Chicago classical music festival features Northwestern alumni, ensembles


Source: Anthony Barlich

Augusta Read Thomas

Stavros Agorakis, A&E Editor


When Augusta Read Thomas (Bienen ‘87) was in the early stages of developing a festival featuring new classical music, she kept repeating one specific aspect of her vision to her collaborators: “We’re going all Chicago, all the way.”

Some years later, this vision materialized into the Ear Taxi Festival, a large-scale, nationally-recognized celebration of established and emerging musicians in classical music, all of who have ties to Chicago.

“For someone who wants to learn what’s happening in contemporary classical music in our city, this is their chance,” said Thomas, a former Northwestern professor. “You can come to the concert, have a beer and go up to the composer whose work you just saw, and talk to them … and maybe follow those groups and go to their next concert.”

Several Northwestern faculty, ensembles and alumni are featured in the six-day concert series, among them the Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble, the Bienen Contemporary Music Ensemble and Thomas, who envisioned and organized the event.

Festival manager Reba Cafarelli said the festival is unlike any other musical celebration because it will bring greater attention to both the new work the composers have been developing over the past months, as well as their collaborations with local musicians. She said Chicago’s growing contemporary music scene is aided by a supportive community of artists who care deeply about each other, rather than competing with each other.

“When Augusta called me and said she was going to do a new festival of music (in Chicago), I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of it,” Cafarelli said. “It was just a no brainer for me to say yes.”

Of the compositions, 80 percent that will be presented in Ear Taxi have a premiere status, with 54 of them being world premieres. As most of the work featured in the event has never been heard by an audience before, the festival will attract many audience members who might have not had a similar exposure to the genre in the past, Thomas said.

Marcos Balter (Bienen ‘08) is one of the artists whose composition will make the world premiere at the Ear Taxi Festival. His new work, titled “Divertimento Concertante,” is a four-movement piece which aims to highlight the strengths between the International Contemporary Ensemble and the musicians from the People’s Music School, the two parties that will perform it.

Balter, who studied under Thomas during his years at NU and maintained a mentoring relationship with her even after he graduated, said he is “excited” to share this moment with some of his treasured colleagues and friends.

“In many ways, this collaboration felt like a family,” he said. “My former teacher and this ensemble that is comprised of some of my closest friends … are all coming together.”

Balter added that the Chicago contemporary music scene does not have a stylistic agenda, because the music one hears from similar orchestras can often sound very different. Sharing this idea with Balter, Thomas said she planned the festival in such a way so there are no overlapping events during its run.

Although Thomas said Ear Taxi demanded a real sense of commitment and focus to be envisioned and materialized, she hopes classical music will find a stronger place in people’s lives.

“Contemporary classical music is so beautiful, and I really want to dedicate my life to helping it grow,” Thomas said.

The Ear Taxi Festival begins Oct. 5 and will run until Oct. 10.

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