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If nothing else, this substantial compendium of interviews with 25 women composers offers vital evidence of the sheer diversity of compositional activity – much of it, sadly, hidden from European ears – currently to be found in the United States.

But these ‘conversations’ range across more than matters of technique, style and process. Instead, what emerges is a telling exploration of the role of women composing in the US across the last half-century and more, and a discussion of the status afforded them in a still largely androcentric industry. A telling trope throughout is the consideration of how best to balance creative and personal lives, an issue unlikely to have been raised had the featured composers been male.

When Joan Tower observes that ‘Women have had a different experience than men, different history, different everything’ in the book’s opening interview, she identifies a theme that informs much of what follows across more than 460 pages.

With a background in performance and academia, Jennifer Kelly brings an informed sensitivity to bear that prompts much revealing commentary by her individual subjects in an intelligently structured volume. Underpinning her gentle but incisive interrogations is a sustained inquiry into why women composers, whatever else their qualities, should also be marked by their relative absence in concert halls, recording studios and scholarly texts.

Read individually, each of the interviews – which include a valuable list of compositions – provide informed portraits of each composer, their interests, inspirations and experience of making music in a changing world. Taken together, they provide, as Kelly herself notes, ‘new approaches to questions about the women creating American music and how american music could be redefined and cultivated’. As such, it is an essential read.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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