As the job market for classical music continues to trend toward upstart chamber ensembles, many specializing in contemporary music, a discouraging number of universities have been slow to adapt. That is not the case at DePaul University, where assistant professor of instrumental ensembles Michael Lewanski is confidently programming 20th- and 21st-century masterworks to inspire the next generation of professional musicians. A fixture at new music concerts across Chicago, Lewanski, 36, is conductor of Ensemble Dal Niente, founder of DePaul's Ensemble 20+ and an in-demand album producer and consultant for many of the city's chamber groups. With an impressive number of scores on deck for him this season, we caught up with this young conductor to talk about new music and the invigorating year ahead.
CRAIN'S: Your programming at DePaul is perhaps the most adventurous of any local university. Why is broadening the range important to you?
LEWANSKI: Music is in a constant state of change and evolution because our society is. The more musicians and audiences realize this and embrace the "changingness" as a strength of our culture, the more we can make the future of music more awesome than anything humanity has seen yet. My aim is to help people start to realize the amazing multitude of possibilities.
What do you have coming up at DePaul that you are particularly keen about?
Oct. 16 is the concert for the first-ever International Youth New Music Festival, hatched in collusion with my brilliant Dal Niente colleague, Jesse Langen. It's a collaboration between my Ensemble 20+, Studio MusikFabrik (a German youth new music ensemble based in Freiburg) and Jesse's group, the Chicago Arts Initiative Youth Ensemble. There are plenty of youth orchestras in the U.S., but as far as I know, this is the first time ever that there has been a collaboration between youth ensembles that focus specifically on new music.
What new music album do you reach for when someone asks where to start?
An important composer for me early on was Giacinto Scelsi, an Italian aristocrat-hippie-guru whose music often focuses on the development of a single tone, or very limited sonorities. There's a great ECM album of his music called "Natura Renovatur."
Once we've wrapped our ears around Scelsi, what can you tell us about new music here in Chicago?
It's a truly special thing. The scene itself is still growing, but it is not "emerging"—it has emerged. It is full of performers and composers who are doing highly original, unique work, and who pursue their artistic visions vigorously. But they do this in a way that is fundamentally friendly and supportive; it's not factionalized such that people lose sight of fundamental reasons to make art. It is an amazing place to be alive as a musician.