A letter from Contempo’s Artistic Director Shulamit Ran
When it comes to curating Contempo’s five-concert season, I find that each season poses its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. The 2008-09 season, Contempo’s forty-fourth, was no exception. The season begun on October 4, 2008 with Messiaen: Spheres of influence, part of the major Messiaen Festival planned by University of Chicago Presents. Works by six composers, all of whom with special associations with Messiaen, received stellar performances by both our resident ensembles, Pacifica Quartet and eighth blackbird, with Cliff Colnot conducting and special guests including Stephen Gosling who was piano soloist in “Time and the Bell…” by Gerald Levinson (U. of C. Ph.D. in composition 1977). A special highlight was the world premiere of Trois Visions d’arc-en-ciel by our own Marta Ptaszynska — a Messiaen student in the 70’s — a work certain to enjoy a life well beyond its brilliant first hearing. Music by Boulez, Takemitsu, Benjamin, and a rare Messiaen truffle, the late Piece for piano and string quartet, were also heard.
The season continued with eighth blackbird’s annual solo concert at the Harris Theater, devoted to music by Stephen Hartke. One of the true joys of this and other Contempo seasons has been the realization that the circle around music previously programmed on our concerts broadens because of the attachments our performers form with composers and their music. I was heartened to discover that the programming several seasons ago of Hartke’s Tituli was the beginning of a special relationship that has evolved over time between the composer and eighth blackbird. Similar associations have formed even more recently, when two works programmed on Contempo’s April 4 double-bill at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Whistling in the Dark by Donald Crockett, and We Speak Etruscan by Lee Hyla, were selected by eighth blackbird for further performances this past summer at the Ojai Festival in California and elsewhere. Contempo’s own Spheres of Influence, perhaps?
Following Still Life After death, a haunting, theatrical gem by the Cambodian-American Chinary Ung, the second half of the double-bill featured Leny Andrades, the Brazilian singer who is often described as Queen of Bossa Nova. If you were not there, words will not capture the amazing personal and musical magic Leny brought to this event! And how exciting to see diverse audiences (Portuguese may well have been the language of choice at the MCA that night!) sampling and enthusiastically applauding the varied fare presented by Contempo.
Finally, the two concerts each season we all await with abated breath. After all, how many concerts are there where, at the onset of the season, only blank music paper existed? Contempo’s Tomorrow’s Music Today 1 & 2 are brilliant examples, year after year, of the creative output by our own graduate composition students here at the University of Chicago. They are also breathtaking examples of music-making at its best, with our resident ensembles learning highly demanding, virtuosic music and making it their own within a few brief weeks. BRAVI to all.