There are many creative, passionate people whose teamwork and artistry infuse the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition with collaborative, nimble-minded, and open-spirited vitality.
Augusta Read Thomas
Founder and Director, Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition
The music of Augusta Read Thomas is nuanced, majestic, elegant, capricious, lyrical, and colorful: “it is boldly considered music that celebrates the sound of the instruments and reaffirms the vitality of orchestral music” (Philadelphia Inquirer).
In February 2015, music critic Edward Reichel wrote, “Augusta Read Thomas has secured for herself a permanent place in the pantheon of American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. She is without question one of the best and most important composers that this country has today. Her music has substance and depth and a sense of purpose. She has a lot to say and she knows how to say it—and say it in a way that is intelligent yet appealing and sophisticated.”
According to the New York Times, Thomas had the distinction of having her work performed more frequently in 2013–2014 than any other living ASCAP composer. Former Chairperson of the American Music Center, she serves on many boards, is a generous citizen in the profession at large, and, according to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, “has become one of the most recognizable and widely loved figures in American music.”
A Grammy® winner, her impressive body of works embodies unbridled passion and fierce poetry. The New Yorker called her “a true virtuoso composer.” Championed by such luminaries as Barenboim, Rostropovich, Boulez, Eschenbach, Salonen, Maazel, Ozawa, and Knussen, she rose early to the top of her profession.
As an influential teacher at Eastman, Northwestern, Tanglewood, Aspen Music Festival, now she is the 16th ever University Professor (one of only 7 current University Professors) at the University of Chicago. She has said, “Teaching is a natural extension of my creative process and of my enthusiasm for the music of others.” She proposed and established the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition at the University of Chicago.
Thomas was the longest-serving Mead Composer-in-Residence for Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez with the Chicago Symphony from 1997–2006, a residency that culminated in the premiere of Astral Canticle—one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music. During her residency, Thomas not only premiered nine commissioned orchestral works, but also was central toward establishing the thriving MusicNOW series on which she commissioned and programmed the work of many living composers.
Thomas envisioned, spearheaded, and led the Ear Taxi Chicago Festival of New Music, a 6-day-long new music festival in October 2016 celebrating the vibrant and booming classical contemporary music scene in Chicago. The festival featured 350 musicians, 53 world premieres, performances of 35 already existing works, 25 ensembles, 88 composers, and 5 installations.
Recent and upcoming commissions include those from the Boston Symphony, the Utah Symphony, Wigmore Hall in London, JACK quartet, Third Coast Percussion, Tanglewood, the Danish Chamber Players, University of Notre Dame, and the Fromm Foundation. She won the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, among many other coveted awards. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
G. Schirmer, Inc. is the exclusive publisher of her music worldwide for all works composed until December 31, 2015. Nimbus Music Publishing is the exclusive publisher of her music worldwide for all works composed after January 1, 2016. Her discography includes 77 commercially recorded CDs.
Thomas studied composition with Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood (1986, 1987, 1989); Jacob Druckman at Yale University (1988); Alan Stout and Bill Karlins at Northwestern University (1983-1987); and at the Royal Academy of Music in London (1989). She was a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University (1991–94) and a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College (1990–91).
Donald Rosenberg of Gramophone wrote, “Heart and soul in the breathtaking music of a thoughtful contemporary composer. Thomas’s brainy brand of modernism reveals a lively, probing mind allied to a beating heart.” (BIOGRAPHY BY G. SCHIRMER, INC.). Read more »
Seth Brodsky, Advisory Board
Seth Brodsky's scholarly and critical work pursues a number of related lines of inquiry. The first concerns music of the 20th and 21st centuries, in particular the field of “composerly production,” with all the openness this connotes: how is “the composer” constructed, and how does she function culturally, discursively, technologically, mythically? A second line of inquiry involves the role of unconscious processes—particularly as figured in psychoanalytic discourse—in the making and experiencing of music. Here he is especially interested in musical influence and intertextuality—what Lacan calls the “locus of the other”—in the work of living, recently deceased, or frequently resurrected composers. How, for instance, do contemporary composers fantasize and shepherd their affiliations with their musical past and precursors, and what role does the psychoanalytic unconscious play in these fantasies?
