Cool and composed
Chicago's new-music scene is bursting with fresh artists and compositions. Here are a few must-see standouts in the upcoming season.
ACCESSIBLE CONTEMPORARY MUSIC
THE SKYSCRAPER RECONSTRUCTIONISTS
Founder Seth Boustead and company have made a name for themselves through weekly readings of hot-off-the-PDF-file scores as well as commissioning works by foreign composers, which they then perform in the composer’s home country.
About ACM’s next show Back at home, in what is by far the grandest concept of Chicago’s upcoming season of new music, ACM has teamed up with the Chicago Architecture Foundation for “Songs About Buildings and Moods.” Musicians planted at the Monadnock Building, Marquette Building, the Tiffany dome at the Cultural Center, Aqua Tower and Bertoia sculpture will perform a newly written piece by a different composer as a sonic response to the architecture. “I love how the Aqua [Tower] creates the visual impression of layering,” says ACM member Randall West, who composed the Aqua-inspired piece. “I’m also thinking about how the building fits into the Illinois Center complex around it. To me, this is a strangely weird and wonderful corner of our city, with its layered streets and sidewalks, pedestrian tunnels and funny, uneven plazas that seem to pop out of nowhere behind such gigantic buildings.” Sept 18 at 10am. Tours depart every 20 minutes from the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E Washington St, 773-334-3650, acmusic.org/node/234).
THE NEW-MUSIC EVANGELIZERS
This ensemble just returned from Darmstadt, Germany, where it was presented with the Young Ensembles Award during the city’s New Music Summer Course, an esteemed symposium of lectures and premieres of new music, thereby elevating Chicago’s new-music cred internationally. Founded in 2004 by composer Kirsten Broberg, the group is now in residency as a kind of house band for Columbia College, giving the young artists in director Marcos Balter’s composition program a world-class group of instrumentalists to perform their works, rather than a lifeless MIDI keyboard.
About dal niente’s next show For its season opener, dal niente turns to young composers such as 28-year-old New Yorker Anthony Cheung and his mercurial score, “Centripedalocity.” “It’s a piece with three main sections, the first of which features seasick lines for the saxophone that the other instruments take swipes at and swirl around,” says dal niente conductor Michael Lewanski. “It’s kind of gritty and aggressive but also includes themes from a piano piece by Debussy called ‘Fireworks.’” Oct 13 at 7:30pm at Mayne Stage (1328 W Morse Ave, 773-381-4554, maynestage.com).
THE LAPTOP PRODIGY
The 33-year-old CSO composer-in-residence and former student of famed composer John Corigliano deftly mingles electronica and symphony-orchestra sounds. “Selecting Mason Bates as one of the two Chicago Symphony composers-in-residence definitely reflects a shift in traditional feelings about electronic music,” says Cliff Colnot, a new-music exemplar and principal conductor of the MusicNOW young-artists series. When not on CSO duty, Bates plans to bring his Mercury Soul project to the city: Along with conductor Benjamin Schwartz and set designer Anne Patterson, the trio alternates between DJ and classical sets, using electro-acoustic interludes and phased lighting to transition between the two realms.
About Bates’s next show Bates will be performing along with Marcos Balter, fellow CSO composer-in-residence Anna Clyne, and Mexican composers Ana Lara and Enrico Chapela at the October 4 MusicNOW concert. The show promises to be a barn burner unlike anything the Harris has ever staged, thanks to its mixture of CSO musicians, laptops and electronics. “My piece ‘Digital Loom’ drops two different technologies together: a pipe organ and electronics,” Bates explains. “The work unfolds in a space of ambient electronica but moves to more explosive virtuosity, informed by the German techno I encountered while writing the work in Berlin.” Oct 4 at 7pm at Harris Theater for Music and Dance (205 E Randolph Dr, 312-334-7777, cso.org/ticketsandevents).
INTERNATIONAL CONTEMPORARY ENSEMBLE (ICE)
THE NEW-MUSIC PATHFINDERS
One of the driving forces of new music in Chicago (along with eighth blackbird), this nine-year-old group claims more than 400 world premieres in 27 countries, and as anyone who has caught them at the MCA or the Museum of Contemporary Photography knows, the technical range of these new-music dynamos is damn near limitless. With the addition of the inimitable Peter Evans, a trumpeter known for mind-warping musical invention that often incorporates a circular-breathing technique, the ensemble has cracked open new territory.
About ICE’s next show Whether you’re a seasoned vet or a new-music newbie, chances are you’ll hear something extraordinary at an ICE show, and the Saturday 11 program is no exception. “[The piece titled] ‘ICE’ by the sensational young Japanese composer Dai Fujikura is a wonderful entry point for anyone who is interested in new sounds, new ideas, and in music that lies at the crossroads of cultures and genres,” says ICE founder and flutist Claire Chase of the piece the group will perform at the show. “Dai wrote the piece with every individual player in the band in mind, so many of the sounds and techniques are unique to the strange and wonderful things that each player can do with their bodies and their instruments.” Saturday 11 at 7:30pm at the Museum of Contemporary Art (220 E Chicago Ave, 312-280-2660, mcachicago.org).
THE NEW-MUSIC WAR HERO
There are two faces a local new-music performer can always count on seeing in the audience, whether at the Harris Theater, Heaven Gallery or Empty Bottle: composer George Flynn and his wife, Rita. At 73, the former chair of musicianship and composition at DePaul University is still rigorously filling staff paper with his fluid, labyrinthine harmonies and, at times, emotionally devastating subject matter. Having helped to explode the boundaries of classical music in the ’60s and ’70s in New York City with his involvement in the Fluxus Group, and the Tone Road and MusicBy series, Flynn has remained committed to encouraging young performers and composers around Chicago in part through his founding and curating of the Sunday-afternoon new-music series at the Green Mill.
About Flynn’s next show For his January performance at the Mill, the pianist hopes to have completed an engaging new commission for new-music ensemble Anaphora based on Allen Ginsberg’s seminal poem “Howl.” “The music seeks to evoke images and emotional states suggested by Ginsberg’s poem within a coherent musical shape,” Flynn says. “The quartet includes clarinet, violin, cello and piano—the instrumentation used by Olivier Messiaen in his Quartet for the End of Time that he wrote in 1941 as a prisoner of war in Stalag VIII.” Jan 16 at the Green Mill (4802 N Broadway, 773-878-5552, greenmilljazz.com).