How best to celebrate International Women’s Day? One way could be to spend some time with the multiplicity of great music being made by women composers today – the sheer range and variety of which can at times be quite overwhelming.

This very brief and necessarily limited playlist draws together music of eight composers with new works being given premieres this year. We hope this might provide a small window into the diversity of music being made by women composers across the world.

1Éliane Radigue: Occam Delta XV

Éliane Radigue’s working method is one of the most unusual among all composers today. Born in Paris in 1932, she spent her early career making music with tape loops feeding back on themselves, and later with the ARP 2500 synthesiser. But beginning in the late 1990s she began a series of extraordinary works for acoustic instrumentalists.

Much in the same way as she manipulated feedback on tape machines, this time live instrumentalists would be given a small, verbal instruction as impulse (typically a descriptive image), and asked to dwell on it. No notation is made by the composer, though players might make their own notes as memory aids. While attending to the play of high harmonics, musicians’ typically long and sustained pitches interact with utmost subtlety and delicacy (as can be heard in this recording by Quatuor Bozzini).

Radigue’s music is both intense and tranquil, enveloping us but also playing in the foreground. Her Occam series, all constructed in this way through verbal exchange with musicians, has grown to more than 60 works for different instrumental combinations.

Rhodri Davies, Angharad Davies, Hélène Breschand and Dominic Lash perform new works by Éliane Radigue at Kings Place, London on 1st October.

2Cassandra Miller: So close

The music of Cassandra Miller also exhibits combinations of tranquillity and intensity. Born on Vancouver Island in 1976, her music often revels in overwhelming emotional states. This 2018 piece is written for multitracked violin and her own singing voice, performed together with violinist Silvia Tarozzi. Layer upon layer of vocalisations and violin harmonics stream and glide and overtake the listener. At the same time, the piece gives the sensation of permanent sighing, as if it is in one place, resting and breathing.

This piece also does not use notation, instead with instructions being given to the violinist Tarozzi through audio files (of Miller’s own singing), which are listened to while recording the many overdubbed violin lines. As with Radigue, this is intensely personal music, tailored for performance by the composer and one individual performer and no one else.

Cassandra Miller’s new viola concerto will be premiered by Lawrence Power and the Brussels Philharmonic, conducted by Ilan Volkov, in Brussels on 11th March.

3Carola Bauckholt: Zügvogel

German composer Carola Bauckholt (born 1959) also often uses audio as prompts for musicians, but in this case, the sounds of animals. In her most well-known work, Zügvogel (“Migratory birds”) a wind quintet creates an unearthly sound by imitating several different species of geese and cranes.

Bauckholt’s work is often poised in this way between instrumental and natural sound, or the sounds of man-made objects. Her work Sog from 2013 positions an instrumental ensemble against the sound of an electric toothbrush, and a more recent work Im Auge des Klangs (2017/18) uses bowed cardboard boxes in the midst of orchestral sound – while returning to sounds of migratory birds once again.

A new work by Carola Bauckholt will be performed by the WDR Symphony in Witten on 23rd April.

4Linda Buckley: Ó Íochtar Mara (From Ocean’s Floor)

Irish composer Linda Buckley’s music also frequently captures something otherworldly. Born in County Cork in 1979, her music often combines elements of Irish traditional musicianship with electronics and instrumental textures.

This 2020 work Ó Íochtar Mara (From Ocean's Floor) utilises extraordinary vocals from Iarla Ó’lionáird, in the ornamented sean-nós style, of great floridity and virtuosity. These are juxtaposed against ambient synthesiser beds and string instruments, performed by the Dublin-based Crash Ensemble.

“Fil duine”, the opening movement of the work, translates as “A human being” – and indeed, this is very humane music with great emotional directness.

A new work by Linda Buckley will be performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Ilan Volkov, at Tectonics, Glasgow on 29th April.

5Kaija Saariaho: Innocence

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s extraordinary new opera was premiered at Aix-en-Provence in July 2021. Set ten years after a mass shooting at a Helsinki international school, six survivors find themselves entangled by a wedding involving the shooter’s brother, coming to terms with the trauma of the event they survived.

With a multilingual libretto, the piece is raw and unbridled, drawing together characters from around the world whose lives have been profoundly affected by trauma and death. While her previous operas, L’Amour de Loin and Adriana Mater often hovered in an otherworldly space, Innocence is firmly located in our world, in all its bleakness.

The UK premiere of Innocence will be performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden from 17th April to 4th May.

6Yu Kuwabara: Spiral Mandala – Wind Chant and Night Chant

Japanese composer Yu Kuwabara’s output has been wide ranging, from soloists to contemporary music ensembles, orchestras, and much in between. But perhaps her most extraordinary piece is this hour-long work for a vocal consort of Buddhist monks (Shomyo no Kai – Voices of A Thousand Years, led by Hiromi Tamura).

As the title Wind Chant and Night Chant might suggest, the music is based on traditional Native American chants. Notably arresting is the second section of the work, featuring interactions between vocalisations and drums, heard from around halfway through (34 minutes).

A new concerto for shakuhachi, shamisen and orchestra by Yu Kuwabara will be premiered at Suntory Hall, Tokyo on 26th August.

7Lisa Streich: Himmel

Lisa Streich’s music often exhibits unexpected connections. Born near Stockholm in 1985, her music is delicate, but with a wry sense of humour too. Often oblique, the music sometimes takes abrupt left turns. But it is also very beautiful.

Her 2016/17 orchestral work Himmel joins together the various associations of that word in German. Simultaneously the ordinary sky, like the background to a picture by Canaletto, and heaven itself, the eternal canopy. In this way, Streich’s music is both prosaic and uncanny. A characteristic gesture in her large ensemble works is a microtonally tuned spectral chord being snapped into existence by a whip. We are witness to something immediate, solid, sharply distinct, which then melts into aether, and clouds of strangeness.

A new work by Lisa Streich will be performed by Kirill Petrenko and the Berliner Philharmoniker, Berlin Philharmonie on 8th–10th June.

8Margriet Hoenderdos: July ’90

Dutch composer Margriet Hoenderdos (1952–2010) wrote music of great objectivity. This remarkable orchestral work from 1990 inhabits a world of pure aural directness. Its chords have the firmness of pinewood or oak: it is assembled, piece by piece, component by component. When you witness one part of it, you feel as if you press against the whole – all its elements abut one another, connected as with mortises and tenons.

Relatively unknown outside of the Netherlands, since the 1990s, all of Hoenderdos’ titles simply reference the moment in time the work was completed, as if to emphasise the artisanship of her creativity.

Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish Symphony will present the UK premiere of Margriet Hoenderdos’ 1989 orchestral work Hunker, Shor en Hasselaar at Tectonics, Glasgow on 30th April.