Recording Dame Smyth: "Pretty good - for a woman." Dame Ethel Smyth.

Recording Dame Smyth: "Pretty good - for a woman."

Jenna Simeonov

New York’s Experiential Orchestra is known for its ambitious creativity, from their close-quarters concerts in midtown lofts, to their signature Rite of Spring Dance Party (which is precisely what it sounds like).

Currently, EXO is setting out to shine some overdue spotlight on one of the 20th century’s most important composers, Dame Ethel Smyth.

Smyth has the unique honour of being the first woman composer to see her opera go up at The Metropolitan Opera (Der Wald, 1903), and she wrote “March of the Women”, which became an athem for the suffragette movement, a cause for which Smyth fought - she even served two months in jail for it in 1912.

Predictably, Smyth’s music has not received the same recognition and appreciation as that of her male contemporaries like Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Grieg. “Pretty good - for a woman,” was among the tiring sentiments of critics of Smyth’s day.

Smyth wrote, *“Because I have conducted my own operas and love sheep-dogs; Because I generally dress in tweeds, and sometimes, at winter afternoon concerts, have even conducted in them; Because I was a militant suffragette and seized a chance of beating time to The March of the Women from the window of my cell in Holloway Prison with a tooth-brush; Because I have written books, spoken speeches, broadcast, and don’t always make sure that my hat is on straight; For these and other equally pertinent reasons, in a certain sense I am well known.”*

Now in 2018, EXO looks to make a professional recording of Smyth’s large-scale work for soloists, orchestra, and chorus, The Prison (1930). The work didn’t see its United States premiere until this year, when EXO Music Director James Blachly conducted The Prison in April with the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra, and Mark Shapiro led its New York premiere a month later at Carnegie Hall.

EXO has set up a Kickstarter campaign, running until December 1, with a goal of raising $25,000USD. The ultimate aim: to create a high-quality commercial recording of The Prison, performed by the Experiential Orchestra and produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Blanton Alspaugh and Soundmirror.

“When students learn about music history, they should learn about Dame Ethel Smyth. And when orchestras consider music to perform each year, they should include this gorgeous piece.”

To learn more about EXO’s Kickstarter, Herstory: Recording Composer Dame Ethel Smyth’s Masterpiece, and to donate, click here.

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