Dec 2, 2019

Connections 3: Illuminate Women's Music

In our new article series we present projects and collaborations that connect to Ulysses Network projects or members. The third article introduces the Illuminate Women's Music by interviewing Dr. Angela Slater, the founder of the project. You can find Connections 1 article about reConvert here and Connections 2: Cecia here.

Do you have a ULYSSES connected project you would like to tell about? Contact the community manager community.ulysses(at)!


Illuminate rehearsaltIlluminate season II: Illuminate string quartet and soprano Patricia Auchterlonie. Photo by Angela Slater.


Why was Illuminate Women's Music project started?

The Illuminate project had been forming in my mind for several years. There were a number of things that I had started to notice and got increasingly bothered about, which ultimately led me to form Illuminate. Whenever I was at a composition course I was usually the only woman or, if I was lucky, I was one of two. I started to think back to my education - both at school and university - and could not recall any women composers being introduced to me. When I did some research into this, I found it to be largely true, although I was glad to discover I had come into contact with some female composers through my flute grades, but these composers were usually labelled as either a ‘jazz composer’ or ‘educational composer’. I thought it was interesting that these women composers were, perhaps even had to be, qualified with an additional label other than ‘composer’. This really concerned me personally, but also generally for the representation and respect of all female creativity; as Betty Atterbury puts it, ‘Omission is a powerful teacher’.

As a composer in my PhD I was fascinated by incorporating the natural world into different parameters of my compositions. Through this, I increasingly came into contact with more female composers and their works. I quickly realised that I had started to form a type of ‘personal canon’ of female composers. This made me wonder about the place of females in the established canon, the cycle of cultural reproduction the canon leads too and how we can truly have an impact on this. The idea for Illuminate started as a plan to host a couple of concerts that had all-female programmes. However, I soon realised I wanted to reach more people, opening up new repertoire for the audience to add to their own personal canons. Most concert-going audiences, by their own admission, know very little about women’s music, or that it even exists. By programming both historical and living women composers side by side, I hoped to create a forum to celebrate creative women from across the ages. In the long term, I would like works by women composers to be considered as equal to canonic works whose places are safe in concert programmes

What have been the main actions so far?

I founded Illuminate in 2017, with the blog series and first touring series launched in 2018. In 2018 we performed in 10 concerts across the UK, supported 4 performers, 7 different living composers, 11 new commissions and programmed several works by 7 historical composers (Morfydd owen, Lili Boulanger, Grazyna Bacewizc, Hilda Jerea, Claude Arrieu (Louise Marie Simon) Clara Schumann and Amy Beach).

In 2019, the Illuminate team consisting of myself and fellow composers Blair Boyd and Sarah Westwood, built on the success of 2018, this time launching two seasons so we could support even more performers and composers across the year.

Illuminate’s first season of 2019 supported 5 new commissions from composers Kerensa Briggs and Laura Shipsey and Illuminate composers in residence, Angela Elizabeth Slater, Sarah Westwood, and Blair Boyd, for new works for Boston-based Prism trio and UK- based Ethel Smyth Trio. These works were premiered in Boston, MA earlier this year, with another performance at Hartford Women Composers Festival (CT) and several UK performances that soon followed, with visits to Brighton, York, Stafford and Oxford. Historical works by Morfydd Owen, Grażyna Bacewicz and Ethel Smyth were programmed alongside the newly commissioned works demonstrating the amazing linage of women composers works that are out there.

