History, Humor, and Harmonies Converge in ‘Wonder Women!’ a Celebration of Female Composers, at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts

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Historians say the first identified woman composer was Hildegard of Bingen who was born in 1098. Throughout history, many female composers have been overlooked despite tremendous talent that rivaled – or surpassed – their better-known male counterparts. On Saturday, February 3, 2024, this past is rectified and brought to life with the arrival of Sarah Hagen’s “Wonder Women!” at downtown Olympia’s Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

Sarah hagen in a white floral dress sitting on a piano bench with a piano behind her and flowers in front of her
On Saturday, February 3, 2024, there will be two shows of Sarah Hagen’s ‘Wonder Women!’ that celebrate the lives and work of overlooked female composers. Photo courtesy: Sara Hagen

Sarah Hagen is a pianist and humorist who loves to shine a light on forgotten female composers. She has carved a niche for herself by not only enchanting audiences with her virtuoso piano performances but also weaving exceptional storytelling that blends wit and charm and truly sets her apart from other classical performances. These performances showcase 18th and 19th-century piano works from Clara Schumann, Cécile Chaminade, Delphine von Schauroth, Marianna Martines, and more.

Dive Into the Works of Female Composers with Pianist Sarah Hagen

Hagen has toured across Canada, Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, and Italy and played twice in New York City’s Carnegie Hall. She released several albums, and her performances received both critical and audience acclaim. For the past two summers, Hagen has toured Sweden with a version of “Wonder Women!” In partnership with Swedish cellist Marit Sjödin, they played in beautiful cathedrals and churches from as far back as the 13th century.

“Wonder Women!” came about nearly 20 years ago. Hagen calls the process of looking for female composers “a musical treasure hunt,” which involved “searching online, through old collections of music, and in libraries. I am continually fascinated by the stories of the strong women behind the music. These are the women who fought for the same equal pay as their male colleagues, who insisted that they could also have a life and a career outside of the kitchen, and who chose to shockingly forgo marriage to be able to fully focus on their art. These are the trailblazers who are an invaluable part of our journey to gender equality.”

angled photo of the Washington Center stage and seats.
Sarah Hagen has performed at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts before with her ‘Perk Up, Pianist!’ show in 2022 and is excited to be visiting again. Photo courtesy: Washington Center for the Performing Arts

Often Overlooked Musically Talented ‘Wonder Women!’ are Brought to Life at the Washington Center

Sarah Hagen has been touring with this show on and off for the past 15 years. The show’s catalog and content change frequently when she discovers additional composers or new favorite pieces. “I like to present a variety of composers,” says Hagen, “and I find myself focusing on women from the 18th and 19th and early 20th centuries, partially because this is the music that resonates with me, and also because I find their stories of resilience to be incredibly inspiring.”

“Wonder Women!” is an all-ages show, and she regularly performs selections in schools. “There are some pretty fabulous and often sassy tales behind the music, and the composers and people will have to come to the show to hear them,” Hagen laughs. “I will say that this program highlights the women who were trailblazers, who are a part of our ongoing journey to gender equality. It is a real celebration of women with grit. I’ve also found that teenagers get particularly riled up when they hear about how much the women had to fight to be able to have their music heard.”

Sara Hagen sitting at a piano on a dark stage
‘Wonder Women!’ looks at female pianists from the 18th through 20th century. Many rivaled, or even surpassed, well-known names like Mozart and Haydn. Photo courtesy: Sara Hagen

Welcome Hagen Back to Downtown Olympia’s Washington Center for the Performing Arts

This isn’t Hagen’s first stop in Olympia. In May 2022, she performed a comedy music show called “Perk Up, Pianist!” and recalls it as being “honestly one of the most fun performances of my life, the audience was so invested. I am thrilled to be coming back.”

Growing up in a seaside Vancouver Island cottage and starting out in theatres on British Columbia’s west coast, Hagen still finds herself inspired by just about everything she sees. Performances these days may incorporate large-scale projected images, photography, dance, or the spoken word.

Hagen has collaborated with instrumental musicians, groups, orchestras and performers. She even founded and individually curated nine concert series which spotlight artists from around the world. Check out her blog of wine and music recommendations, or follow her on InstagramFacebookSpotifyApple Music, and SoundCloud.

There will be two performances of “Wonder Women!” at the Washington Center on Saturday, February 3, 2024. Choose either the 3 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. shows and come ready to listen, learn, laugh and fall in love with some of history’s most overlooked ladies.

We’ve all heard of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn, but the name Marianna Martines is often unfamiliar. Yet she studied piano under Haydn and played four-hand piano sonatas with Mozart…which he’d composed just for the two of them. Thanks to musical scholars like Sarah Hagen, we can enjoy stories, compositions and amazing glimpses into the lives of a handful of forgotten wonder women.

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