One hundred years ago, American women legally gained the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. It was a much-needed victory, but only a partial one — poor women and women of color were still denied their voting rights through a variety of legal and illegal means. Nonetheless, the symbolic achievement is worth celebrating, even as we continue to battle disenfranchisement and voter suppression all the way to this day. In recognition of this ongoing struggle for justice, the New York Philharmonic introduces Project 19 — a multi-season initiative to commission and premiere 19 new works by 19 women composers — the largest women-only commissioning initiative in history.
Project 19 was born of the conviction that an orchestra can participate in conversations about social imperatives and even change the status quo. Through Project 19, the Philharmonic can mark a “tectonic shift in American culture,” said New York Philharmonic President and CEO Deborah Borda, by giving women composers a platform and catalyzing representation in classical music and beyond.
Project 19 launched in February with the first six world premieres. The orchestra will premiere the next two commissions in May and June. Eleven more will follow in future seasons.
The 19 composers are Nina C. Young, Joan La Barbara, Nicole Lizée, Paola Prestini, Tania León, Ellen Reid, Olga Neuwirth, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Unsuk Chin, Mary Kouyoumdjian, Caroline Mallonee, Jessie Montgomery, Angélica Negrón, Maria Schneider, Caroline Shaw, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Joan Tower, Melinda Wagner and Du Yun.
In addition, Project 19 composers are mentoring female students in the New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers Program. And public school students at Kaufman Music Center’s Special Music School High School are studying the music of all 19 of the commissioned composers, as well as the historical context of the 19th Amendment and its impact on music history.
In February, the Philharmonic’s Project 19 presented “The Special Case of Steffy Goldner,” a multimedia installation by artist Nives Widauer that examined the challenges women faced during the universal suffrage movement, focusing on the first woman to become a member of the Philharmonic, harpist Stephanie “Steffy” Goldner (1896-1962), among other pioneering women of the Philharmonic. Images of letters, recordings, home movies, and family memorabilia were projected onto the inside of the harp case she used for touring.
At Project 19 performances, members of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York will be on hand to provide voter registration services and discuss civic issues. League members will also answer questions about important voting issues of 2020: deadlines for registration, dates of the primaries and general election, and roll-out of the upcoming census.
More information on Project 19 is available at nyphil.org/project19