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October 31, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

Screen shot 2014-10-31 at 11.31.04 AM

I was composing at home recently and got a text from one of ACM’s teachers that CNN had left a message on the voicemail.  He was clearly excited about it and had told others who were excited and the whole thing was rather mysterious.  I mean, that’s big press!

So I called back to see what it was and, as it turns out they are doing a series on innovation in different cities and had chosen to start in Chicago and came across us on the Chicago Innovation Awards which we were up for at the time.  An organization looking to redefine how people think of and access contemporary music was interesting to them and so they called.

We wound up doing a video shoot about our Open House project which commissions composers to write music inspired by landmark spaces and then have musicians perform the music in the space for crowds of people.

My experience, though, was mixed.  They were more interested in presenting us as a kind of flash mob that performs music in train stations for harried commuters than in really understanding the Open House project.  They didn’t have any reverence for the space and they cited bogus statistics that reinforce the stereotype that classical music is dying.

But hundreds of people saw it in the first hour that it was posted.  It is CNN Money after all.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing for ACM and for classical music in general?

October 23, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead


This is a terrible photo and I apologize but it was tough to get a good shot with those obnoxious light bulbs strung overhead and this was the best angle I could find.

ACM musicians are performing Tim Corpus’ piece Letters Home in a long-shuttered part of Union Station as part of Open House Chicago.  In the 1920′s and ’30′s this was the ‘Women’s Lounge’ as waiting areas were actually segregated back then by gender.

In just the hour or so that I was here there were well over 400 people who heard Tim’s music.  Since the musicians were there for three hours total playing the music every 15 minutes, and traffic was steady, that means that Tim’s piece was heard by 1,200 people more or less.

Open House Chicago is my favorite time of the year.  This year we had composers write music for five different spaces and had musicians playing the music every 15 minutes in all of them.  It’s just an incredible experience to play newly commissioned music for so many people who are so appreciative of what’s happening.

This year two of the composers traveled to be present, one from Texas and the other all the way from Edinburgh Scotland.  I’ll have the videos soon and will post them.

The other great thing about Open House is the launch party they throw every year in unique spaces that most of us would otherwise never see.  This year it was in this former law library turned bar.



October 16, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead


Tonight’s concert is here in the spectacular Leopold room at Aula Leopoldina at Wroclaw university.  I took this photo about fifteen minutes before the concert began.  By the time it started the room was packed with people, easily 200 hundred people came out for this one concert.  There are at least three concerts every day for World Music Days and, as far as I can tell, they’re all packed.

Tonight’s concert features composers using electronics from Japan, Slovenia, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Mexico and Poland.  All of the performances have been great and the enthusiasm here for new music is absolutely incredible.  For a person coming from the U.S. where you have to bribe people to get them out to contemporary music concerts this is amazing.

And yes, I usually do bribe people to get them to my concerts…

October 12, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead


I got into Wroclaw last night for the World Music Days festival just in time to head to the river with two others to hear a unique performance of music from two boats on the river in front of the famous cathedral.  It was quite an experience!

I thought at first that they had musicians on the boat and that they were amplified but no, as it turns out I was hearing the actual ship’s horns reconfigured to play musical scales.  The boats motored around the inlet and performed in synch with each other which was incredible.  They played mostly minimalist works although the only piece I actually recognized was Six Pianos by Steve Reich.

Below is audio that the producer of Relevant Tones Jesse McQuarters captured on the spot.  What a way to start the festival!

September 29, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead









I recently watched two excellent documentaries, Jodorowsky’s Dune and Woody Allen: A Documentary, within a week of each other and it really got me thinking about the contrasts between these two personalities, not only artistically but also in their working styles.  There’s an interesting polarity in their approach to creating art.

Jodorowsky is obsessive, consumed with the idea of making the perfect movie version of Dune.  He’s so obsessed that he absolutely won’t settle for anything less than perfection. He forces his son to train with a sword intensively for two years for the role of Paul Atreides, insists on working only with major artists like Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Pink Floyd and Mick Jagger, his production budget balloons out of control and ultimately the project is given to another director and the movie is never made.

Woody Allen, on the other hand, gets up every day and writes a screenplay and, when that’s finished, he directs the movie and has made a movie a year for most of his long life.  He doesn’t do the casting himself, he seldom gives direction to the cast, he often only does one take of each scene and he’s the first to admit that he doesn’t worry overly much about quality. If the film is good that’s great, if not then it’s on to the next one.

There’s something very attractive to me in both qualities.  Of course I love the Jodorowsky level of obsession, the manic gleam in the eye and the strict refusal to compromise your artistic vision, but I also like Woody Allen’s workmanlike approach to creating art. There’s something amazing, and very freeing, in the idea of getting up each day and creating art and letting others decide if it’s any good or not.

