Santa Cruzan Brianna Conrey has devoted herself to exposing largely forgotten or overlooked female composers from the past to a contemporary audience, and that’s what the pianist has in store Friday night at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center.
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One of the more frustrating legacies of the centurieslong cross-cultural domination of men in all things is pondering all the great expressions of art, music and literature lost to the ages because they happened to have been created by women.
Santa Cruz pianist Brianna Conrey can’t rewrite history, but she can do her small part in remembering the forgotten. That’s precisely what she’ll be doing Friday in her live concert at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, “Piano: An All-Woman Show.”
Conrey, 42, has been playing piano since childhood. Upon turning 40, in the teeth of the pandemic shutdown, during a moment of what-am-I-doing-with-my-life? introspection, she decided to devote her energy to exposing largely forgotten or overlooked female composers from the past to a contemporary audience.
In her piano training, she had learned about a few women composers here and there, mostly from the Victorian era. “But looking further back,” she said, “I really had no idea if there were women who had written for a harpsichord or piano. But there are, so that was pretty cool to discover.”
Learning about the composers was only the first part of her journey. Finding their music and then learning it posed even bigger challenges. “I really didn’t want to play music just because it was written by women,” said Conrey, a quarterfinalist in the Van Cliburn piano competition in 2016. “I wanted to find music that I really loved and was passionate about sharing. Some of these pieces, I can’t even believe I didn’t know they were out there. They’re so beautiful and compelling.”
Among the composers featured in Friday’s show will be German Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (sister of Felix), American-born turn-of-the-century composer Amy Beach, British Victorian-era pianist Maria Hester Park and Arkansas-born Florence Price, the first Black woman composer to be performed by a major American symphony orchestra, among several others.
Conrey and her family have lived in Santa Cruz since 2014. She’s a program director at the American Institute of Mathematics in San Jose. She’s the parent of two young boys, and is deeply involved in their respective schools, Westlake Elementary School and Mission Hill Middle School, as well as a participant mom in the Santa Cruz Little League.
Because of the nature of the show, Conrey will do almost as much storytelling as piano-playing in an effort to provide detail and context to the lives of the women artists she has chosen to spotlight.
“Their stories are definitely part of what inspired me when I was studying this music,” she said. “I’m pretty excited to share that, too.”
“Piano: An All-Woman Show,” featuring Brianna Conrey on piano, takes place Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Kuumbwa. Tickets are $20 advance; $25 at the door.