, dark turns — each time finding the way back to her own, individual, powerful voice.” 


Rounding out the album are a varied set of engaging movements, “Raucous Rumpus,” “Breeze Serenade,” “Jumble Dance,” “Celestial Blue,” and “Machina Rockus,” that make up a piece called “Dance Card,” by one of the most highly commissioned and popular American composers of our day, Jennifer Higdon. 

Debra's last day on the air at WRTI was September 21st, 2021. She's now the radio host for The Metropolitan Opera. Read more here.