MIC celebrates contemporary music variety
Works by composer Frederic Rzewski are on the Four Score Festival program.
Four Score Festival
Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston
3 p.m. March 3 and 10; $30; $20 seniors; $10 students, for each concert.
The Generation Next Winner’s Concert, 7:30 p.m. March 8 at Nichols Concert Hall, is free
(847) 905-1500, ext. 108
Updated: March 1, 2013 1:07PM
Four quite different American composers, including rock and roll icon Frank Zappa, will be featured in the Music Institute of Chicago’s Four Score Festival, which has been celebrating contemporary music since the 2007-08 season.
In addition to Zappa, composers include pianist Michael Daugherty, professor of composition at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, pianist Frederic Rzewski, known for his 36 variations on Sergio Ortega’s “The People United Will Never be Defeated,” and Chicago composer Janice Misurel-Mitchell, who will give a presentation of her own work.
The Zappa compositions will be taken from “The Yellow Stark” album, a 1993 classical work for orchestra and the last album released before his death.
“Zappa studied the work of Varese, Stravinsky, and Webern,” said Fiona Queen, director of performance activities at Nichols, where all Four Score events will be held. “He was interested in experimental music and the music of the Second Viennese School.
“This is the 20th anniversary of ‘The Yellow Shark’ album,” she continued, “so we are presenting six pieces that I think are the best representations of the album.” The Zappa works, which make up the second half of the March 10 program, will be played by an ensemble of MIC faculty and guest artists, conducted by Jim Setapen, conductor-in-residence at the Music Institute of Chicago.
The first half of the program includes Daugherty’s “Strut,” a five minute piece for string orchestra. It is a tribute to the American icon Paul Robeson, who was as passionate an advocate for racial equality and social justice as he was a magnificent bass-baritone. It will be performed by MIC’s Academy Chamber Orchestra made up of gifted pre-college musicians, with Setapen conducting.
“We can just imagine Robeson strutting along 125th Street during the Harlem Renaissance,” Queen declared of the period from 1920 to 1930 when the Harlem area of Manhattan was the center for an outpouring of creative activity of African-American art, including literature, poetry theater and music.
Music by Rzewski, himself a keyboard virtuoso, will be played March 10 by Abraham Stokman, a member of the Music Institute’s piano faculty since 1992 who also teaches improvisation. “I’ll do some of his solo piano pieces,” said Stokman, founder of the Four Score Festival, which is a development of his “Music for a While” contemporary music series at MIC. He will play a work titled “Mein Yingele,” which translated from the Yiddish means “my little boy,” and the composer’s variations of the American folk song “Down By the Riverside.”
Composer Janice Misurell-Mitchell will do a theatrical presentation. “She is one of the founders of CUBE,” Stokman said, naming the acclaimed the contemporary chamber ensemble. “She plays the flute and there will be percussion and spoken word. Her appearances are very entertaining.”
“I have always been interested in contemporary music,” explained Stokman. “Beethoven was a maverick in his day. Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Schoenberg, certainly. People can be averse to anything new, and unless new music is played well, it never gets a fair hearing.”
That’s why, Stokman insisted, all music, but especially contemporary compositions, should be heard in a concert hall. “It is the best way to listen,” he said, “with high quality musicians giving it a proper performance. “That’s why I started ‘Music for a While’ and why we are presenting Four Score. So the audience can hear good contemporary music played well.”
Four Score Festivals of the past included Robert Lombardo, Olivier Messiaen, Howard Sandroff and Elliott Carter in the 2007-08 season; George Crumb, Osvaldo Golijov, John Adams, John Corigliano in the 2008-09 season; Augusta Read Thomas, Stacy Garrop and Laura Schwendinger in the 2009-10 season; Marta Ptaszynska and Wojciech Kilar | Chen Yi and Zhou Long in the 2010-11 season, and Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Gunther Schuller and Mario Davidovsky in 2011-12.
The benefit concert on Sunday March 3 will include refreshments and music by Four Score Festival ensembles. As a highlight Stokman, a intrepid improvisor, will improvise on popular themes requested by the audience.
The Generation Next Young Composer’s concert on Friday March 8 will include music by winners of the MIC’s annual competition. “We started that competition seven years ago to encourage and support young composers,” said Stokman. The program includes “things i’d like to have” for string quartet by first place winner Zara Ali, 17, of Cordova, Tenn.; “Negotiation of the Winds” for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon by second place winner Morgan Harry Kane, 16, of New Haven, Ct., and “Metamorphosis,” a piano solo by third place winner Robert Didier, 18, of St. Charles, Ill.
The program also will feature works from the Music Institute’s Composer’s Lab Program, created by Composer-in-Residence Mischa Zupko, and performances by young composers from the studios of Chicago-based guest composers Patricia Morehead and Ilya Levinson.
“There is such a variety of music that surrounds us everywhere,” said MIC CEO and president Mark George. “Pop music, rock and roll is a big part of our culture. New classical music being composed today reflects all those different elements.”
And variety will be a hallmark of the Four Score Festival. “If you don’t like one piece,” said George, “wait for the next one, because it’s likely to be entirely different.”