Brodsky's current projects revolve around the notoriously slippery concept of repetition. In particular, these projects think about aesthetic modernism less as a proverbial “search for the new” than as a larger project in resisting or “breaking” repetition, whether it be the repetition of forms, laws, and languages, of genres and styles, or of themes, patterns, motives, etc. What ramifications does this resistance have for music as a repetitive practice—as a way of practicing repetition, but also of performing its very possibility? Read more »
Reba Cafarelli, Manager
Reba Cafarelli brings over a decade of experience in arts management to her work with the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition. She served as Manager of the 2016 Ear Taxi Chicago Festival of New Music and as Executive Director of Ensemble Dal Niente from April 2015 to April 2016, in addition to working extensively in the Chicago area as a freelance project manager with an array of arts organizations including the Chinese Fine Arts Society, the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, and Shattered Globe Theatre Company. She has also worked with Social Good, Inc., a collaborative Chicago-based consulting firm serving arts and non-profit organizations. Reba was the Director of Production and Education for University of Chicago Presents from 2007–2013, where she produced classical, jazz, and contemporary music performances and managed a range of educational programs. She led the organization as Interim Executive Director in its 2011–2012 season. She previously held positions at the Grant Park Music Festival, Elgin Symphony Orchestra, and Aspen Music Festival and School.
Anthony Cheung, Advisory Board
Anthony Cheung is a composer and pianist. His music has been commissioned and performed by leading groups such as the Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, New York Philharmonic, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Scharoun Ensemble, Minnesota Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and many others. From 2015–17, he is serving as composer-in-residence with the Cleveland Orchestra, which will premiere a new work in May 2017. He is the recipient of a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as a 2012 Rome Prize, and received First Prize at the 2008 Dutilleux Competition. In 2007, he co-founded the Talea Ensemble, and has served as pianist and artistic director of the group. Recordings include two portrait discs, Dystemporal (on Wergo), and Roundabouts (Ensemble Modern Medien). He studied at Harvard and Columbia, and was a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows from 2009–12. Since 2013, he has taught at the University of Chicago as an Assistant Professor of Music. Read more »
Jennifer Iverson, Advisory Board
Jennifer Iverson is a scholar of twentieth-century music, with a special emphasis on mid-century music, avant-gardism, electronic music, sound studies, and disability studies. Her scholarship is partly analytical and partly archival; she trained as a music theorist and has also spent ample time in archives in Switzerland and Germany. Iverson's book-in-progress, Electronic Inspirations, analyzes the cultural impact of mid-century electronic music. In particular, the electronic music studio provided a crucial space to reclaim wartime technology and ideas and put them to artistic use. The electronic studio also engendered a paradigm of invisible collaboration, where composers, technicians, scientists, and performers worked in a laboratory-like environment to develop a shared framework of ideas that applied to both electronic and acoustic musical compositions. Iverson's second research area is disability studies, which analyzes historical and cultural ideas about disabled bodies. Along this line, she has written about Bjork’s oeuvre; the film Dancer in the Dark; and the disabled body in electronic music. Her classroom teaching emphasizes conversation, collaboration, and discovery. She loves to facilitate conversations amongst interdisciplinary groups of performers, composers, and scholars, conversations which often move fluidly between analysis, reception, sociological questions, critique, and interpretation. Read more »
Amy Iwano was appointed Executive Director of the University of Chicago Presents, the professional concert series presenting classical, early, contemporary, and jazz music, in April of 2012, after 18 years as Executive Director of The Chicago Chamber Musicians. She is an active contributor to Chicago's music scene, serving as a board member for New Music Chicago and on the curatorial board of the Ear Taxi Chicago Festival of New Music (2016). She is also an Advisory Board member for the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago.
Under her leadership, The Chicago Chamber Musicians achieved a heightened presence in the Chicago arts community, as well as national recognition for its artistic excellence and organizational vitality. Previously, Iwano served as Executive Director of the Japan America Symphony Association of Los Angeles, and she began her career as administrator of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute, a 100-member summer orchestral training program.
Iwano is a Board member for New Music USA, and has served as a Board member for Chamber Music America, as well as a grant panelist, strategic advisor, and speaker at the annual national conferences and served briefly on the board of the Association of California Symphony Orchestras. She has been a grant panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and other funding organizations.
Iwano graduated with a BA from Pomona College, where she played harp in the orchestra. She also studied at the Goethe Institute in West Berlin, Germany, and the University of Paris, La Sorbonne.
