Six world premieres, four commissions and a tribute to Chicago’s own Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians are among the highlights of the 2019-20 season of MusicNOW, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s contemporary music series.
In announcing the final details of the lineup, Missy Mazzoli, CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence and curator of MusicNOW, said, “Next season continues to bring the best and brightest in contemporary music to Chicago audiences.” She cited the world premiere of newly commissioned works by rising contemporary-music stars Courtney Bryan, Wang Lu and LJ White; a world premiere by Wadada Leo Smith, a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music; a performance by vocal ensemble Quince, and a celebration of the 55th anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, including a newly commissioned work by flutist Nicole Mitchell. Mazzoli, who in May will conclude her two-year tenure as CSO composer-in-residence, also promised “many more surprises.”
As usual, the four-concert MusicNOW series will occur on Mondays at 7 p.m. — Oct. 7, Dec. 2, March 23 and May 18 — at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph in Chicago. Each MusicNOW concert includes an opportunity for patrons to meet with CSO musicians and composers during post-concert receptions with complimentary food and beverages.
Here’s a rundown of next season’s lineup:
Oct. 7, ”Community Acoustics”: Two world premieres of two MusicNOW commissions bookend this program: a fanfare by Chicago-based composer Wang Lu and an arrangement for chamber ensemble of LJ White’s Community Acoustics. Led by conductor Michael Lewanski, Community Acoustics combines harmonic and linear musical events with natural sounds and concludes with audience participation. The program also features Cynthia Yeh, CSO principal percussion Cynthia Yeh, in Italian composer Francesca Verunelli’s Magic Mauve, which fuses acoustic percussion with electronic sounds to create a textural interplay of “deep rumbles and sparkling metallics.” Rounding out the program are two works for strings, Eliza Brown’s Figure to Ground for string trio and Finola Merivale’s The Language of Mountains Is Rain for string quartet.
Dec. 2, “Obscure Clues and Shiny Objects”: Exploring the dichotomies of large and small, and simple and complex, the program opens with David T. Little’s obscure clues and shiny objects for solo violin, performed by CSO Assistant Concertmaster Yuan-Qing Yu. Next are works by Emma O’Halloran and Gemma Peacocke, two members of the Kinds of Kings composer collective. O’Halloran’s Vertical Fields juxtaposes sonically disparate textures by pushing the limits of the piano trio’s tonal palette, while Peacocke’s string quartet Shudder creates hollow, otherworldly soundscapes through open-string tremolos. Conductor Alan Pierson leads the program’s final two works: Brendon Randall-Meyers’ Chopsticks from Anthology, whichbrings together electronics and acoustic instruments to explore how the physical act of performance affects the contours of musical sound, and Bang on a Can co-founder Michael Gordon’s Hyper, inspired by the optical illusions of M.C. Escher. Hyper attempts to create “the musical equivalent of an impossible object” through a lattice of overlapping melodies that cycle through different key centers, improbably ending up where they began.
March 23, “Ecstatic Science”: Missy Mazzoli’s Ecstatic Science, a work for a sextet of wind and string instruments that imbues a meticulously crafted harmonic structure with a luminous melodic energy, anchors this program, which also features Quince Ensemble. A quartet of treble voices, Quince Ensemble performs contemporary music in pieces that treat the human voice as its own instrument. Gilda Lyons’ Bone Needles, an introspective duet, explores possibilities for wordless yet direct communication between two voices, stitching together abstract vocal sounds into a continuous musical tapestry. In Warren Enström’s Hushers for vocal quartet, the voice becomes a percussion instrument, creating pulsating rhythms by layering dissonant harmonies with an accompaniment of hisses and shushes. The program showcases Quince in two world premieres: The Pub from in Dreams by Chicago-based composer David Reminick, and a major MusicNOW-commissioned work from rising star Courtney Bryan, performed by Quince and CSO members. Conductor Edwin Outwater leads the Mazzoli and Bryan works on this program.
May 18, “Sounds from the Future: Musicians of the AACM”: The season finale celebrates the 55th anniversary of the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians with works by some of its most distinguished members. Cellist and composer Tomeka Reid, one of the AACM’s younger members, became a fixture of the city’s jazz improvised music scene for her distinctive melodic sensibility and strong sense of rhythm in both her writing and performing. Reid’s string quartet, Prospective Dwellers, mingles tuneful melodies with jazz-inflected harmonies. The program also features the world premiere of Wadada Leo Smith’s Delta Blues, as well as a new CSO-commissioned work by flutist and former AACM chairwoman Nicole Mitchell. Conductor Michael Lewanski leads George Lewis’ Tales of the Traveler, with Tomeka Reid as soloist, improvising against the harmonic backdrop of a large accompanying chamber ensemble.
Subscriptions and single tickets for MusicNOW are on sale now. Subscriptions are $80; for students, $36 with a valid student ID. Single tickets, all general admission, are $28; students, $15, with a valid student ID. Tickets may be purchased by phone at (800) 223-7114 or (312) 294 3000; online at cso.org, or at the Symphony Center box office, 220 S. Michigan.
Support for MusicNOW is provided by the Zell Family Foundation, the Sally Mead Hands Foundation, Cindy Sargent, the Julian Family Foundation and an anonymous donor.
TOP: Missy Mazzoli on piano joins CSO bass Brad Opland and principal second violin Baird Dodge in a MusicNOW concert in May. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019