Monday on Twitter, Dr. Andrea Ramsey posted a straightforward question:
Favorite string quartets composed by women?— 𝔻𝕣. 𝔸𝕟𝕕𝕣𝕖𝕒 ℝ𝕒𝕞𝕤𝕖𝕪 (@ramseyandrea) February 17, 2020
Dr. Ramsey, a composer, conductor, and teacher based in Kansas City (you know, the one in Missouri), received dozens of enthusiastic responses. I won't lie, I definitely jumped in. But I also trawled the replies, looking for pointers toward unfamiliar composers. This one caught my eye, not least because when folks are tossing around names like Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel and Ruth Crawford-Seeger and Gloria Coates and Julia Wolfe and Caroline Shaw, it takes some actual courage to flag a piece of your own… and I mean that as genuine praise.
I have a neat one! https://t.co/9DAvJwD8Q4— AdvicetoaGurL (@VenagliaC) February 19, 2020
Cassandra Venaglia is a name I'd not encountered previously, but a recording by the JACK Quartet is incentive enough to investigate. And "neat" is an accurate term, if more than a little bit of an understatement, for Dark and Light, the brief string-quartet work in question. It's deceptively simple and seemingly straightforward, a patient stroll from point A to point B. But I've listened to it at least half a dozen times this evening, and I've found fresh details and nuances to appreciate with each pass.
Venaglia, a composer and soprano, is based presently in Los Angeles, but she pursued at least some of her studies at New York University, where she trained with the aforementioned Julia Wolfe, as well as Joan La Barbara and Robert Honstein. She's got an artist page on Facebook, and maintains a presence on Instagram and Twitter. And happily, she provides several means by which to find at least some of her music online. You can watch her perform Ebb, an enchanting piece for voice and electronics, on her YouTube channel, which also includes a pair of intriguing clips from a one-character opera, Advice to a Girl.
There's more to hear on Venaglia's SoundCloud page, including a MIDI realization of a vocal ensemble piece, Continuum, and a hazy, evocative piece called In the Desert, for chamber orchestra with electronics. There are two accounts of Dark and Light (one is the JACK recording), and two versions of another striking piece, Experiment with Haikus, which evidently started as a duo for flute and piano, and then became an even more ambitious piece for violin and piano. (I could be wrong.)
Also on the SoundCloud page – and on commercial streaming platforms like Spotify, and available for purchase on Bandcamp – is La Figlia che Piange (The Girl Who Cries), a dreamy piece for voices, percussion, and electronics, jointly created by Venaglia and Dante Luna. Whichever site you choose, make a point of hearing it.