Among my treasured musical possessions is a personal letter written to me from conductor Antonia Brico. Miss Brico (1902-1989) was a famous conductor and pianist, most important a woman conductor, who was known for many firsts during her long career. The first woman to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic, the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic, conducts the San Francisco Symphony, Helsinki Symphony and Hamburg, Germany Symphony orchestras and many more. She was named conductor of the Women’s Symphony Orchestra in 1939 which later became the Brico Symphony Orchestra.
Settling in Denver, Colorado, Miss Brico founded the Women’s String Ensemble, conducted the Denver Businessmen’s Orchestra that became the Brico Symphony Orchestra and eventually was conductor of the Denver Symphony Orchestra.
Among her most famous piano students was Judy Collins, folk singer. A documentary film about the conductor’s life, “Antonia: A Portrait of a Woman” was released in 1974. She went on to conduct the Mostly Mozart Festival and the Brooklyn Philharmonia.
While attending the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, I had the pleasure of meeting, and singing for Antonia Brico when she was guest conductor for the summer String Orchestra program sponsored by the American Federation of Musicians. She was a sprightly woman, demanding in her musical preparation of the orchestra and she taught her students well. Yet, she was kind and always willing to be of help.
She invited me to sing for her and I did. Yes, I was nervous but quickly she put me at ease, then offered constructive criticism and praise.
As we all know, the world of acquaintances and colleagues in any profession is small. Gena Branscombe and Antonia Brico’s lives crossed paths. Having organized a meeting, gala concert and dinner for the New York Matinee Musicale in December 1935, Miss Branscombe engaged composers Amy Beach and Marion Bauer as well as Antonia Brico as speakers for the events.
Both Gena and Miss Brico conducted the Women’s Symphony Orchestra. Though they may not have been best friends, the two musicians were leaders of women in the field of music. Their individual careers were diverse, yet they were crusaders for the cause of women being recognized as musicians.
I met Miss Brico, sang for her. Miss Branscombe, I never had the pleasure of meeting but I have sung her songs and felt her presence in my life. I sang for Miss Brico in early July 1977. Later that same month Miss Branscombe died. Maybe there is a connection, maybe not, yet I will say to these two great women………..
Ladies, I thank you for being a mentor and guiding light as I continue forging my path promoting women in music!