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Q&A: Missouri Composer Stephanie Berg on Working with the SLSO, Inspiring Women Composers

Missouri native, composer Stephanie Berg, is one of three women featured in a free community concert at 7:00pm March 1 at Powell Hall. Equal Play: Celebrating Women Composers combines the talents of SLSO musicians, renowned soprano Christine Brewer, and women composers of today in a unique chamber concert with works by Rebecca Clarke, Jennifer Higdon, and Berg. This concert, now in its third year, has brought standing-room only crowds to celebrate the accomplishments of women composers. The brainchild of SLSO Cellist Anne Fagerburg, the first Equal Play concert was held in early 2017 on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.

Berg, whose work was performed by the SLSO in 2014, discussed the Equal Play concert, her work, Three Prayers, and women composers that inspire her.

Composer Stephanie Berg

When you compose, what orchestral colors are you drawn to and why?

Stephanie Berg: I really love playing around with contrast - big, bold colors; extreme registers; piccolo (specifically); and giving the brass and percussion license to do what they do best: be loud.  There is so much power in an orchestra, and I like to take advantage of that. Plus, it never hurts to make an entrance…

This won’t be your first piece that has been played by members of the SLSO. Explain your history with the SLSO.  

Berg: Well, speaking of making an entrance, the SLSO performed my piece, Ravish and Mayhem, in 2014.  This was more or less my compositional debut on the professional stage, and it’s also arguably my most audacious and wildest piece to date (elephants are scored into the brass parts, after all).  Oh man, did the SLSO play the heck out of it! A number of collaborations with members of the SLSO followed this, including a commission for the St. Louis Low Brass Collective and of course, Three Prayers.

Talk about your piece on the program, Three Prayers. What inspired you to compose this piece? What do you hope the audience gets from hearing it?  

Berg: Diana Haskell (SLSO Associate Principal Clarinet) commissioned Three Prayers in 2016 and had selected the Biblical verses she wanted set. I’ve worked with Diana before, and I know that Christianity is deeply important to her and her identity. I knew that this was a project that would be very personal to her, so I decided to make it personal to me, too.  This music comes from my most reverent side - the side that appreciates the power of quiet things that seem small but are actually quite significant. It’s about honoring the text with as much care and love as I can muster. Whatever the religious persuasion (or lack of) of the audience members, I hope they walk away from this piece with a sense of the sublime beauty that life can encompass.

The March 1 Equal Play chamber concert celebrates women composers. What other women composers do you admire? What draws you to their work?  

Berg: Two that stand out to me are Joan Tower and Jennifer Higdon.  They both write with such deftness and flair. Higdon, in particular, can have such a rawness to her sound that I admire so much!  I had the pleasure of meeting her; she is such a fantastic force to be reckoned with, both compositionally and personally.

To learn more about the Equal Play: Celebrating Women Composers, click here.


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