Glenn Kotche, the drummer of Wilco, is practiced in the art of novel instruments (that’s him in the Delta Faucet commercial). But for his new collaboration with the local quartet Third Coast Percussion, the 44-year-old takes that art to a new level. Kotche’s Wild Sound, a 43-minute tour de force, explores the world of percussive sound, one bizarre handcrafted instrument at a time. “I wanted an element of theater, without going into Stomp territory,” says Kotche.
A lot of cool instruments had to wind up on the cutting-room floor for this one. Amplified foam, a from-scratch one-string instrument, and the workbenches themselves all didn’t quite make the cut.
For most of a century, listeners knew new music—a.k.a. contemporary classical—as those inscrutable bleepy-bloopy pieces deliberately positioned in the middle of orchestral programs so audience members couldn’t avoid them. But now, instead of being classical music’s egghead cousin, new music is more the quirky little sister, a persona created, at least in Chicago, by a youth-energized new community of performers and composers who are having fun. And they want you to, too.
Synesthetes, take note: Music sounds better with a beer.
New music can seem to outsiders like a cul-de-sac in the gated community of classical music. But within the past few years, this view has been belied by the mass of collaborations between new music and other genres, especially indie rock. Just in the past season, the indie musicians Bryce Dessner, Carla Kihlstedt, and Deerhoof performed with Chicago new-music ensembles. If that street is a dead end, it’s attracting a lot of cool visitors. Here’s how it happened.
After seeing a clustering of indie-rock/new-music crossovers, I wrote this critical piece about why this teamwork was happening, when it hadn’t before. Informed mainly by a conversation with Glenn Kotche, the drummer from Wilco, the article also cites from my earlier interviews with the operatic tenor Matthew Polenzani and the composer David Lang.
David Lang, 56, has gotten a lot of play in Chicago recently. In April, the New York–based composer and co-founder of the influential new-music collective Bang on a Can was in town to hear Eighth Blackbird perform his piece How to Pray and movements from his songs Death Speaks. Then, in May, he returned to hear the International Contemporary Ensemble premiere The Whisper Opera, the quietest piece you’ll ever hear, on a custom stage at the MCA for a mere 60 listeners. On August 26, Ravinia presents his Pulitzer-winning The Little Match Girl Passion, a work for four singers.
One-third of this webpage contains the extended version of my interview with the composer David Lang. A radically condensed version appeared in the July 2013 issue’s Summer Music Guide.
CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER Free! 6/5 at 12:15 Steven Vanhauwaert, piano. 6/12 at 12:15 Rebecca Benjamin, violin, and Tatyana Stepanova, piano. 6/19 at 12:15 Jie Yuan, piano. 6/24 at 12:15 Susan Lageson Lundholm, soprano. 6/26 at 12:15 Sima Piano Trio. 78 E Washington. choosechicago.com.
I’ve been selecting classical- and new-music events monthly for Chicago magazine’s print listings since last year, but only now have they gone online also.
The players lift their bows with the customary this-is-the-end flourish, finishing a movement of a Shostakovich string quartet, and the audience claps. A few “Whoo!” yells escape from the back of the room. Some people whistle.
As the quartet launches into the next movement, a member of the audience stands up and says to his companion, “I’m going to get another beer. You want anything?”
My first story for the Tribune discusses groups putting on classical- and new-music concerts in different, less-stuffy venues where string quartets meet shoes sticking to the floor.
In the classical music world, the word “power” doesn’t come up much, seeing as it’s not tripping off violinists’ tongues in conjunction with “amplifier,” “chord,” or “ballad.” But the charisma, perseverance, and musicianship it takes to climb an artistic mountain qualify as real power. Here’s who in Chicago has an eye trained on that summit now.
To accompany its March cover package on powerful Chicagoans, Chicago magazine asked its culture critics to pick the next generation of power brokers in their fields. Here’s my contribution for classical and new music, a post that set my personal record for Facebook likes.
Some people raise eyebrows at computers in the concert hall. When Mason Bates begins his two-year term as a composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in September, he’ll bring his electronica-infused compositions with him and challenge what audiences think along the way.
Bates, 33, wants to win over skeptics by showing us the places music takes him. “It never worked for me to think of it as going fishing for souls,” says the Virginia-raised composer, who moonlights …
A profile of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s composer-in-residence Mason Bates as he was just starting the gig. He’s known for blending computerized sounds into concert-hall music and for moonlighting as a DJ.