Supporting women on the orchestral stage

16 May 2023
  • Meet the Artists
  • Musician Spotlight
by Nicola Cann
Supporting women on the orchestral stage

Discover the stories behind the philanthropic endeavors of Mary Lou Simpson OAM and Sally Gordon in support of greater representation of women composers on the orchestral stage, and delve deeper into the special relationships that have evolved through their support.

Individual donors can make a real difference, and we would like to thank two inspiring philanthropists for their
involvement with the ASO this year: Mary Lou Simpson OAM, who supported the ASO’s commission of Elena Kats-Chernin’s new violin concerto, Fantasie im Wintergarten, performed by the ASO at Symphony Series 2 – Wild; and Sally Gordon, supporter of the ASO’s Artist in Association, Emily Sun, who features as a soloist several times during the 2023 Season. We asked Mary Lou and Sally what motivates their generosity, and about the special relationships that have evolved through their support.

Mary Lou: Being part of the creation of anything new, especially a new orchestral work, is exciting and brings joy, a sense of pride and a real wish to share my experience with as many people as possible. This fortunate privilege is due to a legacy left to me by my music-loving parents.

I met Elena over 10 years ago through the Canberra Music Festival, and asked if she would compose a piano work to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday. He was an Honorary museum scientist, researching ant behaviour. Elena created a beautiful and moving work, Nuptial Flight which my father loved. A few years later, I commissioned Elena to compose an evocative, breathtaking work, Ediacaran Echoes for the opening of the SA Museum’s Ediacaran Gallery. When the opportunity arose, I was very pleased to support the ASO’s commission of Elena’s Fantasie im Wintergarten.

Elena is an extraordinary woman who has opened my mind to the creation and power of music. She is prolific! My insights into how her mind works are stronger than insights into the compositional process. An example: she is fond of home cooked duck. Elena asked how I cooked the duck – three simple steps was the reply. Oh no she said, far too hard for me! I was flummoxed as I knew at this very moment she was composing brilliant works for the Brandenburg
Orchestra which involved countless steps!

Sally: My father instilled in me the importance of assisting other people in life. If he had not received a scholarship to
Ormond College he would not have had an opportunity to study law at Melbourne University. To me, supporting the
ASO’s Artist in Association, Emily Sun, is an extension of this opportunity my father had.

Meeting Emily after her performance in Orchestra Unwrapped earlier this year was wonderful. It cemented my belief that my support was headed in the right direction, and to personally connect with such an incredible artist was very special.

I feel proud of my role in helping the ASO to present artists and concerts here in South Australia that might not otherwise be possible. I love the variety of musical genres – the ASO is not afraid to tackle something innovative or different. I always look forward to the Sanctuary Series because I feel so relaxed after those concerts!

Mary Lou and Sally are both members of the ASO’s Miriam Hyde Circle, which supports the greater representation of women composers on the orchestral stage. We asked each of them why this was important.

Sally: I am passionate about women’s rights and have been a member of Zonta International, an organisation that
works worldwide to build a better world for women and girls, for 30 years. I was inspired by the ASO’s She Speaks
symposium which highlighted the difficulties and lack of recognition women composers face. I joined the Miriam
Hyde Circle to help provide opportunities for their works to be heard.

Mary Lou: Supporting women in any endeavour is a way to address the real gender imbalance in our society, which
certainly still exists in Australian contemporary classical composition.

If you would like to join the Miriam Hyde Circle and help bring more works by women to the orchestral stage, please contact Lucy Eckermann, Philanthropy Manager, on 08 8233 6263 or

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