The recent surge of interest in compositions by women composers has breathed new life into the world of classical music and opera. Scores that once languished in obscurity are now receiving the recognition they deserve, offering audiences a fresh array of talented composers to admire.
On Friday, September 1st, Chicago-based pianist and composer Amy Wurtz took center stage at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago as part of the church’s Friday Noonday Concert series. In an hour-long concert that flowed seamlessly without intermission, Wurtz presented a remarkable performance. Notably, she chose to exclusively feature compositions by women composers, and, impressively, all of them hailed from Chicago.
Wurtz meticulously curated a concert that not only highlighted the works of women composers but also had the honor of having several of these composers present at the event. The program featured a total of nine compositions, with two by deceased composers and seven by living ones. Five of the living composers had the privilege of experiencing their music firsthand in the church, while the remaining two watched the performance online.
The concert opened with “Troubled Water” by Margaret Bonds (1913–1972), a multi-talented artist known and revered not only in Chicago but also beyond. This piano composition, inspired by “Wade in the Water,” transformed a wordless spiritual into a classical piece with jazzy influences, captivating harmonies, and intricate rhythms. Wurtz’s performance exuded boldness, at times almost commanding the piano with force, while other moments were graced with her delicate touch, caressing the tender melodies.
Kyong Mee Choi’s “Breathe Life” commenced with ethereal high notes emanating from the upper reaches of the keyboard. Individual notes hung in the air, and Wurtz showcased her deep concentration as she traversed the keyboard, occasionally using her entire palm to strike multiple keys simultaneously—an invitation for the audience to revel in the resulting vibrations.
The world premiere of Osnat Netzer’s “Free Fall” followed, opening with a high-pitched keyboard introduction that gradually descended with rapid and energetic passages, resembling a moto perpetuo, or perpetual motion.
Wurtz introduced the next piece by Regina Harris Baiocchi, sharing her personal connection to the composition. She recounted first encountering the music on the PBS program “Songs about Buildings and Moods,” expressing her deep affection for it and her desire to perform it herself. Titled “Deliverance,” this musical masterpiece depicted Chicago’s First Church of Deliverance and exuded an infectious sense of joy and purpose. The composition seamlessly intertwined snazzy gospel elements, providing inspiration and hope. Wurtz’s performance was characterized by warmth, inviting contrasts, fluidity, and beautifully rendered arpeggios.
“Fantasie Négre No. 1,” composed in 1929 by Florence Price and inspired by “Sinner, Please Don’t Let this Harvest Pass,” was next in the program. Price dedicated this moving composition to Margaret Bonds, infusing it with the grandeur of high Romanticism and the immediacy of a spiritual. The piece’s sublime, life-affirming melody elevated spirits, even during its most turbulent passages. Wurtz masterfully conveyed Price’s storytelling prowess through music, delivering intensity, vivid colors, and a compelling sense of urgency. Price’s ability to seamlessly meld classical structure with genre music was brought to life by an artist of Wurtz’s exceptional caliber, resulting in a profoundly rewarding musical experience.
Amy Wurtz’s piano recital, featuring exclusively women composers and their captivating compositions, stands as a testament to the rich and diverse talent within the classical music world, offering a captivating and memorable performance that will resonate with audiences for years to come.