Jodorowsky embodies the old school idea of the crazy, passionate artist so it’s somewhat ironic that his masterpiece was never finished.  And of course if it had been finished it could never have lived up to the vision he had for it.  The breathtakingly audacious vision he had for this is the art, the reality could only have been a letdown.

Woody Allen, on the other hand, isn’t afraid of the inevitable letdown of making a vision real, creating a material copy of the perfect vision in the artist’s mind.  This idea of bringing an artistic vision into the world fascinates me because it can only suffer by being made concrete, you lose so much in the translation from mind to reality, but at the same time that’s what being an artist is.  Everyone has great creative power, few go through the tortuous process of trying to express that creativity in the form of art communicable to others.

Jodorowsky’s reach well exceeded his grasp and his great film was never made, but the story of his vision is incredibly inspiring.  There’s very little inspiration in the vision of Woody Allen but his best films are wonderfully moving.  Does it matter if that happened accidentally?  Does it matter that there are three times as many bad Woody Allen films as good ones?  It’s an interesting contrast.

September 15, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead


I just returned from the PRPD conference of radio program directors in Portland, OR and still have a bad taste in my mouth from the one classical music seminar I attended.  A coalition of influential program directors, led by American Public Media, hired outside consultants to do research among classical music listeners and other radio listeners to find out what we can do to retain listeners and attract new ones.

The survey appears to have been conducted in an entirely rational way and the conclusions that were drawn from the survey were equally rational but I personally found the results to be distasteful in the extreme and even chilling.

Most people surveyed said that classical music relaxed them which I don’t have a problem with. I also find some classical music relaxing and certainly classical music radio, lacking the amped up, aging frat boy energy of a classic rock station, is much more relaxing than most places on the radio dial. But when you draw the inevitable conclusion from this, as they did, that classical music radio stations should aggressively market themselves as playing music for relaxation, well I find that highly disturbing.

It’s disturbing to me for several reasons:

1) Art should not have to justify its existence.  I don’t like defending the existence of art, and arts organizations, in terms of jobs created, happiness produced, young brains made smarter, etc.  Humans will always make art and that’s the only justification that’s needed, creating and appreciating art is part of our DNA.

2) You don’t see other art forms marketing themselves as a tool for relaxation despite the fact that people probably do find them relaxing.  I’m one of I’m sure many people who finds it very relaxing to go to the museum but can you imagine the Metropolitan Museum of Art marketing themselves as a place to come to solely to relax?  No, because that would be a disservice to the art and to the artists who created it.

3) I understand that most classical music stations are on primarily in doctor’s offices and all kinds of bland waiting rooms across the country and that’s fine and we should cater somewhat to that listener.  But marketing ourselves specifically as music to relax, background music for a waiting room or elevator, well that’s just perpetuating a very hurtful stereotype about classical music in my view.  If people relax to the music that’s great but we simply cannot go around telling them that the main benefit classical music has given to society is relaxation.

4) I know that program directors have an uphill battle attracting listeners to classical music but I also believe that the obsession with ratings is a very bad thing.  Now we hear from these consultants that we should market classical music as relaxation and the idea is that we don’t change our playlists, we simply talk about them differently but it’s a slippery slope.  How long until PD’s are second guessing the listener and only playing music they think the listener will find relaxing?  I believe that this idea is death to innovation which in turn is death to, well pretty much anything.  If an organization doesn’t innovate it dies.

5) We have a responsibility to hundreds of years of composers who gave their lives to the pursuit of their art.  If we aren’t going to honor that and are going to instead mindlessly pursue ratings, then just turn the station into a traffic and weather station, that’s where the ratings are.  If you can’t uphold standards and be respectful to some of the greatest music humans have every produced then please get out of the business because you’re doing more harm than good and people would be better off discovering the music on Spotify.


September 12, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

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I’m in Portland, Oregon for a conference of NPR program directors and just got back from a talk called Midday Matters that was so depressing I had to go back to my hotel room and take a nap.  The gist of the seminar was that NPR stations should only air talk, that ratings are the most important thing and that if you have a successful show you should repeat it as often as you can until it adversely affects ratings.

Oh and music is bad because it drives ratings down and the worst thing in the world is midday.  Apparently all NPR stations experience drastic slumps in their ratings between noon and four PM and it is the topic of much hand wringing and decidedly non-existential angst.  The solution, as it turns out, is to repeat your morning news programs because those are popular and maybe there are some people who didn’t hear them or maybe the people who did won’t mind hearing them again.

These guys are so out of touch I wondered if they even listen to the radio themselves anymore.  I listen to the radio every day and will frequently tune in to NPR for local news in the morning and world news in the afternoon but, like so many others I’m sure, I can’t listen to people talking all day and so I generally head over to a music station for most of the day.

