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Celebrating Women in Music: 5 Composers to Know

Women have been composing for as long as music has existed, yet their contributions were sidelined through much of history. Today, thankfully, the work of women composers resonates throughout concert halls, rehearsal spaces, and recording studios more and more. CYSO is committed to performing works by women and minority composers on every concert we present, and there are a number of incredible contemporary and modern women composers represented this year. Concert Orchestra horn player and CYSO Social Media Team member Mina Pollack put together profiles of 5 of the women you’ll hear at CYSO concerts throughout this season.

Augusta Read Thomas

Augusta Read Thomas is a Chicago-based composer and musician. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Northwestern University and then attended Yale University to earn her master’s degree in music. Some of her most famous works include Forest of Shifting Time a Ballet for Reed Quintet and Bebop Riddle II for Cello and Piano. In 2017, she was nominated for the 36th annual Chicago Music Awards and in 2016, her album Of Being is a Bird received BBC Music Magazine’s Chamber Choice Award.  

Symphony Orchestra performed the Chicago premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’s Sunburst at Orchestra Hall in November 2023. Read more about the performance.

Soon Hee Newbold

Soon Hee Newbold is an American composer, conductor, and musician. She is known for incorporating differing cultural and ethnic styles in her compositions, inspired by her personal experiences as a South Korean adoptee as well as her travels around the world. She has performed and conducted throughout the U.S. and overseas. As a filmmaker and composer in Hollywood, her music can also be heard in film and other recording projects. Her most famous compositions include The Russian Music Box, American Landscape, and Arabian Dreams

Overture Strings will perform Soon Hee Newbold’s Wild Western Frontier this spring.

Ann Ronell

Ann Ronell was an American composer and lyricist. She’s best known for Willow Weep for Me, which the CYSO jazz band at their fall 2023 concert, and Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. Ronell was born in Omaha, Nebraska and enrolled in Wheaton College, then left to pursue musical education at Radcliffe College. She had a close friendship with George Gershwin, and Willow Weep for Me was dedicated to him. Ronell wrote scores for several musicals and movies, including Count Me In in 1942, which made her the first woman to write both the music and lyrics for a Broadway show.

Jazz Orchestra performed Ann Ronell’s Willow Weep For Me at their fall 2023 concert.

Stacy Garrop

Stacy Garrop is a composer living in the Chicagoland area. Her catalog spans a wide variety of mediums, with works for orchestra, opera, wind ensemble, choir, art song, various-sized chamber ensembles, and works for solo instruments. Garrop has received numerous awards including the Barrow Prize. Her recent commissions include Forging Steel  for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Berko’s Journey  for the Omaha Symphony.  

Symphony Orchestra will perform Stacy Garrop’s Pandora Undone at this spring’s Orchestra Hall concert.

Elena Roussanova

Born in Moscow, Elena Roussanova is a Russian-American composer, pianist, and educator. She began studying music at the age of 3 and was considered a child prodigy. Lucas graduated from to the prestigious Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory. She is now a faculty member at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Her writing encompasses diverse styles including music for orchestra, wind ensemble, chamber ensemble, solo performer as well as Broadway and popular song styles.

Concert Orchestra will perform Elena Roussanova’s The Great Chaplin at their concert this spring.


Mina Pollack is a thirteen-year-old horn player in CYSO’s Concert Orchestra. She began her musical studies on the violin at the age of 3, then switched to the french horn at the age of 10.


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