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UW-Eau Claire professor wins international women composer competition

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Dr. Chia-Yu Hsu, associate professor of music-composition at UW-Eau Claire, celebrates on stage in Italy as she’s named the winner of an international competition that celebrates women composers. Her chamber orchestra piece, “EC Sketches,” earned her top honors in the Women Composers Competition of Italy’s Femfestival. (Submitted photo)

Dr. Chia-Yu Hsu, associate professor of music-composition at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, is the winner of a prestigious international competition that celebrates women composers.

Hsu’s chamber orchestra piece, “EC Sketches,” earned her top honors in the Women Composers Competition of Italy’s Femfestival, an event designed to share and promote women’s music and female composers.

“Winning this competition makes me love music more,” says Hsu, who recently returned from Florence, where the winners were announced following a concert featuring the finalists’ music. “At the concert, I felt the power of music communicating to people who don’t speak the same language.

“Musicians understood what my music is trying to convey from their performance. I feel fortunate to be able to write music and experience what my music can bring to people and connect with them.”

At the final concert, it was fascinating to meet musicians and to listen to works by women composers from all over the world, Hsu says, noting that she appreciated the organizers and musicians’ dedication and work to perform seven works that were diverse in terms of techniques and styles.

“The highlight of the competition for me would be the announcement of the winner, even though it all was in Italian and I was not 100% sure of the contents,” Hsu says of learning her piece had won the top prize. “I was invited to speak to the audience, and the moment touched me so much to hear their reactions and people asked me to sign for them afterwards.”

Hsu is a great role model for her composition students at UW-Eau Claire, says Dr. Gretchen Peters, chair of the music and theatre arts department and a professor of musicology.

“Musical composition certainly has been dominated by men throughout the history of Western classical traditions,” Peters says. “Awards and competitions are very important to draw attention to the work of female composers. Dr. Hsu is an extremely prolific and successful composer. Her works have frequently won major awards and performances.”

Hsu says she is excited to now be back on UW-Eau Claire’s campus so she can talk with her students about the competition, the festival’s final night when her work was performed and when she was announced as the winner.

“I shared my experiences at the competition with my students, showing it as an example of how music is a universal language, and it can communicate and reach out to people in different parts of the world,” Hsu says. “At the same time, I encourage my students to always grasp opportunities and try your best.”

Open to women from all over the world and all ages, Hsu says the Women Composers Competition is unique because of its focus on female composers. Its focus on women makes her first-place honor that much more meaningful, she says.

“Historically, women composers were a minority in this field,” Hsu says. “I am happy to learn that there are more organizations in recent years starting to support and promote compositions by women composers. There are also more networks created for women and databases that include works by women.

“All these will help bring more women into this field who see the possibilities to shine and to be appreciated.”

Hsu’s winning entry, “EC Sketches,” is the last movement of “Confluence Landscape,” which was commissioned and premiered by the Eau Claire Chamber Orchestra at the opening concert at Pablo Center at the Confluence.

“This work depicts the different seasons in Eau Claire,” Hsu says. “The music starts with the low rumbling sound mimicking the flow of the rivers and gradually expands the register as well as incorporates different families of the orchestra to create chords in distant spacings. Different performance techniques are employed to imitate the various sounds in the nature.”

Born in Taiwan, Hsu derives inspiration from different materials, such as poems, myths and images. Her music has been recognized with awards from national and international competitions, and has been performed by orchestras and at festivals throughout the U.S. and the world.