Civic Fellows’ Call for Scores culminates in program of new music

Members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago perform 'Quintette' by Michal Massoud.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography

For the Fellows of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the 2020/21 season’s Call for Scores project offered an opportunity to discover and perform exciting new pieces by a range of contemporary composers. The culminating program, titled Civic Episode 5: Form the Fabric, will be available to stream for free on CSOtv beginning on June 17.

Led by a team of five Civic Fellows, the Call for Scores invited composers from around the world to submit works beginning in the fall of 2020. Mindful of the difficult year that many musicians have had, and of the ongoing movements for racial justice, the leadership team sought to make the process as accessible and equitable as possible.

To these ends, the requirements were kept to a minimum; composers needed only to submit a score and a statement of intent. Also, the Civic Fellows sought out arts organizations with networks of diverse composers — such as the Sphinx Organization, D-Composed and the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music — to spread the word about the project.

“We really wanted this program to be very well-rounded, to hear voices from different types of people who have gone through different life experiences,” says Civic Fellow Najette Abouelhadi.

More than 200 scores were submitted, and the leadership team members listened to every piece and voted for their top choices. After narrowing down the works that received the most individual votes, the team curated two potential programs and submitted them to the full group of Civic Fellows for a final choice.

“We were blown away by a select few pieces that ended up on this program that we felt really captured an essence of who the composer was,” says Abouelhadi. “Their personalities really came through in all of these pieces.”

The program opens with Nina Shekhar’s Above the Fray, a string quartet that deconstructs the Prelude to Bach’s First Cello Suite. Next, Michal Massoud’s Quintette bridges the gap between different genres and performance practices, drawing on improvisation and musical influences from the composer’s native Lebanon.

In Recycled Effervescence, Kyle Krause uses recycled glass bottles to create unique soundscapes, while Form the Fabric by inti figgis-vizueta is inspired by an archaeologist’s description of the cosmological understandings of the Incan and Andean peoples. In addition to these four pieces selected through the Call for Scores, the program features Tonia Ko’s Escape-Landscape, which evokes the transformation between how an image is viewed from a distance versus in close proximity.

Once the repertoire was finalized, members of the Civic Orchestra rehearsed in person at Symphony Center. “Any time that the Fellows are all in the same room, making music together is really amazing,” says Civic Fellow Alexandria Hoffman.

“It was just so nice to spend so much time again in Symphony Center,” adds Civic Fellow Bethany Pereboom.

During rehearsals, musicians worked with each composer via Zoom. “It’s so special whenever you get to play any piece for a composer and bring it to life,” says Hoffman. “It’s really fun to see their eyes light up at what we’re doing, especially when we get something exactly how they pictured it. That’s always a very good feeling.”

When the episode becomes available to audiences on CSOtv, “I really hope [listeners] will take away an excitement for these amazing composers and seek out their music,” says Pereboom.

“Contemporary music is not all the same,” adds Abouelhadi. “There are melodies, there is passion, there is innate musicality in the young people who are writing music today. There is such a broad spectrum of music being written, and there is something to be appreciated about all of it.”

The 2020/21 Civic Fellows perform 'Form the Fabric' by inti figgis-vizueta.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography