MusicNOW, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s contemporary music series, opens its 20th season on Oct. 2 with a program featuring works by all seven former CSO composers-in-residence. Current CSO Mead Composers-in-Residence Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek host the concert, performed by musicians of the CSO and led by Cliff Colnot, principal conductor for MusicNOW. Titled “MusicNOW @ 20 Years,” the program highlights works from different moments in the careers of each composer-in-residence.
In addition, program information for the rest of MusicNOW’s 2017-18 season has been announced.
Launched during the 1998-99 season with a concert curated by then composer-in-residence Augusta Read Thomas, MusicNOW is an annual series of four concerts, usually at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Nine individuals have served in the post, which was established by Sir Georg Solti, then CSO music director, in 1987. The role was inaugurated by John Corigliano, followed by Shulamit Ran, Augusta Read Thomas, Osvaldo Golijov, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Mason Bates, Anna Clyne, Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek. Collectively, these composers have won many awards and accolades including six Grammy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, an Academy Award and a MacArthur Fellowship, as well as induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and appointment as Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
The Oct. 2 program opens with Anna Clyne’s Fits + Starts, composed for solo cello with electronics. The electronics include acoustic recordings of harpsichord ornaments, viola figures and cello lines that have been layered and manipulated to create a backdrop for the angular and rhythmic pizzicato of the solo cello, performed by CSO cellist Brant Taylor. The work was premiered with Hysterica Dance Company in 2003.
Next will be Osvaldo Golijov’s Mariel, composed for cello and marimba, in memory of a friend killed in an accident. “I attempted to capture that short instant before grief, in which one learns of the sudden death of a friend who was full of life,” Golijov said. “[It represents] a single moment frozen forever in one’s memory, and which reverberates through the piece, in the waves and echoes of the Brazilian music that Mariel [his friend] loved.”
The concert continues with Chicago-based composer Shulamit Ran’s 2015 work for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, Birkat Haderekh—Blessing for the Road. Introduced by the clarinet, the work wends through the emotions triggered by the start of a journey: hope, anticipation, anxiousness, longing.
John Corigliano is represented by A Black November Turkey, originally composed for chorus and piano in 1972 and later arranged for string quartet. Following are The Red Violin Caprices from the Oscar-winning score Corigliano wrote for “The Red Violin” (1998), and performed here by CSO Associate Concertmaster Stephanie Jeong.
The second half of the concert opens with Mason Bates’ The Life of Birds, a set of six miniatures scored for flute, clarinet, violin and cello, which received its premiere by the Seattle Chamber Players in 2008.
Augusta Read Thomas’ Carillon Sky, her final MusicNOW commission as a CSO composer-in-residence, received its world premiere in 2006. It was originally written for a 14-piece ensemble and violin soloist (specifically CSO Principal Second Violin Baird Dodge, who returns for this performance).
The program concludes with Mark-Anthony Turnage’s No Let Up, inspired by the composer’s jazz roots and love of Stravinsky’s music, and written for 11 instruments, including soprano saxophones, bass clarinet and bass guitar.
Nov. 13: Making his MusicNOW debut, composer-pianist and MacArthur Fellow Vijay Iyer, whose works fuse jazz, chamber and orchestral music, is joined by composer-trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. The program opens with Iyer and members of the CSO in the composer’s piano quintet Time, Place, Action. The second half features Iyer with Smith in selections from their album “A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke” (2016). Smith, who has been active in creative contemporary music for more than 40 years, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2013.
April 2: The program features the world premiere of Chicago native Amy Beth Kirsten’s Savior, a composed theater work scored for three women’s voices and three instruments, and commissioned by MusicNOW. Integrating light, movement, text and sound design, Savior explores French martyr Joan of Arc’s mystical and divinely inspired life as well as her politically motivated death. The production features musicians of the CSO and guest artists from HOWL, an East Coast-based performing arts ensemble that fuses theatrical, operatic and chamber music forms, and was co-founded in 2012 by Kirsten, winner of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship and a Rockefeller Foundation Artist Fellowship. Savior was commissioned by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation for MusicNOW.
May 21: The season’s final program features guest conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen leading members of the CSO in the world premieres of MusicNOW commissions by Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek. Also on the program is Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdóttir’s Ró and a work by Finnish composer Mangus Lindberg.
Continuing this season is MusicNOW’s partnership with the Chicago-based collaborative design studio Thirst. Inspired by the music of this season’s MusicNOW programs, Thirst artist John Pobojewski creates an original artwork for each concert. Posters featuring the artwork are given to audience members at each concert, as supplies last. “For this first concert poster, two bold Xs come together to honor 20 great years, each containing the names of former CSO composers-in-residence who have contributed to the lexicon of modern art music,” Pobojewski said. “It is first and foremost a celebration, commemorating the incredible achievement of two decades of MusicNOW.”
Each MusicNOW concert includes an opportunity to meet with the CSO musicians and composers in informal post-concert receptions with complimentary food and beverages.
In addition, preceding the Oct. 2 program will be a discussion by Augusta Read Thomas and Shulamit Ran on the influence of visual design in musical composition. The pre-concert event, beginning at 6 p.m. in the Harris Theater’s Lobby Level 1, is free for all ticket holders. John Pobojewski of Thirst also will talk about his collaborations with MusicNOW.
Subscriptions for the four-concert MusicNOW series are $80 (students, $36, with valid ID). Single tickets are $28 for general admission ($15, students with a valid ID). To purchase tickets, phone (800) 223-7114 or (312) 294‑3000, visit cso.org or go to the Symphony Center box office, 220 S. Michigan.
TOP: Cliff Colnot leads CSO musicians in a MusicNOW concert last season at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2016