The world of classical music is male-dominated. Based on a survey conducted in 2014-2015, “only 1.8 percent of the total pieces performed by the 22 largest American orchestras were composed by women.” Furthermore, throughout the history of the classical Western art tradition, all of the “great composers” that still remain relevant and popular today are male. This staggering attitude towards women in classical music is slowly changing due to established female composers and entrepreneurs of the 21st-century, such as Missy Mazzoli. Mazzoli is a composer-in-residence with Chicago Symphony Orchestra and is one of the first two women to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Mazzoli is eager to break the boundaries between genders by creating a welcoming environment that prospers growth for young female composers. Although she is but one voice in the struggle for gender equality, through her success and the success she promotes in women, Mazzoli is helping female composers and artists find their voice and blaze new trails in the classical music world.
“Victoire” is an all-female band founded by Mazzoli, who is also the band’s keyboardist and composer. Their album, Cathedral City has been ranked among the ten best albums of 2010 by NPR. Her style of composing is groundbreaking and refuses to be labeled, as it is a fusion between indie rock and classical music. This unique style of composing, as well as the purely female performers, provide an accessible pathway for younger generations, especially women, to find their inspiration. Mazzoli emphasizes the fact that, by choosing to work with exclusively women, the dynamic of the group is improved, and there is a great deal of mutual understanding in the process. The band members are all recognized, female artists who promote women entering into and achieving greatness in the arts.
Throughout Mazzoli’s extensive education at universities such as Yale and Boston, she has never had a female teacher. This prompted her to establish a female mentorship program, called “Luna Composition Lab”, for girls ages 13-19, in which she hopes to foster their musical development by providing them an atmosphere conducive to learning and thriving. Through teaching, Mazzoli not only passes on her knowledge to a younger female generation, but also sends a powerful message that a woman’s role can extend as far as her desire and motivation will take her.
Mazzoli’s profound motivation led her to take upon herself the challenge of the opera realm. When thinking about opera, the “big players” that dominate the scene are Wagner, Verdi and Puccini. Mazzoli transcends the typical expectation of opera beyond the imaginable. This is seen in her adaptation of Lars Von Trier’s movie, Breaking the Waves. The opera deals with the explicit topic of sexual awakening in a woman while trying to nurse her paralyzed husband back to health. This work serves as an ode to women’s struggles in being powerless, all the while summoning the strength to provide “compassion and understanding” along the way. In another one of her works, her first opera, Songs from the Uproar, Mazzoli reflects on the life of Isabelle Eberhardt, a female adventurer from the turn of the 20th-century. By telling the story of such an independent female figure, Mazzoli showcases the possibilities available to women and simultaneously voices her dissatisfaction with the current situation regarding equality.
Missy Mazzoli’s journey in music has fostered gender equality as its primary focus. Her entrepreneurial spirit is tailored towards bringing a new era of classical music, with female artists at the forefront. The progressiveness of the 21st-century has helped to facilitate that change and today “men and women share equally in the production and study of music,”. The future of music shines brightly on women, now more than ever, and composers such as Mazzoli are serving as the catalysts to bring about this revolution.
By Ivana Biliskov
Duddleston, Meridee. “Q&A with Composer Missy Mazzoli-On the Importance of Mentoring Young Women Composers.” WRTI. July 06, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019. https://www.wrti.org/post/qa-composer-missy-mazzoli-importance-mentoring-young-women-composers.
Huizenga, Tom. “Top 10 Classical Albums Of 2010.” NPR. December 01, 2010. Accessed March 28, 2019. https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2010/12/01/131673326/top-10-classical-albums-of-2010.
Lunden, Jeff. “‘It’s Familiar To All The Women In My Family:’ Adapting Von Trier For The Opera.” NPR. September 24, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2019. https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/09/24/495028980/its-familiar-to-all-the-women-in-my-family-adapting-von-trier-for-the-opera.
McClary, Susan. “Women and Music on the Verge of the New Millennium.” Signs 25, no. 4 (2000): 1283-286. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/3175528.
McPhee, Ryan. “Metropolitan Opera to Present New Works by Jeanine Tesori and Missy Mazzoli.” Playbill. September 23, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019. http://www.playbill.com/article/metropolitan-opera-to-present-new-works-by-jeanine-tesori-and-missy-mazzoli.
Moreland, Quinn. “Evening the Score: How Composer Missy Mazzoli Is Diversifying Opera.”The National. December 03, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019. http://www.amtrakthenational.com/missy-mazzoli-opera.
Staff, NPR. “Missy Mazzoli: A New Opera And New Attitude For Classical Music.” NPR. November 20, 2012. Accessed March 28, 2019. https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2012/11/23/165585232/missy-mazzoli-a-new-opera-and-new-attitude-for-classical-music.
Zeilinger, Julie. “An Interview with Groundbreaking Composer Missy Mazzoli.” Women’s Media Center. September 10, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019. http://www.womensmediacenter.com/fbomb/an-interview-with-groundbreaking-composer-missy-mazzoli.
 Julie Zeilinger, “An Interview with Groundbreaking Composer Missy Mazzoli,” Women’s Media Center, September 10, 2018, Accessed March 28, 2019, http://www.womensmediacenter.com/fbomb/an-interview-with-groundbreaking-composer-missy-mazzoli.
 Ryan McPhee, “Metropolitan Opera to Present New Works by Jeanine Tesori and Missy Mazzoli,” Playbill, September 23, 2018, Accessed March 28, 2019, http://www.playbill.com/article/metropolitan-opera-to-present-new-works-by-jeanine-tesori-and-missy-mazzoli.
 Tom Huizenga, “Top 10 Classical Albums Of 2010,” NPR, December 01, 2010, Accessed March 28, 2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2010/12/01/131673326/top-10-classical-albums-of-2010.
 Zeilinger, “An Interview with Groundbreaking Composer Missy Mazzoli,” http://www.womensmediacenter.com/fbomb/an-interview-with-groundbreaking-composer-missy-mazzoli.
 Meridee Duddleston, “Q&A with Composer Missy Mazzoli-On the Importance of Mentoring Young Women Composers,” WRTI, July 06, 2018, Accessed March 28, 2019, https://www.wrti.org/post/qa-composer-missy-mazzoli-importance-mentoring-young-women-composers.
 NPR Staff, “Missy Mazzoli: A New Opera And New Attitude For Classical Music,” NPR, November 20, 2012, Accessed March 28, 2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2012/11/23/165585232/missy-mazzoli-a-new-opera-and-new-attitude-for-classical-music.
 Jeff Lunden,”‘It’s Familiar To All The Women In My Family:’ Adapting Von Trier For The Opera,” NPR, September 24, 2016, Accessed March 28, 2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/09/24/495028980/its-familiar-to-all-the-women-in-my-family-adapting-von-trier-for-the-opera.
 Quinn Moreland, “Evening the Score: How Composer Missy Mazzoli Is Diversifying Opera,” The National, December 03, 2018, Accessed March 28, 2019, http://www.amtrakthenational.com/missy-mazzoli-opera.
 Susan McClary, “Women and Music on the Verge of the New Millennium,” Signs 25, no. 4 (2000): 1283-286, http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/3175528.