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new music events in 2015-2016

Photos, clockwise from top left: Donald Nally conducting Oltra Mar; Third Coast Percussion; Claire Chase works with the Contemporary Music Ensemble; Hans Thomalla speaks at NUNC! 2; Ensemble Dal Niente; and an obscured Drake Driscoll performs as part of the opening celebration of A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s.

New Music Thrives at Northwestern

The following article appeared in the spring 2016 issue of  Fanfare magazine.

The Institute for New Music held its second new-music conference November 6–8. NUNC! 2 brought together composers, performers, theorists, and musicologists specializing in new music.

The three-day event featured master classes, workshops, presentations, and several concerts. Guest artists included Chicago-based ensembles Third Coast Percussion and Ensemble Dal Niente as well as composers Ted Hearne, Donnacha Dennehy, Kate Soper, Ann Cleare, and Rick Burkhardt.

Conference highlights included:

  • Third Coast Percussion, an ensemble of Bienen School alumni, in a Galvin Recital Hall concert of percussion works by Isaac Schankler, Carl Schimmel, Steven Snowden, and Chris Fischer-Lochhead
  • A Pick-Staiger Concert Hall performance featuring the Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble, guest artists, and—in works by Kate Soper and Rick Burkhardt as well as music submitted by NUNC! 2 participants—Ensemble Dal Niente
  • The Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra, University Chorale, and Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble in works by winners of the University’s Nemmers Prize in Music Composition (see below)
  • The Contemporary Music Ensemble in a concert of works by Ann Cleare, Ted Hearne, and Donnacha Dennehy that fea-tured a guest performance by Irish singer Iarla Ó Lionáird
  • Pianist Marilyn Nonken performing Morton Feldman’s spare, trance-like Triadic Memories in Galvin Recital Hall

In addition to these concerts, the weekend offered presentations and performances by those selected from the conference’s calls for performers, presentations, and scores. As part of a musicology keynote plenary session, Amy Cimini, associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, presented “Maryanne Amacher’s Living Sound,” and Holly Watkins, associate professor at the Eastman School of Music, presented “On Not Letting Sounds Be Themselves.” The two keynotes were followed by a panel discussion by Cimini, Watkins, and the Bienen School’s Ryan Dohoney, assistant professor of musicology.

The conference was organized by Hans Thomalla, associate professor of composition and music technology and director of the Institute for New Music. Other Bienen School faculty members involved in NUNC! 2 included Taimur Sullivan, associate professor of saxophone; Donald Nally, professor and director of choral organizations; Jay Alan Yim, associate professor and coordinator of the composition and music technology program; and lecturers Ben Bolter and Alan Pierson, conductors of the Contemporary Music Ensemble.

Thomalla stressed the importance of Northwestern’s hosting such a conference, noting that it brings the highest level of both discourse on and performance of new music to cam-pus. NUNC “lets the Northwestern new-music community experience rehearsals, workshops, lectures, and concerts of leading voices in new music on campus and lets them engage with the performers and composers,” says Thomalla. “It makes Northwestern the center of the discourse for one weekend. The feedback I am getting proves this: the Bienen School has become a center for contemporary music in the United States.”

NUNC! 2 built on the success of Northwestern’s first new-music conference, which took place April 26–27, 2014.

Works by Nemmers Winners Featured

A November 6 concert featuring three Bienen School student ensembles and a local children’s choir presented two iconic contemporary works by winners of the University’s Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition. Students from the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra, University Chorale, and Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble, with singers from the Glen Ellyn children’s chorus Anima, performed Kaija Saariaho’s Oltra Mar and John Adams’s On the Transmigration of Souls. Both works were commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, the first as part of its Millennium Project and the latter as a response to the losses of September 11, 2001. John Adams was awarded the inaugural Nemmers Prize in Music Composition in 2004, and Saariaho received the prize in 2008. Conducted by Donald Nally, the concert was part of the Northwestern University New Music Conference, NUNC! 2.

Claire Chase: Density 2036

Flutist Claire Chase visited campus in November for a weeklong Bienen School of Music residency, which included a November 10 recital in Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall. Chase is in the third year of her 23-year project “Density 2036,” with a goal of commissioning a new body of solo flute repertoire leading up to the 100th anniversary of Edgard Varèse’s seminal 1936 solo flute work Density 21.5. Her November recital premiered works by Jason Eckardt, Dai Fujikura, Pauline Oliveros, Nathan Davis, and Francesca Verunelli.

As part of her most recent residency, Chase led coaching sessions with composition and flute students and visited chamber music and orchestration classes. She also coached students on new repertoire in a Contemporary Music Ensemble rehearsal. Chase’s previous campus visits as artist in residence with the Bienen School’s Institute for New Music took place in November 2014 and March and April 2015.

Charlotte Moorman Exhibit Celebrates the Avant-Garde

A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s, a new exhibition exploring the legacy of cellist Charlotte Moorman, opened at Northwestern’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art in January. A January 16 program at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall celebrated the exhibition’s opening with presentations, roundtable discussions, and performances featuring three Bienen School student cellists—sophomore Drake Driscoll, junior Myrtil Mitanga, and first-year master’s student Riana Anthony. All are students of cello professor Hans Jørgen Jensen.

Moorman (1933–91) was a groundbreaking, rule-bending artist, musician, and advocate for the experimental art of her time. Trained as a classical cellist, she both performed and championed the works of visual artists, composers, and choreographers who were redefining art—collapsing the boundaries between media and renegotiating the relationships between artist and audience. The Block Museum exhibition, which runs through July 17, explores Moorman’s performances, the festivals she produced, and her commitment to making experimental art accessible to all.

The exhibition was organized by the Block Museum in partnership with Northwestern University Libraries. The opening celebration was presented in partnership with the Bienen School of Music and cosponsored by the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities.

Learn about more Past Events from the Institute for New Music.