La Leona: Women and the Guitar

Commissions and Training for Women MusicCreators to Create Guitar Music

IGF has continued to be supportive of its artists during the Covid-19 pandemic and has embraced the new opportunities for sharing music together that the lockdown has brought. One of the most exciting new IGF projects, which was devised during the lockdown is La Leona: Women and the Guitar. New works have been commissioned under the La Leona project, which offers commissions and training for Women MusicCreators to create guitar music.

Through La Leona, IGF is encouraging young women composers who are taking their early steps in establishing their careers as composers, giving them the opportunity to work through the full creation process, offering support through collaboration with the performer and finally guaranteeing a première and repeat performances in important concert venues, such as Kings Place.

Premières at IGF London Guitar Festival, October 2021

 More premières are programmed for the forthcoming IGF London Guitar Festival on 22–24 October 2021. Golden Lines by the London-based Chinese composer, Sun Keting, explores her current ‘focus on instrumental sound exploration combining cultural and philosophical elements’. She is a doctorate student at the Royal Academy of Music under the mentorship of Christopher Austin and Helen Grime. Composer–performer collaborations are already a key part of Bethan Morgan-Williams’ practice, with ‘each piece is written according to the characters of those involved’, so her five-movement Strumble Head – Suite for Guitar for solo guitar was created in the La Leona spirit. Sarah Lianne Lewis’ musical language explores the boundary between acoustic and electronic sound, engaging the audience in unique soundscapes and sonic atmospheres. The Tapestry of Dreams ‘was inspired by the fragments of dreams lingering on, and the purposeful act of sifting and sorting through the imagery and sounds as they shift into our unconscious as day draws near.’ Electra Perivolaris is a composer and pianist from the Isle of Arran in Scotland who is of mixed British and Greek heritage. The descriptive title of her Waves Caress the Skin of an Ancient Rock… reflects the imaginative soundworld she creates in this work for solo guitar. Litha Efthymiou’s A Light Went Out for solo guitar is the set piece for the Semi-Final round of the IGF London International Guitar Competition 2021. As its title suggests, it offers the performers technical, musical and expressive opportunities and challenges.

Premières at IGF Guitar Summit, July 2021

Four young women composers’ works were premièred during the IGF Guitar Summit 2021. The British-French guitarist and composer, Laura Snowden has had a long association with IGF and its festivals: selected as one of IGF’s Young Artist Platform performers and a Prize Winner in the London International Guitar Competition. She has a burgeoning career as composer as we will hear in her work Into the Light for guitar, string quartet and percussion. Florence Anna Maunders is a performer, writer, educator and conductor, who is refocusing her music work on composing, which she expresses in this work for solo guitar called Finding the Way. She draws her inspiring from outside the classical mainstream music world, as does the Manchester-based Iranian composer, Atefeh Einali. Atefeh regularly performs on the santoor, an Iranian hammer dulcimer and is an improviser. She draws on these aspects of her musical background in her work for solo guitar called Three Dots.

Composing for the Guitar for the First Time

 A number of the La Leona composers are writing for the guitar for the first time. The guitar is notoriously difficult to compose for and many a mainstream composer would shy away from the daunting task. That is another reason for IGF to be working with young composers, catching them early in their careers. The importance of this for creating a significant twenty-first-century repertoire should not be underestimated. This is an invaluable opportunity for young composers but equally so for the young IGF YAP performers, who will be premièring their works. IGF Young Artist Platform (YAP) guitarists are also offered support in the process of preparing a new work with a composer for a première.

Post-Première Performances of IGF Commissioned Works

Another important part of IGF commissioning new repertoire is the continuing support given to these commissions after their première. IGF has established a searchable database of all its commissions, over its 28-year history, to encourage guitarists throughout the world to play these works. More locally, IGF requests that all the young performers in their Young Artist Platform and Aspire programmes include some repertoire from the IGF commissions in their concerts. In this way, these newly commissioned works are slowly developing a life of their own in the classical guitar contemporary canon.

The IGF Archive

As the La Leona project was conceived during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, it has had to adopt Zoom meetings for composers and performers to discuss the work before its première. This has created an important video archive for future performers, who would like to perform these commissions, offering them some insider information on the beginnings of the composition and assisting them in creating an interpretation that stays closely with the composer’s musical intentions.

