Focus 2020 Presents Trailblazers: Celebrating Women Composers, January 24-31

Mike Lawson • News • January 2, 2020

Juilliard has announced the 36th annual Focus festival, Trailblazers: Pioneering Women Composers of the 20th Century, co-curated by Odaline de la Martinez, a Cuban-American conductor and composer based in London, and Focus director and conductor Joel Sachs.

The festival will take place from Friday, January 24, through Friday, January 31, 2020. This year’s festival marks the centenary of women’s suffrage in the United States, with the 19th amendment first giving women the vote in 1920. Director Joel Sachs writes that the festival “celebrates a group of women, most of whom came of age in the early 20th century, filled with determination to establish themselves as professional composers. Their struggle was admirable, setting the stage for subsequent generations of women composers, whose numbers and acceptance have grown enormously.”

All concerts are free, and tickets are available at

The festival opens on Friday, January 24, 2020, at 7:30pm in Juilliard’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater with the New Juilliard Ensemble (N.J.E.), led by Joel Sachs. The ensemble will play Méandres (2009-10, U.S. premiere) by Jacqueline Fontyn (Belgium, b. 1930); Girasol (1995) by Ursula Mamlok (Germany/U.S., 1923-2016); Three Songs (1930-32) by Ruth Crawford Seeger (U.S., 1901-53) with soprano Britt Hewitt; Six Tempi for Ten Instruments, Op. 42 (1957) by Elisabeth Lutyens (U.K., 1906-83); and Octet (1949-50) by Galina Ustvolskaya (USSR/Russia, 1919-2006).

Chamber music concerts take place Monday, January 27 through Thursday, January 30, in Juilliard’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater. A pre-concert panel discussion with composition alumna June Han, co-curator Odaline de la Martinez, composer Thea Musgrave, and Joel Sachs will take place on Tuesday, January 28, at 6:30pm in Juilliard’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater. The concert that evening features the music of three U.S. composers: Mary Lou Williams, Vivian Fine, and Florence Price.

The Juilliard Orchestra performs the closing-night concert on Friday, January 31, 2020, at 7:30pm in Alice Tully Hall. The concert will be led by conductor David Robertson, director of Juilliard’s conducting studies and distinguished visiting faculty, along with student conductors Kyle Ritenauer, Sasha Scolnik-Brower, and Molly Turner. Anne Manson, who was originally scheduled to conduct this concert had to withdraw due to a minor health issue. The program features A Little Summer Suite (2015) by Betsy Jolas (France, b. 1926); Cello Concerto No. 2 with Juilliard cellist Samuel DeCaprio by Grażyna Bacewicz (Poland, 1909-69); “On the Cliffs of Cornwall” (prelude to Act II of The Wreckers) (1904) by Ethel Smyth (U.K., 1858-1944); Rainbow (1990) by Thea Musgrave (Scotland/U.S., b. 1928); and The Rider on the White Horse (2002) by Sofia Guibaidulina (USSR/Germany, b. 1931) with Juilliard organist Raphael Vogl. David Robertson appears courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera, where he is conducting Porgy and Bess.  

Photo by Michael DiVito.

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