CSO MusicNOW lineup, third with Montgomery, announced for 2023-24

Jessie Montgomery, Mead Composer-in-Residence, takes a bow during a CSO MusicNOW concert. Next season, the series will feature three MusicNOW commissions by Montgomery, as well as her third for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Todd Rosenberg Photography

CSO MusicNOW, the orchestra’s contemporary music series, returns in the 2023-24 Season with two ensemble programs, curated by Mead Composer-in-Residence Jessie Montgomery, and two concerts with the full Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

In addition, the series features three MusicNOW-commissioned works: one by Montgomery, as well as one each by American composers Jasmine Barnes and Curtis Stewart. Also featured will be Montgomery’s third commissioned work for the CSO, a concerto written for Principal Percussion Cynthia Yeh. The recipient of commissions from the New York Philharmonic, the New World Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestra, Montgomery will mark her third season as CSO composer-in-residence in 2023-24.

Her work also is part of a five-part suite for violin and orchestra and a program highlighting the Blacknificent 7, a Black composer collective of which Montgomery is a member. Special companion programming for each of the four concerts also is planned, with full details to be announced later.

“Becoming part of the new music community in Chicago and doing this work as Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been a transformative experience for me,” Montgomery said. “In the CSO MusicNOW series, I have had the opportunity to curate and share work from composers who bring many perspectives and experiences to their music. What comes next will allow us to continue building a community of listeners for that work and a bridge for listeners to discover the new music being written for the full orchestra today. I invite our audiences to explore the new music in all its forms with us next season.”

This week, Montgomery’s Transfigure to Grace, a CSO commission, receives its world premiere in four performances May 11-16 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Muti.

“Jessie’s commitment to new music across the past two years, and her curatorial flair have inspired us in so many ways,” said Cristina Rocca, CSO vice president of artistic planning. “We now have the chance to explore new possibilities for the CSO MusicNOW series with her. We’re thrilled that two of Jessie’s new orchestral works will be part of concerts that will culminate our season and her time with us.”

Next season, the series consists of two Sunday performances at 4:30 p.m. and two Saturday programs
at 7:30 p.m., all at Orchestra Hall. The MusicNOW experience includes pre-concert events and post-concert parties to mix and mingle with the artists and fellow concertgoers. Here’s the lineup:
Dec. 3, Montgomery and the Blacknificent 7: 
The program illuminates works by a dynamic network of black composers known as the Blacknificent 7. Jessie Montgomery, Jasmine Barnes, Damien Geter and Carlos Simon perform works by their fellow composers Shawn Okpebholo, Dave Ragland and Joel Thompson, as well as the world premiere of a CSO MusicNOW-commissioned work by soprano Jasmine Barnes, which will feature baritone Damien Geter and Barnes. Included on the program are Thompson’s In Response to Madness, scored for string quartet and exploring how music can respond to societal chaos. The program continues with Ragland’s Eight Tones for Elijah, which addresses current social themes and salutes young Colorado violinist Elijah McCain, who in 2019 was arrested and assaulted by police on a walk home and died three days later.

The work, which received its world premiere in 2021, is scored for vocalist and small ensemble and will include an improvised introduction, interlude and postlude for violin and organ, performed by Montgomery and Simon respectively. Also featured are Okpebholo’s CryptOlogiE, written for flute, clarinet, violin and piano, and Ragland’s I Believe, with text derived from words scrawled on concentration camp walls and featuring soprano Jasmine Barnes. Concluding the program is Geter’s Annunciation, a series of seven visions that capture a moment of ecstasy between the narrator and his lover.
In addition, a pre-concert panel “The Modern Artists Collective,” co-presented with the Chicago Humanities Festival, will feature Blacknificient 7 composers.
March 3, Yankovskaya Conducts Montgomery & Stewart: This
 program highlights music by violinist/composers Curtis Stewart and Montgomery, including world premieres of CSO MusicNOW-commissioned works by them. Led by Chicago Opera Theater Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya and featuring members of the CSO, the program features Stewart as soloist in his new violin concerto, Embrace, which uses the sounds and thoughts from outside the concert stage to elevate the music, including various forms of call and response between audience and performer. Also on the program is Stewart’s work for solo violin, Love, a through-composed set of episodes that cherish lifetimes and serve as a personal requiem.
Audience members are also invited to attend a pre-concert performance by Chicago-based Black chamber music collective D-Composed.
June 1, Montgomery & Bruckner 7: Expanding on the celebration of Montgomery’s work as CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence, MusicNOW programming extends into concerts highlighting her orchestral music. In the first of two June programs featuring Montgomery’s music, guest conductor Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, leads the CSO in the world premiere of a concerto written for Principal Percussion Cynthia Yeh (and Montgomery’s third CSO-commissioned work for the full orchestra). Long a champion of Montgomery’s work, Honeck in recent years led performances of Banner, Strum, Coincident Dances and more with the Pittsburgh Symphony and the CSO. Completing the program is Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7.
June 15, The Elements with Joshua Bell: 
The MusicNOW series culminates with The Elements, a new five-movement suite for violin and orchestra, written by leading five American composers and commissioned by Grammy Award-winning violinist Joshua Bell. The movements are by composers Jake Heggie (Fire), Jennifer Higdon (Air), Edgar Meyer (Water), Jessie Montgomery (Ether) and Kevin Puts (Earth). Guest conductor Juraj Valčuha, music director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, frames the program with Weber’s Oberon Overture and Shostakovich’s First Symphony.

MusicNOW subscriptions are available starting May 10, with more information at cso.org.