Landing the three-year gig as a Chicago Symphony Orchestra Mead composer-in-residence is a bit like winning "Top Chef," which is to say the intensified limelight may result in a tan and one's name abruptly enters a national conversation.
Landing the three-year gig as a Chicago Symphony Orchestra Mead composer-in-residence is a bit like winning "Top Chef," which is to say the intensified limelight may result in a tan and one's name abruptly enters a national conversation. In addition to penning works for the CSO, incoming duo Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek also will curate the symphony's MusicNow new-music series. We caught up with them recently to talk about their swanky new job.
CRAIN'S: Being considered for this position means an interview with iconic music director Riccardo Muti. What was that like?
ADAMS: I grew up playing double bass in free-jazz ensembles. Muti grew up conducting Verdi. So the encounter was wonderfully discombobulating.
OGONEK: I was so nervous that my knees were shaking. Time was moving so fast that I almost don't remember the encounter.
One of your primary duties at CSO is to oversee the MusicNow series. Is there one particular piece you're especially excited to have on stage?
OGONEK: If I had to choose a wild one, it would be Agata Zubel's "Labyrinth" for our March 7 concert. It's a collection of weird and interesting approaches to text and the voice.
ADAMS: Although I am bursting with excitement about all four shows, I look forward to that one as well, featuring the brilliant composer-vocalists Agata and Kate Soper. Both have succeeded in completely reimagining the way the human voice can be used in performance.
This music may be new ground for many listeners. What can we expect?
OGONEK: It's like visiting a new city for the first time. At first, one might recognize all of the things that are different, unfamiliar or even uncomfortable—all of the things that make us feel like outsiders—before coming around to the idea that there is always some common ground to be unmasked and shared.
ADAMS: At its best, anyone can engage with it on many levels, even if the music is not immediately familiar. And that feeling of "Oh God, I have no idea what's going on right now" should not be suppressed but rather indulged. In my daily life, it's rare that I find myself in a nonmusical situation where everything is novel and strange and fascinating. That's why new music excites me.
Originally published in Crain's Chicago Business on Oct 29, 2015