fam·i·ly, ˈfam-lē, ˈfa-mə-
Family: a group of persons united by the ties of marriage, blood, or adoption, constituting a single household and interacting with each other in their respective social positions, usually those of spouses, parents, children, and siblings.
No matter what our feelings towards the term “family” and our experiences of it are, we all have one thing in common at the very root our existence: we are born by our (biological) mother. With a festival named after the primeval Greek goddess who represents the Earth, it seems fitting that I go in search of outstanding female composers in classical music, as well as their male counterparts.
The idea of a family-themed festival formed in my mind in 2017 when I became intrigued by the Boulanger sisters, their music and the support of the elder sister for the younger. I began to study composer families—the Bachs and Bendas, Nina Makarowa and her spouse Aram Khachaturian, Alexander Scriabin and his son Julian, the siblings Bacewicz and Gnessin, the Tcherepnins, Vačkářs and von Herzogenbergs and, from Solothurn, Richard Flury and his son Urs Joseph. Their stories were full of promise, brilliance, hard graft and the desire for recognition, success and failure, patriotism and independence. Certainly, they were stories that orbit around love.
The lack of a greater number of female composers up until the middle of the twentieth century is the result of social prejudice and patriarchal mores up to that point. Defying these restraints as best possible are, amongst others, Fanny Mendelssohn, the sister of Felix; Clara Wieck, the wife of Schumann and muse of Brahms; Kateřina Kolářová, the wife of Smetana, and Irina Regina Wieniawska who published under a male pen name as the burden of her famous father’s legacy weighed heavily on her shoulders. The women that are woven into this year’s rich tapestry of music at GAIA are composers and musicians themselves, not just muses to a man’s inspiration.
Adding to the family theme are the performers themselves who are all related to one another. There are brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, fiancés, spouses, musical partnerships, and decades-long academic relationships.
A fourth-generation musician with roots in Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands, I have spent formative years in Ireland and have lived nearly half my life in Switzerland. I have the good fortune of being continuously encouraged by my family and have experienced, not the burden of sexism, but the never-ending search for identity both within my family structure and beyond. There is great strength to be drawn from the awareness of multi-ethnicity. There is, however, also a prevalent feeling of having no physical roots, of dangling in the air, of not having access to what “tradition” can mean amongst those who cultivate it in one and the same country.
But there has always been family to keep me rooted. Family and music. May both illuminate your days as we welcome you to this year’s festival!
Founder and artistic director