Half of humanity

A Celebration of Women Composers


In the fall of 2016, the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City featured an opera by a woman (Kaija Saariaho’s ethereal “L’Amour de Loin”) for the first time since 1903. Leading up to the premiere of this opera at the MET this statistic seemed to be around every corner, in every newspaper or magazine article, on every radio interview. It was impossible to avoid, as if it were stalking me, and taunted me a little bit more every time it showed up. 

Even though I had heard of Saariaho many times I realized I didn’t know any of her compositions and realized it was because I had never heard any of her works performed, live or recorded, so I started doing some digging. After exploring her works I knew that this was a profoundly deserving composer, and this lead me to question and examine my personal level of familiarity and lack of programming of female composers in general. 

I began to search for other projects which were consciously leaning towards more progressive programming. I realized that not only was there an overwhelming amount of immensely deserving works by women I had never heard of before, but also that the solution to finding more women composers and programming their works was merely a matter of going out and finding them. Realizing that I wanted to share these amazing works which were new to me to the rest of the world, I felt compelled to choose this topic for my dissertation. 

                              KAIJA SAARIAHO

                              KAIJA SAARIAHO


Although women composers are still outnumbered by men, it is evident that more and more women are becoming successful in their careers as composers. More women are being recognized by established institutions, having their works recorded, performed by major orchestras, and receiving honors and commissions. However, it is clear that much work is still to be done before women composers are to be given the same recognition as their male counterparts.

As a passionate advocate of Women Composers I hope to increase recognition of prominent and lesser-known women, living and deceased, composing high-quality literature. It is my intention to not only make works more accessible but also to bring to everyone’s consciousness the marginalization of women composers in the classical music field and increase awareness of the lack of effort on the part of presenters, organizations, and musicians towards gender equity. It is my hope to energize and mobilize others to create a level playing field on which women composers are fairly represented.


How It Got Its Name:



Saariaho's “L’Amour de Loin” was the first opera written by a woman to be staged by the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 113 years. In an interview with Jeff Lunden in 2016 she expressed weariness over having to discuss this operatic glass ceiling. "It's kind of ridiculous," she says. "I feel that we should speak about my music and not of me being a woman.” Despite her weariness, Saariaho is keenly aware of the challenges women still face today in the music world. "I've seen it with young women who are battling with the same things I was battling ... 35 years ago," she says. Saariaho says these gender barriers might even cause her to revise her earlier point and speak out despite her weariness on the subject. "Maybe we, then, should speak about it, even if it seems so unbelievable," she says. "You know, half of humanity has something to say."