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Singers celebrate women with music of female composers

Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico will celebrate women in music in an upcoming concert.

Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico will celebrate women in music in an upcoming concert.

SANTA FE, N.M. — The singers of Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico have gathered the music of female composers in a celebration of women in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

The 11-voice a cappella ensemble will perform works by 13 women from the Medieval period as well as pieces by living contemporary composers, Polyphony director Maxine Thévenot said.

“Some are very much centered around the Virgin Mary,” she said. “There are also pieces that are very spiritual and mystical without being necessarily Christian.”

The program will open with “O Viridissima virga” (Oh Greenest Branch) by Hildegard von Bingen, a German Benedictine abbess. The 11th century composer penned music to her own poetry.

“Much of the work was chant-based,” Thévenot said.

The program leaps into the 20th century with Rebecca Clarke’s “Ave Maria,” a lushly romantic piece.

“She was a wonderful string player in addition to being a composer,” Thévenot said. “She was born in England to a German mother and an American father. She became the first female musician in an all-male ensemble. She was definitely paving the path.”

The group will sing two versions of “Ave Maria” by the English composers Katherine Dienes and Sarah MacDonald.

“These two ladies are trailblazers,” Thévenot said. “Dienes was the first woman to be offered a cathedral position. MacDonald was the first female director of chapel music at Selwyn College, Cambridge.”

Cochiti composer Mary Badarak will be present for the performance of her “Magnificat in the Style of the Sacred Harp.” The piece stems from the tradition of sacred choral music originating in the Appalachians.

Santa Fe Pulitzer Prize nominee Valerie Martinez will give a live poetry reading.

“Women composers for centuries have always been cast aside,” Thévenot said. “Look at Mozart’s sister. She was a fantastic composer in her own right.”