Bridging Two Centennials: Renée Jolles and Chiao-Wen Cheng Celebrate American Women

November 11, 2021

During this Centennial celebration of Eastman’s 100 years of making music, Professor of Violin Renée Jolles and Assistant Professor of Accompanying Chiao-Wen Cheng take a step towards shaping the next 100 years for Eastman with a program dedicated to celebrating another Centennial—100 years since women’s suffrage had been granted. Although postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions in 2020, the concert will finally premiere this Saturday evening on November 13, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. in Kilbourn Hall. Renée Jolles shares her experience about putting this concert together and what it means for the Centennial celebration.

Renee Jolles

When dreaming of various recital possibilities for a recital in the fall of 2020, it occurred to me that immediately preceding Eastman’s own centennial we had another marvelous centennial to celebrate: women’s suffrage in the United States.  How wonderful it would be to celebrate this momentous accomplishment with a concert of American women composers!  Because of Covid-19 restrictions, we put this idea on hold in 2020, but now I am thrilled to bring this program to fruition in 2021.

Even though many women composers have been historically neglected and forgotten, there are all kinds of wonderful pieces from which to choose, thanks to the work of some dedicated scholars and performers who are publishing many of these forgotten masterpieces.  And, of course, in the last fifty or so years as glass ceilings have been broken by women in so many careers, women are far better represented as composers than in the past.  My goal was to create a program that included music from approximately the last one hundred and twenty-five years through the present, representing the time of the most persistent battles for suffrage and equal rights.  Although I chose these pieces because I like them, it seems that every day I find new connections.  I realized just the other day that this program showcases all kinds of American women, from native-born to naturalized citizens, women who identifies as LGBTQ, a women of color, and women who felt free to perform and create their whole lives versus others such as Amy Beach, who put off a major career as  pianist and composer until after the death of her husband.

Chiao-Wen Cheng

Inspired by these two very meaningful centennials, this program is a celebration of the spirit of American women, and by extension, all humanity, as we struggle to create a better world for all.

This concert is just a step towards a greater future in classical music, in which female musicians would be better represented in the industry. As a female performer, teacher, and leader in classical music, Renée Jolles shares her insight on the future for women in music and the next 100 years for Eastman.

What advice would you give to female musicians on how to be advocates for themselves in this career?

So much has changed for female musicians even in my lifetime.  We are finally seeing a greater number of female conductors who are achieving world-recognition, and American orchestras are now almost 40% female, up from 6% in 1970.  Nonetheless, we face all kinds of biases.  It is important for us to be confident in our artistry, as well as to speak up whether in a chamber rehearsal, on a committee, or to protest an injustice.  (So many times my students and colleagues complain to me about a situation they are in but are afraid to offend someone or take any direct action.)  Furthermore, we must be willing to promote ourselves and each other; often modesty or lack of confidence prevents us from doing so.

How do you envision the next 100 years for Eastman? What would you like to see for the future of the school?

Can I dream big?  I hope that in the next 100 years we are able to meaningfully reduce the expense of a college education for all students.  I would love to see an even more diverse student body, with students of all backgrounds loving, studying, and supporting classical music, jazz, and more.  I hope the school can maintain its values of scholarship and service while highlighting its dedication  and commitment to the art of performance, for without such an emphasis we will be  studying a dead and hypothetical art.

When a community values the arts as an integral, vital part of everyday life, its arts institutions will thrive.  Eastman has always been a leader in our community as well as among its peer institutions.  To continue in that vein, I hope that in the next hundred years we continue to foster even more meaningful support from our community in Rochester and at large, enabling us to inspire people with the art of great music.


Renée Jolles and Chiao-Wen Cheng present Celebrating Another Centennial: 100 Years of Women Suffrage in the United States this Saturday, November 13, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. in Kilbourn Hall. Click here for information about the recital and a link to the livestream (15 minutes before the recital time).