Rarer than a Sumatran rhino: a woman composer

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French music composer Camille Pepin poses in her studio in Paris on February 11, 2019. (AFP)
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French music composer Camille Pepin poses in her studio in Paris on February 11, 2019. (AFP)
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French music composer Camille Pepin poses in her studio in Paris on February 11, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Rarer than a Sumatran rhino: a woman composer

  • “I was the only woman in all my classes in the Conservatoire, and it was fine,” said Pepin, who is now working on her first ballet score in her Paris apartment which doubles as a studio

PARIS: Camille Pepin is part of a very rare breed. She is a female composer.
Women have conquered space, risen in the military ranks, but some professions remain resolutely and bewilderingly masculine.
When Pepin turned up for her first day at the Paris Conservatoire — as usual the only woman in a class of men — an official told her that her name wasn’t on the list.
But when she insisted that she was and that he look again, he cried, “Ah, you’re a woman!“
Camille is also a man’s name in France.
“I would never have thought,” he apologized. “There are so many men...”
With so few female composers in the classical music repertoire, it was an easy mistake to make.
Pepin has never let everyday sexism get her down though, laughing it off like water off a duck’s back.
“One male composer told me I was getting commissions because I was a woman and not too bad looking,” said the 28-year-old, whose first album, “Chamber Music,” is released later this month.
After a concert of one of her more combative pieces, “a man came to tell me my music was ‘very fresh, flowery and sweet’,” she told AFP.
“I am a woman so clearly those three words” apply, she said wryly.
Pepin, whose music recalls both Claude Debussy and American minimalist composers like John Adams, said sometimes the sexist stereotypes which persist in the classical music world are hard to take.

One “old school” music professor insisted she sit on his right at lunch “because that was a woman’s place” and sent her off to make the coffee.
“I was the only woman in all my classes in the Conservatoire, and it was fine,” said Pepin, who is now working on her first ballet score in her Paris apartment which doubles as a studio.
Mostly the young composer, who made her breakthrough with the orchestral piece “Vajrayana” in 2015, said she was treated exactly the same as her male colleagues in classes with French contemporary composers like Guillaume Connesson, Thierry Escaich and Marc-Andre Dalbavie.
Beyond the classroom, however, progress is slow in the conservative world of classical music.
Pepin believes it will take generations for the forgotten work of female composers to get just recognition.
Beyond the casual unthinking sexism, she said the biggest problem for young female composers was “a lack of role models.”
A few woman such as the American composer Meredith Monk, Kaija Saariaho of Finland and Tansy Davies from Britain have managed to break the glass ceiling.

But even Pepin admitted that when she was younger she didn’t know of a single female composer.
“We never studied them,” she said.
Who has ever heard of Helene de Montgeroult (1764-1836), Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) or Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847)?
Fanny was the older sister of the more famous Felix Mendelssohn, with many at the time saying her work was more expressive.
But after she married she was limited to domestic duties and had to content herself with being her brother’s chief editor and muse, which led him to call her his “Minerva” of wisdom.
“Lots of female composers were crushed like Clara Schumann (the wife of Robert Schumann),” despite being one of the most distinguished composers and musicians of the Romantic era, said the pianist Celia Oneto Bensaid, who often performs Pepin’s work.
“You play my music,” Schumann once bluntly told his wife, a star of concert halls across Europe.

Born into a family in the northern French city of Amiens that wasn’t particularly musical, Pepin began to write her own melodies at 13.
But even at the age of five in her ballet class, her eyes were more drawn to the piano.
“I was so fascinated that I would forget to do my exercises,” she said.
Before settling on composing, Pepin thought about being a dancer. “I need to feel the notes physically,” she said.
Her first ballet will be choreographed next year by Sylvain pad for France’s Ballet du Nord.
Finally, she feels she is getting beyond the dreaded question — “But what do you do for a living?” — when she tells people she’s a composer.
“They thought it was just something I did to chill on Sundays,” she laughed.


Exhibit highlights Wellington’s formative Indian years

A handout photograph recieved in London on March 25, 2019, shows the Deccan Dinner Service, a vast silver gilt service bought by Wellington's fellow officers in the Deccan region of India as a mark of their appreciation. (AFP)
Updated 26 March 2019
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Exhibit highlights Wellington’s formative Indian years

  • The “Young Wellington in India” exhibition runs from Saturday until November 3 at Apsley House, which remains the Wellesley family’s London home, on the edge of Hyde Park

LONDON: An exhibition on the Duke of Wellington’s time in India opens in London Saturday, shedding light on formative years before he defeated French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo.
Between 1796 and 1804, as the young Arthur Wellesley, he helped overthrow the Tipu Sultan and masterminded victory in the Battle of Assaye.
A decade later he defeated Napoleon, paving the way for a century of relative peace in Europe and a time of vast British imperial expansion.
The collection includes a dinner service commemorating his leadership in India that was later supplemented with cutlery taken from Napoleon’s carriage.
It also includes books from the 200-volume traveling library that, aged 27, he took with him for the six-month voyage to India in a bid to broaden his education, having finished his studies early.
It included books on India’s history, politics and economics, Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and philosophical works.
The “Young Wellington in India” exhibition runs from Saturday until November 3 at Apsley House, which remains the Wellesley family’s London home, on the edge of Hyde Park.
Charles Wellesley, 73, the ninth and current Duke of Wellington, said his great-great-great grandfather’s time in India set the stage for defeating Napoleon.
“It was very, very formative... There is no doubt that he learnt a great deal in India,” he said on Monday.
“Napoleon underestimated Wellington and the reason for this exhibition is to show how important in Wellington’s life was his period in India.”
The exhibition features swords, paintings and the Deccan Dinner Service, a vast silver gilt service bought by Wellington’s fellow officers in the Deccan region of India as a mark of their appreciation.
The cutlery for the service was taken from Napoleon after Waterloo and carries his imperial crest.
The service is still used by the family.
Josephine Oxley, keeper of the Wellington Collection, said the India years were “a time when he learned to meld the military and the political, and became skilled at negotiations with the locals.
“It’s a really interesting period of his life.”