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A Closer Look at Overlooked Musical Artists
In anticipation of Orion’s opening concert of the 2019–20 season, Orion pianist Diana Schmück has been exploring works by female composers who studied with the renowned French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger—specifically on this program, Nadia’s sister Lili and Louise Talma. Schmück shares some background on Boulanger.
The Boulanger family comprised musicians, actors and thinkers. As a toddler, Lili began her life of music study and compositions by accompanying her older sister Nadia to the Paris Conservatory. Lili (Marie-Juliette Olga) was later the first woman to win the Prix de Rome at that institution, and she wrote a considerable amount of music during her short life: songs, piano pieces, choir compositions and orchestral works. The chamber pieces on Orion's program— Cortège (1914) for solo piano, D’un soir triste (1918) for piano trio and D’un matin de printemps (1918) for violin and piano—are the last she wrote with her own hand, although she continued to compose until her death by dictating to her sister. They are miniature masterpieces of varying expressions, each a tonal journey of lush and exotic harmonic colorations.
Louise Talma was one of many Americans—Aaron Copland being the most famous—who went to France to study with Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau. In her Alleluia in Form of Toccata (1947) for piano, which is on Orion’s program, one can hear the rhythmic play (a la Stravinsky), as well as the strong sense of forward motion and continuity, for which she was known. This work, which celebrates the dynamic, unrelenting rhythms one finds in virtuosic pieces, with shifting tonalities that bring a shimmering essence of personalized expression, received critical acclaim, and shortly thereafter she was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships in composition.
 Diana will play some of Boulanger's own compositions in a performance on WFMT 98.7 Radio’s “Live from Studio One” on October 7 at 8 p.m. These will include her Three Pieces for Cello and Piano (originally written for organ solo) and some of her songs, joined by VanderCook College of Music faculty musicians Eran Mier and Angela Presutti-Korbitz. Nadia is infamous for negating herself as a composer, but both the cello works and the songs are well-crafted and very engaging. She stopped writing music as a young woman because she felt that her music “had the worst of faults: it was useless, and fortunately I did not leave anyone the chore of telling me.” Many don’t agree with her assessment, and although she might have produced more wonderful music had she continued to progress as a composer, her decision to devote her energies to challenge and inspire young composers nonetheless yielded a variety of music. The quality and diversity of music by her students is well represented by the music of the 11 female students featured on WFMT's program on October 7.
The WFMT performance also includes songs by Scottish composer Thea Musgrave, Canadian composer Jean Coulthard and American composer Mary Howe; two arrangements of spirituals by African-American composer Julia Perry; and works by Chicago composer Patricia Morehead, Polish composer/percussionist and University of Chicago Professor Emeritus Marta Ptaszyńska, French composer Ida Gotkovsky, Polish violinist/composer Graźyna Bacewicz and Australian composer Peggy Granville-Hicks, as well as an additional piece by Nadia Boulanger’s sister Lili. Also joining Diana are Lyric Opera baritone Ron Watkins and VanderCook faculty members Jim Yakas, xylophone, and Bonnie Campbell, clarinet.
Diana describes this as a “sampler,” with lots of short works. “I am hoping it will introduce some wonderful composers to listeners,” she said. “It has certainly whetted my appetite to know more of their works.”

In addition to the works by Boulanger and Talma, Orion’s opening concert program celebrates Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday with his Serenade in D Major for string trio, Op. 8, and features Josef Labor’s Quintet in D Major for clarinet, strings and piano, Op. 11.
See Orion's first concert series of the season!
Concert 1
with guest artist Stephen Boe

September 29 - 7 pm (New England Congregational Church, Aurora)
October 2 - 7:30 pm (PianoForte Studios, Chicago)
October 6 - 7:30 pm (Nichols Concert Hall, Evanston)

$30 adults | $25 seniors | $15 students

"The last concert and the last piece left me so thrilled I was floating.
I looked at the man two chairs down and without any words,
our faces and expressions to each other told the whole story—
he was as elated as I was. Wow, what a way to leave a concert!"
–Alice Kacherian Trent (June 2019 concert)

27th Season – 2019-20
The Orion Ensemble is supported in part by grants from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the John R. Halligan Charitable Fund, the Farny R. Wurlitzer Foundation Fund, and the Illinois Arts Council Agency, and by generous donations from our dedicated patrons.