By Hans Thomalla
Director, Institute for New Music
New music has played an important role at Northwestern University for many years. From the long list of alumni who have become leaders in the field to the school’s ties to Chicago’s contemporary music scene, and from the distinguished collection of contemporary music at University Libraries to the establishment of the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, Northwestern has long supported the music of our time.
Established by Bienen School dean Toni-Marie Montgomery in fall 2012 as a cornerstone of the school’s strategic plan, the Institute for New Music has strengthened and increased our new-music activities and become a center for those activities on campus, distinguishing the school as a leading American institution for contemporary music.
The three focus areas defined at the institute’s founding still hold true today. First, it invites leading performers and composers in the field to work with students and faculty. The Nemmers Prize plays a central role, bringing John Adams, Kaija Saariaho, Oliver Knussen, and other important composers of today to campus for residencies. The institute also hosts numerous contemporary-music composers, performers, and scholars each quarter, providing invaluable opportunities for students from all areas of the school to engage with leaders in the field.
A second focus area is the school’s Contemporary Music Ensemble (CME), which provides a wide range of performance experiences for students and has presented many notable concerts. Memorable performances include the now legendary concert featuring Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, the ensemble’s participation at two Chicago Ear Taxi Festivals, a collaboration with Jennifer Walshe on her experimental score Hygiene, and the performance of Helmut Lachenmann’s Mouvement—one of the most demanding pieces written in recent decades. Without a doubt, CME has grown into an excellent ensemble that performs some of the most challenging scores of our time.
The institute’s third focus is the large-scale conference and festival NUNC! Every two years, Northwestern’s campus turns into a new-music nerve center, presenting current developments in composition, performance, and scholarship. Through calls for scores, performances, and presentations, an entire generation of new-music enthusiasts from all areas of our field has participated in the conference, as have Bienen students and faculty. NUNC! has brought numerous guest artists and scholars to campus in its five iterations, including Brian Ferneyhough, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Julia Wolfe, Claire Chase, Ted Hearne, the Jack Quartet, Ensemble Dal Niente, Third Coast Percussion, and the Arditti Quartet.
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