IGF La Leona’s Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion

The initiative to establish the La Leona project is part of a mindset that IGF has followed from its earliest days, always commissioning composers, without a blinkered view of their sex, race or background. IGF has commissioned over 110 works for the guitar solo and guitar in ensemble and the range of composers has always been inclusive.

La Leona and Venus

The impetus behind La Leona project is the same that drove Tom Kerstens to create the IGF Venus and the Guitar project two years ago with landmark performances. Venus and the Guitar was part of Kings Place’s year-long Venus Unwrapped, a celebration which ‘focuses on the creative firepower of women composers’ – ‘it aims to reclaim her-story in music and inspire the next generation’. Venus and the Guitar was part of the 15th London Guitar Festival, Kings Place in October 2019.

The guitar world in classical, rock and jazz has seen relatively few women players celebrated, but in the flamenco world, there has almost been a taboo on women being flamenco guitarists – so IGF made history when, on Friday 25 October 2019, Venus and the Guitar featured three female flamenco guitarists: Antonia Jiménez, Bettina Flater and Afra Rubino, performing with the flamenco singer Alicia Morales from Granada, and another rarity, a female flamenco percussionist, Nasrine Rahmani – making it an all-female flamenco ensemble.

To give some perspective on IGF’s dedication to commissioning repertoire, the special Venus and the Guitar concert on Sunday 27 October 2019 featured the première of music by Errollyn Wallen for Tom Kerstens’ G Plus Ensemble as well as many of the IGF’s earlier commissions by Women composers. The programme also included Errollyn Wallen’s works – all IGF commissions – Three Ships (1998) and Night Passage (2012) performed by Shannon-Latoyah Simon, and Canciones (2008) played by Tom Kerstens; Two Guitars (2018) played by Housden-Tarlton Duo. The Eden-Stell Guitar Duo performed Laura Snowden’s Damn Everything but the Circus! and The Snow Globe; Mela Guitar Quartet performed her My Clock is Broken!; and the Vida Guitar Quartet, with guest saxophonist Amy Green, performed Laura Snowden’s Light Perpetuum.

IGF’s Mainstream Composer Connections

IGF is proud of the long-term commissioning relationship with the outstanding Belize-born British composer, pianist and singer-songwriter, Errollyn Wallen – from Three Ships (1998) to La Luga (2002) for guitar and string quartet, Two Guitars (2018), Road to Strathy Point (2019) and with more to come. IGF also has long-term commissioning relationships with Charlotte Bray, Anna Meredith, Deirdre Gribbin, Effy and Litha Efthymiou, Alwynne Pritchard, Na’ama Zisser, among others.

La Leona Project’s Timeframe

The La Leona: Women and the Guitar project was launched on 5 June 2021 with an online concert featuring three women guitarists – Laura Snowden, Shannon-Latoyah Simon and Katalin Koltai – performing works by women composers.

La Leona: Women and the Guitar is a long-running IGF project which will have its next session at the London Guitar Festival 2021 at Kings Place in October 2021, featuring the premières of newly commissioned works from another set of women composers, at different stages of their careers, including Sarah Lianne Lewis, Bethan Morgan Williams, Effy Efthymiou, Litha Efthymiou and Errollyn Wallen.

The Significance of the Name ‘La Leona’

Finally, it is important to mention the title of this project: La Leona and its special significance for guitarists. ‘La Leona’ – ‘the lioness’ – was the name Antonio de Torres gave to the innovative guitar which he created in 1856. This guitar was new in design and was a game-changer in guitar construction which has been a standard that classical guitar luthiers have used as a reference ever since. That is what the La Leona project is aiming for here: to be a game-changer in classical guitar repertoire and performance by women musicians – creating works and performances that are a reference point for years to come.

Thérèse Wassily Saba


For the La Leona project, International Guitar Foundation (IGF) is pleased to be supported by

PRS Foundation’s The Open Fund for Organisations

and the Ambache Charitable Trust

For more information on our work with new music, please have a look at the following links.

New Music Commissions
IGF Commissions List