Celebrating Women’s History Month | Part 1

Paralleling some of PCM’s key programs and in celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re sharing a series of blog posts that look at the past, present, and future of Women in the fields of Western Classical, Jazz, and Mariachi music. This first post celebrates the contributions of the Boulanger sisters, Dobrinka Tabakova, and Chloe Chua, and how they have paved – or are currently paving – the way for future generations of women in Western Classical music.

Black and white photo of two sisters sitting for poses

Past: Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) & Nadia Boulanger (1887–1979)
Sisters Lili and Nadia Boulanger were influential figures in the realm of classical music, each leaving an indelible mark on the world through their compositions and pedagogy.

The younger Lili Boulanger was a prodigious composer whose short life produced a remarkable body of work. In 1913, she became the first woman to win the prestigious Prix de Rome composition prize, showcasing her immense talent and originality. Her compositions, including the hauntingly beautiful “Pie Jesu” and the innovative “Psalm 130,” display a depth of emotion and technical skill beyond her years.

Nadia Boulanger was also a distinguished composer and conductor, but is renowned as one of the most influential music teachers of the 20th century. Nadia mentored a generation of composers and performers, including Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, and Quincy Jones. Her pedagogical approach emphasized discipline, craftsmanship, and the cultivation of individuality in music. Nadia’s own compositions, while fewer in number compared to her sister’s, are characterized by their elegance and refinement. (Hot tip: you can hear her “3 Pieces for Cello and Piano” and other works by her protégés and contemporaries at our Musical Interludes concert in May.)

Together, the Boulanger sisters symbolize the resilience and creativity of women in classical music, leaving an enduring legacy that continues to inspire musicians around the world.

Woman poses in grey outfit

Present: Dobrinka Tabakova (1980 – )
Dobrinka Tabakova is a contemporary Bulgarian-British composer whose work is celebrated for its rich harmonic language, lush orchestrations, and profound emotional depth. Born in 1980 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, Tabakova began composing at an early age and later pursued studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Tabakova’s music draws from a diverse range of influences, including Eastern European folk traditions, classical forms, and contemporary techniques. Her compositions often explore themes of memory, nostalgia, and cultural identity, weaving together intricate melodies and textures to create evocative soundscapes.

One of Tabakova’s most acclaimed works is “Concerto for Cello and Strings,” which showcases her mastery of orchestration and her ability to blend classical and folk elements seamlessly. Her chamber music, such as “Insight” for string trio and “Frozen River Flows” originally written for oboe and percussion – with arrangements for violin, accordion, and double bass, also demonstrates her gift for crafting intimate and emotionally resonant compositions.

In addition to her work as a composer, Tabakova is an accomplished pianist and conductor, regularly performing her own music and collaborating with leading ensembles and musicians around the world. With her unique voice and innovative approach to composition, Dobrinka Tabakova continues to captivate audiences and enrich the contemporary classical music landscape.

Young girl plays violin

Future: Chloe Chua (2007 – )
Sixteen year old Chloe Chua is an acclaimed violinist who gained international recognition at a remarkably young age. Born in Singapore in 2007, Chua began playing the violin at the age of three, displaying an extraordinary aptitude for the instrument from the outset. She quickly garnered attention for her technical prowess, musical sensitivity, and mature interpretation beyond her years.

Chua’s exceptional talent has been acknowledged through numerous awards and accolades, including winning the prestigious Menuhin Competition Junior Division in 2018. Her performance captivated audiences and judges alike, showcasing her exceptional musicianship and artistic maturity.

Since then, Chua has continued to distinguish herself as one of the most promising young violinists of her generation. Chua’s range in repertoire spans from classical masterpieces to contemporary works, demonstrating her versatility and artistic curiosity.

With her remarkable talent and dedication to her craft, Chloe Chua represents the exciting and inspiring future of classical music.