Travis Jackson, Advisory Board
Travis A. Jackson is an ethnomusicologist, guitarist and amateur recordist deeply interested in how and why musicians of whatever kinds make the creative choices they do. Whether those choices find expression in composition, performance or recording, his concern is to analyze and understand musical processes while relating them to the varied histories, cultures, and technologies that inform those processes as well as musicians’ and others’ engagements with them. His research and writing over the last two decades have focused primarily on jazz, popular music, and recording, and have explored, among other topics, the intersections of jazz and poetry; Duke Ellington’s engagement with world musics; the interpretation of meaning in rock; and the spiritual and ritualized dimensions of jazz performance in New York City in the 1990s. He’s currently working on a monograph that examines post-punk music and graphic design in the United Kingdom between 1977 and 1984. Read more »
Sam Pluta, Director of CHIME Studio and Advisory Board
Sam Pluta is a composer and electronics performer whose work explores the intersections between instrumental forces, reactive computerized sound worlds, traditionally notated scores, improvisation, audio-visuals, psycho-acoustic phenomena, and installation-like soundscapes.
Since 2009, Pluta has served as Technical Director and composing member of Wet Ink Ensemble, one of the premiere new music ensembles in the United States. With Wet Ink, he has written numerous works, premiered compositions by some of the leading composers of today, and performed electro-acoustic masterworks of the past century. In addition to his work with Wet Ink, Sam has received commissions and written music for groups like Yarn/Wire, Ensemble Dal Niente, International Contemporary Ensemble, Mivos Quartet, Mantra Percussion, and Spektral Quartet.
Laptop improvisation is a core part of Pluta’s artistic practice. Performing on his custom software instrument, the Live Modular Instrument, he has toured internationally with Rocket Science, the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, and the Peter Evans Quintet, and for the past four years was named the top electronics performer in the world by the El Intruso International Critics Poll of jazz journalists. His sound-based approach to improvisation complements the timbre-rich playing of his collaborators, resulting in an improvised music with simultaneous roots in jazz, noise, and musique concrète.
Pluta appears as a composer and performer on over 20 albums of new music and jazz, many of which are release on his label, Carrier Records. He has received commissions from the Fromm Foundation and the Barlow Endowment and has participated in residencies at The MacDowell Colony and iPark.
Pluta received his D.M.A. from Columbia University, where he studied with George Lewis, Brad Garton, and Tristan Murail. He also holds a B.A.S. in Music and Computer Science from Santa Clara University, an M.M. from the University of Texas at Austin, and an M.Phil. from the University of Birmingham (UK).
Pluta is Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Chicago, where he teaches composition, directs the CHIME Studio, and is an active organizer in the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition. He is also Visiting Researcher at the University of Huddersfield in the UK.
Barbara Schubert, Advisory Board
Conductor Barbara Schubert has been a champion of new music since her earliest days on the podium. As founder and artistic director of the University of Chicago New Music Ensemble, she has premiered over 100 works by University of Chicago composers, including more than a dozen in just the past two years. She has commissioned several University of Chicago composers—including Melinda Wagner, Ricardo Lorenz, and Sebastian Huydts—to create new works for two of the orchestras she currently directs, the University Symphony Orchestra and the DuPage Symphony Orchestra. Her performed repertoire of over 2,200 distinct works includes many 20th century masterpieces, as well as recent chamber pieces by Music Department faculty and Chicago-area composers.
Schubert serves as Director of Performance Programs at the University of Chicago, where she oversees the comprehensive performance program and conducts the New Music Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra. She also serves as Music Director and Conductor of the Park Ridge Fine Arts Symphony and the DuPage Symphony Orchestra in suburban Chicago. She has studied conducting with Charles Bruch, Thomas Briccetti, Herbert Blomstedt, Otto-Werner Mueller, and participated in professional conducting workshops and summer institutes with such renowned maestros as Leonard Bernstein, Max Rudolf, and Pierre Boulez. A graduate of Smith College, where she concentrated in music and mathematics, she did graduate studies at the University of Chicago in Music History and Theory. Schubert periodically guest conducts both professional ensembles and festival orchestras in the Midwest, and teaches both intermediate and advanced orchestral conducting.
“Music’s eternal quality is its capacity for change, transformation, and renewal”
— Augusta Read Thomas
The Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition is supported in part by generous gifts from Kay Bucksbaum and Gay Stanek.