I’ll never understand why music is anathema to NPR stations.  Why can’t they intersperse an hour of music in between the talk shows?  That would be so much more interesting than a continuous news cycle in which the hosts clearly have nothing new to say, or there are no updates.

The other thing that really frustrates me about this is that, if there were ever a radio format that could get away with playing all genres of music, following a Mozart symphony with a Hank William Sr. tune and then heading over to a John Coltrane before going into a Kronos Quartet album, it’s the NPR format.  What a waste!  It would be so wonderful if they would play music from all eras and in all styles in between their talk shows.

To which they would calmly reply, we would do that but our studies show that it would drive ratings down.

And that could be true hell, your ratings are already down.  Instead of getting together and sharing the same old “wisdom,” why not try something new, radically bold and artistically bold?  As the immortal Neil Young said: It’s better to burn out than to fade away.

September 1, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

elks2I’m a big believer in putting musicians in public spaces in order to bring contemporary music to wider audiences.  As someone who has been producing contemporary music concerts for over ten years now I’ve found this a highly effective way to reach new people and have fascinating conversations about contemporary classical music and what the art form has been up to for the last hundred years, which is usually news to most of the people I talk to.

Next month my company Access Contemporary Music will be presenting music in public spaces for two great events: Open House Chicago and the Ravenswood Art Walk.  We’ve worked with the Chicago Architecture Foundation to provide a musical component to Open House Chicago since its inception four years ago.

Our composer members write music inspired by several of the venues in Open House and then we have musicians present the days of the event to perform the music every 15 minute or so as hundreds of people come through.  Over the years we’ve also amassed a great collection of videos of these events and, as we get closer to Open House on October 18 and 19, I’ll post several of these.

The Ravenswood Art Walk is a unique event.  Sure it’s a street festival and Chicago is lousy with street festivals but this one really is about the art and that’s what has always drawn me to it.  This year we’re working with percussionist and producer Peter Ferry and Julius Meinl to have a “music walk” component that includes musicians in several of the venues playing, you guessed it, contemporary classical music.

Between the  two events we’ll have musicians performing in nearly ten different public venues over two weekends.  It’s my favorite time of the year and I’m excited to talk about contemporary music with so many new people. Videos to come very soon!

August 19, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead


The interview I’m the most proud of was Einojuhani Rautavaara who is a legendary composer well into his 80′s who was mentored early in his career by Jean Sibelius.  He had an incredible presence and, although he has a hard time talking now after a stroke a few years back, he talked engagingly about his music and philosophy of life and I felt a very strong connection with him. That my producer Jesse McQuarters and me with him after the interview which took place in his home near the sea on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon.

My favorite interview quote from any of the composers we’ve talked to so far came from Matthew Whithall, a Canadian transplant who has been in Finland now for several years.  He was talking about how contemporary music is well integrated into normal classical music concerts here and he said “the first time I realized I was in a different place was when an orchestra played a piece by Magnus Lindberg that was essentially a 30 minute sonic assault and the audience leapt to their feet when it was done and gave a standing ovation. And Finns never give standing ovations.”

I was incredibly lucky last night to be able to attend the closed dress rehearsal of Shostakovich’s recently discovered, unfinished comic opera Orango being done by the Finnish Radio Symphony with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting.  As if that weren’t enough they gave a hair-raising performance of the 4th symphony afterward.  A perfect pairing in my opinion.  An opera lampooning the Soviet system on the same program as the infamous symphony that got Shostakovich in trouble with Stalin and was the beginning of so many of his woes.

There have been so many magical moments here, I’ll try to write more soon.


August 12, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead


This is a photo of approximately 2,000 professional singers from choirs throughout Helsinki giving a short concert on the front steps of the most famous cathedral in the city for the opening of Art Goes Kapakka, an event featuring live music and art of all kinds in bars and restaurants throughout the city every day for the next week or so.

I’ve been in Helsinki now for close to a week and it’s been an amazing journey.  I’m here in my capacity as host of Relevant Tones to interview Finnish composers for two shows about the music scene and the Finnish commitment to music and to a lesser extent the arts in general.

So far I’ve been completely blown away by everything.  The city is the perfect size, it’s very easy to get around, there are happy people everywhere, I haven’t seen one homeless person though I know they must exist somewhere, there is a ton of live music and a palpable commitment to the arts and everything is extremely well ordered and government corruption doesn’t seem to exist which for a guy from Chicago is pretty much the same thing as if everyone walked on water.

So far for Art Goes Kappaka I’ve seen choirs in several bars, two musicians improvising while a comic artist drew comics live that were projected on the wall, a great folk band and an acid jazz trio that I would kill to see again.  And there’s still so much left!  Once this is over the Helsinki Festival begins.  I may never go home…


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