On the evening of International Women’s Day, the Institut Français du Cambodge in Phnom Penh hosted a musical program, Reflets de Lili, featuring the mezzosoprano Ai Iwasaki and pianist Gabriele Faja. The focus of the program was on French female composers, particularly Lili Boulanger, a prominent figure in the early 20th century. Boulanger, born in 1893 and deceased in 1918 at the young age of 24, was a remarkable child prodigy who showed exceptional musical talent from a very young age. She became the first woman to win the prestigious Prix de Rome in Paris at the age of 19, paving the way for future generations of female composers.
Boulanger was a composer associated with Symbolism, a literary and artistic movement that sought to convey ideas and emotions through complex, often abstract imagery and symbolism. Her music was characterized by a sense of obscurity and indirection, as she explored the Impressionist palette of nonfunctional seventh and ninth chords, parallel chords, and modal progressions. These elements contributed to the haunting and atmospheric quality of her compositions, which often reflected the feelings of isolation and alienation that were starting to emerge during the early 20th century.
In addition to her struggles with depression and loneliness, Boulanger was also burdened by a long-term illness that ultimately led to her untimely death. Despite these challenges, however, she left behind an impressive body of work that continues to captivate audiences and inspire contemporary composers.
The Reflets de Lili program at the Institut Français du Cambodge showcased Boulanger’s unique musical style and celebrated her contributions to the world of music. Mezzosoprano Ai Iwasaki and pianist Gabriele Faja expertly performed a selection of her compositions, as well as works by other female composers of the era. The program was a fitting tribute to Boulanger and to the many other women who have made significant contributions to the field of music throughout history.