Berkeley Symphony music director Joseph Young has programmed a concert inspired by the upcoming centennial of women’s suffrage in the United States with the passage of the 19th Amendment, called You Have a Voice. It includes two recent works, by Bryce Dessner and Mary Kouyoumdjian, as well as the first symphony of Johannes Brahms. They’ll be joined for the concert Thursday night by mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor and the San Francisco Girls Chorus.
The concert program begins with Voy a Dormir, performed by O’Connor. “Bryce Dessner wrote a piece for her about an Argentinian feminist activist poet, and it’s a romantic storytelling of four of her poems.” That poet was Alfonsina Stormi, who died in the late 1930s, and was ahead of her time in hoping for, and working toward equality for women. Her dream of woman’s empowerment is echoed in the next piece, by Mary Kouyoumdjian, called Become Who I Am. It was originally written for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and this new arrangement is having its world premiere this week. “Mary Kouyoumjian… wrote a piece that addresses confidence, insecurity, and gender inequality for girls. And it was originally for a smaller ensemble, and I asked her if it was OK if we made it a string orchestra, and used the San Francisco Girls Chorus. Audience members get to see a group of young girls talking about these issues. And it’s such a powerful image, it’s such a powerful piece, that I think will help shape the ideas and inspire what the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment means to us.” We might forget that someone as successful as Brahms ever had to grapple with insecurity, but the expectations of following in Beethoven’s footsteps made him stick to chamber music for many many years. “Brahms struggled with finding his own voice, finding his own voice as a symphonic writer. So I decided to marry this concept with Brahms’ first symphony.”