Found in translation
ACM looks to Mexico for the next installment of its Composer Alive series.
“One of the most frustrating aspects of the classical-music world is that the industry created a situation that scared off its audience,” Henry Fogel, president of the American Symphony Orchestra League, says in the thoughtful 2007 documentary Composer Alive: Eastern Expressions. The film examines Accessible Contemporary Music’s cross-cultural collaboration with Beijing composer Xiaogang Ye. Fogel adds, “People feel that if they don’t know a lot about classical music, they can’t enjoy it. No other art form does that.”
ACM, a nonprofit Chicago-based org, aims to narrow that intimidation gap by making classical music more approachable. Four years ago, cofounder Seth Boustead, 37, came upon a brilliant idea: render the compositional process as transparent as possible. Thanks to 21st-century tech, listeners from anywhere in the world can witness the creation of a piece of music. After composers e-mail their arrangements to the ACM in installments, an ensemble rehearses each section in front of a live audience, posting it to the ACM’s website (acmusic.org) with comments from the composer.
“The idea is to let an audience hear the piece from the first idea through rewrites and to the finished product,” the Ravenswood resident says. “Listeners get inside a composer’s head. It helps demystify the writing process.”
So far, the ACM has completed four collaborations with musicians from the U.S., Ireland, China and France. This year, it pairs with Mexico City–based composer Gabriela Ortiz, 45, who’ll write a piece for ACM’s resident Palomar ensemble (flute, violin, viola, cello and percussion). The work-in-progress will be performed and recorded at the Consulate General of Mexico on the Near West Side. In September, Ortiz, whose work has been commissioned all over the world, will travel to Chicago to hear the finished arrangement at the DePaul University Concert Hall.
Boustead and his cohorts often pick the country for their Composer Alive projects before settling on a composer. To make its selections, the ACM considers factors beyond music, such as the ability to communicate fairly well in English, the technical prowess to use computer notation programs and, of course, the composers’ willingness to talk about and dissect their creative process. Elbio Barilari, director of the Chicago Latino Composers Festival, suggested Ortiz, who performed her vibrant, intense compositions at the festival in 2008 and impressed Boustead on first listen.
To record Ortiz’s fourth and final installment, the ensemble will cross the border. “We’re hoping to find a church or community venue in which we can perform,” Boustead says. “We really do view this project as a cultural exchange.” Composer Alive: Mexico takes the collaboration into new territory in Chicago as well, as the performers exchange their previous rehearsal spot at the Chicago Cultural Center for the Mexican Consulate. Also, Boustead’s remarks about the project and rehearsal will be translated into Spanish on ACM’s website. “I underestimated in the beginning the strength of the bond we would form with these composers,” Boustead explains. “It has been amazing to develop these ties in so many countries.”
The first installment of ACM’s collaboration with Ortiz can be heard at the Mexican Consulate Sunday 24.