In order to provide complete functionality, this web site needs your explicit consent to store browser cookies. If you don't allow cookies, you may not be able to use certain features of the web site including but not limited to: log in, buy products, see personalized content, switch between site cultures. It is recommended that you allow all cookies.

Celebrating International Women's Day

A look back at the women composers, conductors and soloists we've recently worked with.

The Ulster Orchestra performs music by and works with people of all backgrounds. With that in mind, we wanted to mark International Women’s Day by highlighting some of the women composers, conductors and soloists we have performed and worked with over recent years, and share some of how they’ve contributed to our events. 

This season, we have already worked with violinist Francesca Dego, trumpeter Matilda Lloyd, pianist Zee Zee, conductor Tianyi Lu, and performed music by composers Clara Schumann (Three Romances for Violin), Doreen Carwithen (ODTAA – One Damned Thing After Another) and Avril Coleridge-Taylor (Sussex Landscape).

We invited author Dr Leah Broad to give a special pre-concert talk ahead of our performance of Sussex Landscape, to provide some insight and context to this lesser known work, since, like music by many women composers, it has largely been overlooked. In her essay about the work, Leah notes that Sussex Landscape was never performed during Coleridge-Taylor’s lifetime, and to-date has only been recorded once by Chineke! Orchestra.

One of the challenges in performing her works is that the manuscripts of her compositions are in poor condition, some damaged, scattered or lost completely. This is in stark contrast to the treatment that her father Samuel Taylor-Coleridge’s scores were given, which have been much more carefully preserved. To counteract this, Leah has compiled a catalogue of all of Avril Taylor-Coleridge’s known works and made it accessible to all.

Leah recently won the RPS Storytelling Award for her book, Quartet: How Four Women Shaped the Musical World, which tells the story of four women composers: Ethel Smyth, Rebecca Clarke, Dorothy Howell and Doreen Carwithen. Leah joined the orchestra for two concerts in 2023, at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace and Bangor Abbey, where we played pieces by three of the women in her book. We were delighted to be able to work with Leah in bringing this music to a wider audience.

Speaking of women composers, in 2022 we recorded a series of pieces by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, Elizabeth Maconchy, Louise Farrenc, and Judith Bingham, which are still available to watch on our YouTube channel.

Other women composers we have performed in recent years include Ailís Ní Ríain, Ayanna Witter-Johnson, Salina Fisher, Louise Farrenc, Eleanor Alberga, Ruth Gipps, Dani Howard and Hannah Peel.

We have also worked with singer-songwriters Niamh Dunne and Dani Larkin on orchestral versions of their songs, and joined author Jan Carson as she returned to her primary school, which she credits for sparking her creativity. And who could forget the striking video made by dancer and choreographer Oona Doherty for our collaboration with Phil Kieran’s The Strand Cinema Live album and show (be sure to also check out the making-of video for an interview with Oona).

The orchestra has been lucky to work with many great women conductors over the past few years, including Nil Venditti, Sinead Hayes and Eimear Noone. Last year, Fiona Monbet led the orchestra in two standout concerts – one with cellist Abel Selaocoe and kora player Seckou Keita in the Ulster Hall in Belfast; and another at Festival Berlioz in France (you can read more about that trip here).

And we have been delighted to perform over the past few seasons with women soloists including Arabella Steinbacher, Rosanne Philippens, Clare Hammond, Louise Alder, Sarah Richmond, Mary McCabe, Ailish Tynan and many more.

Last but certainly not least, we are still incredibly proud of White Ribbon Anthem, a song we recorded in 2021 to support Women’s Aid-ABCLN, in collaboration with Northern Ireland Opera, Ruth McGinley and Duke Special.

We can’t end this post without acknowledging the women in all parts of the Ulster Orchestra, from tutti players to our Orchestra Leader, Ioana Petcu-Colan, from administrative team to our CEO, Auveen Sands. Day in, day out, they work with colleagues to develop and drive the orchestra forward into the future.

The Ulster Orchestra values everyone who works with and for us, regardless of their gender or identity, and we continue to work on diversity, equity and inclusion in all parts of the organisation. International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to celebrate the women who we have worked with and continue to work with as part of our pursuit to provide classical music to all.

All the videos mentioned in this article can be found in this playlist.

Sign Up For Updates