2005-05-03 / Front Page

Concert to feature music by women composers


Staff Writer

MIDDLETOWN — Pianist Elaine Vander Plate Held is doing very well since she left her paid position as a church choir director to promote the work of women composers.

“After being a church musician for over 20 years, I felt my energies were better focused on my growing passion for music created by women. It has not been a level playing field for them,” she said.

It has now been two years since Held changed her focus and followed her inclinations.

“I miss the choir, but this new direction is very satisfying, not only as a mission, but musically. I love to open up unknown worlds for people by playing this wonderful music and talking about their remarkable lives — and I get to perform.”

One of her favorite venues is playing the works of women composers for the annual “Women Composers Concert” that has been ongoing at the Lincroft Unitarian Universalist Church of Monmouth County for the past six years.

The concert has become more ambitious each year, and this year is no exception. In fact, it is the most ambitious in terms of the number of people involved than any of the previous concerts.

The “Sixth Annual Honoring Women Composers Concert” on May 7 features special guest composer Katherine Hoover, who will talk about her life as a composer and describe each of the works that will be performed that night.

According to Held, the compositions include “Aria, Allegro Giocoso,” and “El Andalus,” based on Middle Eastern ancient chants, for cello and piano. The program also includes three piano solos: “Three Plus Three,” a game; “Dream,” which brings together seemingly unrelated sounds that eventually merge as events do in dreams; and “Allegro Molto,” which combines speed, syncopation and whimsy with touches of jazz. The last composition is a piece for clarinet and piano called “Ritual.”

“It’s based on Greek folk music in the style of klezmer clarinet. It’s raucous, fun and passionate,” Held said.

Also on the program are a set of two romantic pieces for cello and piano by German composer Clara Mathilde Faisst (1872-1977); a solo piano fantasy based on the black spiritual “Wade in the Water” by early 20th-century African American composer Margaret Bonds (1913-1972); and a set of three jazz dances for piano, double bass and drums, “Mazurka,” “Pavane” and “Landler,” by British composer and actress Madeline Dring (1923-1977).

New at this year’s concert are three monologues written by Held’s friend, Judith Carluccio.

“They are quite short, but really bring to life a small moment of the composer’s life in her own words,” Held explained.

She will also be joined by two female jazz performers for the Madeline Dring set of three dances: Nicki Parrot on double bass and Allison Miller on drums.

“I’m thrilled they are available to play this concert, though Nicki will be recording all day and Allison is just back from a European tour.”

Held has been playing the music of women composers since 1999, when she realized that she did not know much about women composers or their music even though she had been a concert pianist for decades.

“It is very exciting to play the music of women composers whose music and life stories are unknown to most people. At the same time, it is sad and frustrating that those who come regularly to my concerts have heard the music of over 30 women composers and still little is done anywhere else,” she said.

“Perhaps more people would go to concerts if the music was new and they were charged with the responsibility to hear the old and new music by very talented women composers. We need to bring women’s music to the same playing field as men’s music.”

Held has been working hard to achieve that goal and has had much success.

“I think I have made headway. I have presented a Sunday morning talk at many New Jersey Unitarian congregations, including playing the prelude, offertory and postlude — of course, by women composers.”

In the fall of 2003, she presented a full concert at the new Performing Arts Center of the College of the Ozarks in Missouri, and in the spring of 2004 she released her first CD, “Rediscover I,” which contains music from the baroque to the 20th century with some of her favorite women composers for solo piano.

She has performed in various concert series throughout the state; has given lecture/recitals at Ocean County Community College in Toms River, and

Brookdale Community College in Lincroft; and collaborated with two living composers, Sylvia Glickman and Katherine Hoover.

She has also created a Web site devoted to women composers, WomenComposers.net.

Held said she is currently working on a book about women composers, with photos, for the general public.

“The next step is to get a book out there so people can read about the women, their struggles, their talents, their music. Of course there are other books, but most of them are for musicians or textbooks or encyclopedic books. This one would be a trade book. I am writing it with William Noble, who has published around 20 nonfiction books, five of them on ballet.”

She is motivated by the living, breathing music of generations of women whose output was often limited by the nurturing of family — just as Held’s life as a mother, wife and grandmother often interferes with her devotion to her musical career.

“It’s been a lot of work! I could not do both church music and this,” she said.

“The hardest part is promoting myself and calling for concert dates. Then there are the mailings, calendar planning, writing, updating my Web site, updating my mailing list, finding good musicians to play ensembles with, and, of course, I still have to practice at least three hours a day.”

She added: “So far, I am not burned out or tired of it. I keep thinking of new projects.”

Her newest idea for the future is a concert featuring the music of women of color.

“Women composers have had and still have a difficult time finding musicians to perform their music (orchestras, quartets, singers, pianist, etc.), but women of color have an even more difficult time. Naturally, that interests me. We’ll see where it takes me.”

Also joining Held for the “Sixth Annual Honoring Women Composers Concert” will be Karen Pinoci, cellist and conductor, and Jan Dash, clarinetist and pianist.

Saturday’s concert will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation Meeting House, 1475 W. Front Street, Lincroft, with a reception to follow.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, and $5 for children under age 12. For advance tickets, contact Carol Owen at (732) 714-8149 or owen@monmouth.com.

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