CSO MusicNOW marks its 25th season with three world premieres

Jessie Montgomery, CSO Mead Composer-in-Composer, and Elijah Daniel Smith discuss his work "Scions of an Atlas," which received its world premiere at the 2021-22 season-opening concert of the CSO MusicNOW series.

Todd Rosenberg Photography

CSO MusicNOW, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s contemporary music series, will mark its 25th season in 2022-23 with three commissions, high-profile guests and a return to Symphony Center. Now entering her second year as Mead Composer-in-Residence, Jessie Montgomery curates the four-concert series, with programs on Oct. 24, Nov. 21, Feb. 20 and April 24.

This season, MusicNOW will explore the connections between living composers and their visionary predecessors. Among the composers featured will be violinist Mark O’Connor, hailed for the hit albums “Appalachian Waltz” (1995) and “Appalachian Journey” (2002) with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and bassist Edgar Meyer; Richard Einhorn, best known for his oratorio Voices of Light (1994); Osvaldo Golijov, a CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence from 2006 to 2010, and lauded for his Grammy Award-winning opera Ainadamar (2003); Carlos Simon, composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and cellist Andrea Casarrubios, a founding member of Trio Appassionata.

In addition, acclaimed violinist Rachel Barton Pine will join Montgomery in the world premiere of the latter’s new work.

“We’re really excited this year, especially because we are coming back to Symphony Center for MusicNOW,” said Montgomery. who began a three-year appointment in the 2021-22 season and continues through 2023-24. “We have expanded activities planned around concerts that we hope will attract a wide variety of audience members and people who are interested in not only new music, but also the general community around the CSO and our new music community here in Chicago.”

All concerts feature musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Performances begin at 7 p.m. Mondays, with an informal opportunity to meet the musicians and composers after each performance.

The series lineup:

Oct. 24: Perspectives — works by Alvin Singleton and Carlos Simon

The season-opening program showcases works by two award-winning American composers: Alvin Singleton, a  former Fulbright scholar, Guggenheim Fellow and composer-in-residence for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra from 1985 to 1988, whose compositions display shifting rhythmic phrases and structures, and Carlos Simon, an Atlanta native and a 2021 Sphinx Medal of Excellence winner, whose music incorporates elements of jazz, gospel and neo-romanticism.

The concert begins with Singleton’s Jasper Drag (2000), a trio for clarinet, piano and violin, and ends with his work for winds, strings, percussion and piano titled Akwaaba (1985), named after the Ghanaian word for “welcome.” Jessie Montgomery is violin soloist in this performance. In addition, the bill features his string trio Be Natural (1974), with its title a pun on the B-natural note that is passed around throughout the work.

Also on the program are three works by Simon: Lickety Split (2015), a duo for piano and cello; loop (2021), a string trio inspired by reflections on a seemingly never-ending pandemic cycle, and his string quartet, Warmth from Other Suns (2020), influenced by Isabel Wilkerson’s book that amplifies stories of Black Americans during the Great Migration.

SINGLETON  Jasper Drag
SIMON Lickety Split
SINGLETON  Be Natural
SIMON  loop
SIMON Warmth from Other Suns
SINGLETON Akwaaba

Nov. 21: Common Ground — works by Mark O'Connor and Xavier Foley, including a world premiere

In the spotlight are two American composer-performers: bassist Xavier Foley, a Curtis Institute of Music graduate and Sphinx Competition winner, and violinist Mark O’Connor, winner of multiple Grammys and Country Music Association Awards. 

The program opens with an Irish Fantasy by Foley, who counts O’Connor among his influences. The work was inspired by sources ranging from the Irish folk song “The Clergyman’s Lamentation” by Tulough O’Carolan (1670-1738) to themes from the Nintendo video game Super Mario World 2. The program also features Foley performing his own Etude No. 10 (The Dance) and a CSO MusicNOW-commissioned work by Foley.

The celebrated Mark O’Connor incorporates his bluegrass and country roots into his classical works, evident in both String Quartet No. 3 and Strings and Threads Suite, the 13-movement work, which features the composer and Maggie O’Connor on violins and Foley on bass. American violinist Maggie O’Connor is a Grammy Award-winning musician and was also a finalist in the Marbury Prize competition for undergraduate violinists while completing her bachelor’s degree in violin performance at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.

FOLEY  Irish Fantasy
FOLEY Etude No. 10, The Dance
O’CONNOR  String Quartet No. 3
FOLEY  New work (world premiere, MusicNOW commission)
O’CONNOR  Strings and Threads Suite

Feb. 20: Inspiring Voices — music by Andrea Casarrubios and Osvaldo Golijov, including a world premiere

The program pairs works by the Spanish-born composer-performer (and current Chicago resident) Andrea Casarrubios and Argentinian-born composer Osvaldo Golijov. The program begins with Golijov’s Mariel (1999), for cello and marimba, which evokes the time before grief and before a loss. The piece inspired Casarrubios to compose Speechless, which she describes as a non-verbal internal dialogue, as the music bounces back and forth between instruments. A world premiere of a CSO MusicNOW commission by Casarrubios is also part of the program.

Also featured is the small ensemble Bashra’v (2004) by Israeli composer Betty Olivero, who, inspired by traditional Turkish and Arabic music, used a combination of strings and percussion to create dramatic effects in this work. Sameer Patel, associate conductor of the Sun Valley Music Festival and former associate conductor of the San Diego Symphony, leads the Olivero work, as well as Golijov’s Tenebrae (2002).

GOLIJOV Mariel
CASARRUBIOS New work (world premiere, MusicNOW commission)
CASARRUBIOS  Speechless
OLIVERO   Bashra’v
GOLIJOV Tenebrae

April 24: In Context — works by Einhorn, Montgomery, Bernstein, Perry and Piston, including a world premiere

The series concludes with Jessie Montgomery’s first CSO MusicNOW-commissioned work, alongside post-modern American pieces that influenced her from an early age. Joining Montgomery in the performance of her world premiere will be acclaimed concert violinist and recording artist Rachel Barton Pine. An active philanthropist, Pine established the Rachel Barton Pine Foundation in 2001 to address the lack of exposure of works by Black composers. Her foundation’s Music by Black Composers project has collected more than 900 works by more than 450 Black artists from the 18th to 21st centuries in a free database.

The program begins with two pieces by Richard Einhorn, a longtime mentor of Montgomery’s. She will perform Einhorn’s solo work, Maxwell’s Demon, on amplified violin. His Pañca, originally scored for violin and piano, is featured in an arrangement for flute and harp.

Also on the bill are an early Montgomery work, Play, and music from 20th-century African American composer Julia Perry and American composers Leonard Bernstein and Walter Piston. Perry’s Pastoral (1959), scored for flute and string sextet, is a hauntingly beautiful miniature. Scored for brass quintet, Leonard Bernstein’s final composition, Dance Suite (1989), consists of five short movements, each dedicated to a friend. Piston’s Fanfare for the Fighting French (1944), for brass and percussion, will be conducted by CSO trombonist Michael Mulcahy.

EINHORN Maxwell’s Demon
EINHORN Pañca
MONTGOMERY  Play
PERRY   Pastoral
BERNSTEIN Dance Suite
PISTON Fanfare for the Fighting French
MONTGOMERY New work (world premiere, MusicNOW commission)

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