Illuminate Season II (September-November 2019) saw the formation of the Illuminate string quartet with Clarice Rarity (violin), Christine Cornwell (violin) Katherine Clarke (viola) and Cecilia Bignall (cello), who were joined by soprano Patricia Auchterlonie. Season II commissioned Illuminate composers in residence as well as Caroline Bordignon, Yfat Soul Zisso and Joanna Ward. We were delighted that Season II had a residency at Snape Maltings, which enabled us to focus intensely on the repertoire for the upcoming concerts. This week-long residency was supported by Snape Maltings and Ulysses platform. Illuminate Season II concerts started at University of Bangor’s Second International Conference on Women’s Work in Music on 5th September, particularly highlighting historical composers Rebecca Clarke and Barbara Strozzi. This was particularly significant as 2019 marks the (birth) anniversaries of composer Barbara Strozzi, and the 40th anniversary of the death of Rebecca Clarke. llluminate Season II then went on to visit Birmingham, Huddersfield, Oxford, and Cambridge, with programmes featuring music by Ruth Crawford Seeger, Vivian Fine, Elizabeth Lutyens, and Zoë Martlew. .

Across 2019 we have given 12 concerts in the US and across the UK, supported 15 performers and 12 living composers, created 11 new commissions, and programmed several works by 9 historical composers (Morfydd Owen, Grazyna Bacewice, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Lili Boulanger, Ethel Smyth, Barbara Strozzi, Vivian Fine, Rebecca Clarke, Elizabeth Lutyens).

In 2019 Illuminate also specially curated a concert for students at Royal College of Music as part of their chamber music festival. Programming fantastic works for wind quintet, string quartet, mixed ensemble and solo piano exposed the students to the works of Thea Musgrave, Morfydd Owen, Elizabeth Maconchy, Jennifer Higdon and Illuminate composers in residence Blair Boyd, Sarah Westwood and Angela Elizabeth Slater. We look forward to curating another concert at RCM in Feburary 2020!


Illuminate rehearsals 2Illuminate season II: Illuminate string quartet. Photo by Angela Slater


Illuminate rehearsals 3Illuminate season II: Illuminate string quartet. Photo by Angela Slater


What are the next steps for the project?

To continue to engage new performers in residence to explore new ensembles and genres in which different women composers from the past can be highlighted, and provide emerging composers with a unique experience of multiple performances of newly commissioned works. The next steps are really to keep building on the groundwork we have already laid out. The bigger issues around representation will not be fixed in the short term; it is the long-term nature of our plans that will ultimately make the difference.

We will be announcing who our next performers in residence and composers selected for commission in 2020 so watch this space!

Why is it important to promote especially women as composers and musicians?

If we wish to have a fair, just, and rich culture and society then we need to look at ourselves and carefully assess our behaviours in all aspects of our lives. This must include the arts. The music industry seems curious in its lagging behind other sectors in this regard, and I do believe this has something to do with the institutionalised canon that prevails over programming. We should strive to value women in our society and therefore we need to value their creativity both as performers and composers. We need to dispel the unhelpful (and untrue) myth of there being few or no women composers by demonstrating the rich lineage of women composers. In short, it is hugely important and vital and helps to better represent our cultural heritage.

How do you see the future of the project in the long run?

I hope to continue each year with new performers in residence, informing and changing their programming practice, and bringing newly commissioned works into concert programmes for audiences across the UK and beyond to hear. After each season I hope the performers in residence will take what they have learned into their own working lives and therefore bring more music by women to even more audiences in the long run. I hope Illuminate will continue to have growing interest from performers, composers and audiences in the UK and abroad.

In the future, alongside the concert series and blog series, we plan to create online digital publishing of our commissioned works and editions of historical works by women composers. We will also be seeking to create a series of CDs further showcasing the work of women composers and performers from our latest concert series.

In the new year we will be visiting Royal College of Music with a specially curated concerts for their students there. This will take place on 15th February, and we will also be announcing further 2020 dates soon, with new ensembles in residence and new commissions! If people want to keep up to date with Illuminate concerts then please do visit our website and/or sign up to the newsletter.

The project's web pages:


illuminate performanceIlluminate season II: Illuminate string quartet and soprano Patricia Auchterlonie. Photo by Angela Slater.


illuminate performance 2

Illuminate season II: Illuminate string quartet and soprano Patricia Auchterlonie. Photo by Angela Slater.

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Associated events

Thu Aug 22, 2019 at 5:30 PM to Thu Aug 22, 2019 at 7:30 PM
United Kingdom