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August 27, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

nmc1Nigh onto ten years ago I was one of about twenty-ish people who crowded into a conference room in the basement of Symphony Center to participate in an unfocused talk about contemporary music in Chicago and how we could perhaps work together to, well we weren’t sure about that yet, but perhaps we could work together in some way that would be beneficial to all.

The people in the room had different backgrounds and wildly different aesthetics and, while there were no raised voices there were certainly some rolled eyeballs, and not everyone in the room that first time came to another meeting but nonetheless we had started a conversation that I feel strongly needed to be started.

Even then the ivory tower mindset was beginning to crack. The idea that you could and should pursue your artistic ideas while reviling the ideas of those different from yours, align yourself in a camp and wage war against opposing camps and especially, the idea that this was all somehow of the utmost importance, well, that idea was looking silly even then.

Ten years later that old mindset, while still prevalent in some university circles, is all but gone.  New Music Chicago did many noteworthy things over the years: a festival at the Museum of Contemporary Art, several joint presentations, an events calendar, etc.  But the best thing NMC did was start this conversation at a crucial time and the Chicago contemporary music scene is vastly better off for it.

To a certain extent NMC has done its job so well that younger ensembles are not even sure why they should join.  Of course they work together with their peers as a matter of course.  But I can testify that it wasn’t always so.  Happy tenth birthday NMC.

August 19, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

Bogota-Colombia1I’ve just spent an interesting week in Colombia, five days in Bogotá and a day and a half in Medellín and I’ve found it be a fascinating country.  Of course a week is not nearly enough time to get to know a city, let alone a country, but I thought I’d jot down some quick impressions I’ve had so far.

Bogotá is different from the other South American cities I’ve been to in that it closes early, by ten the entire city is practically shuttered.  I’m used to the siesta culture like in Peru or Argentina where everyone takes a nap until seven and then stays out at least until midnight so this has been an interesting change.

I think that part of it is that Bogotá, though much improved, is still unquestionably a dangerous place to be.  In fact, though the concert hall is only two blocks from our hotel, we have a professional driver to take us to and from our interviews and concerts which is a pretty new experience.  Our friends the Lincoln Trio told us that on a previous visit they had an armed escort.

We’re staying in the Candelaria neighborhood which is the old part of the city and where most of the tourist attractions are. The people we’ve met are all extremely nice and very patient with my not nearly fluent Spanish.  The owner of a restaurant even took the time to walk us through the menu telling us about the history and preparation of each Colombian dish, all the while speaking a slow Spanish so easy to understand that I nearly cried with gratitude.

It’s definitely a religious city. There are churches everywhere and Sunday is clearly a day of worship taken seriously by nearly everyone.  I wonder if this devotion has always been here or has been exacerbated in recent decades by the violence the people have had to endure.

Last night over two beers at the Bogota Beer Company I read all about the upcoming mayoral election in the newspaper.  It’s always interesting for a Chicagoan to read about corruption in other cities and remember that we didn’t invent it.   As far as I can tell from the paper there is a sense that there will always be corruption in government and the people are resigned to it but I also detected a note of optimism, like perhaps the new mayor may have to pretend to care about the people just long enough for things to improve marginally.

Our trip has been funded by the Banco de la Republica which is the foremost funder of culture in the country and they’re doing amazing things.  They’re bringing ensembles from the U.S. to Colombia for workshops, residencies and concerts, they’re fostering the creation of new works by composers and increasing access to musical education which is amazing.  I got a sense that the average citizen of Bogota was very proud of the work being done both to bring culture here and to promote Colombian culture abroad.

All in all it seems to me that both Bogota and Medellin are cities on the cusp of major change.  Some of the corruption and violence seem to be systemic and will probably never go away but the people seem to think that on the whole there is much improvement being made and there are signs of change everywhere you look.  I’ll be very interested to visit again in a few years.


August 11, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

marvelI saw this ad on a bus recently, a Marvel Universe Live tour that is apparently selling out huge arenas around the country, and it made me long for the purity of the 1950’s.

Not the Polly Anne-ish purity that right wing politicians are always going on about, the forgotten glory age of Norman Rockwell America that they are forever trying to bring back.  No, I’m talking about the glory age of pessimistic Science Fiction in which humanity was repeatedly bested by all manner of aliens, robots and natural disasters brought about by our own stupidity.

It’s no secret that popular movies mirror popular fears and angst and there are many studies that make a convincing case that the proliferation of Science Fiction movies in particular during the 1950’s was a direct result of the successful testing of the A-bomb in 1949 by the Russians thereby arming our hated enemy, ushering in the Cold War and bringing the threat of nuclear annihilation shockingly home to the public.

These were fears that nearly everyone shared.  Even the Cunningham family from Happy Days built a bomb shelter.  According to writer Victoria O’Donnell “these fears were expressed in various guises, such as aliens using mind control, monstrous mutants unleashed by radioactive fallout, radiation’s terrible effects on human life, and scientists obsessed with dangerous experiments.”

This is nothing new of course.  Books published during the various plague epidemics preyed upon and played to the same kinds of fears but nothing really tops seeing your fears brought to life in a big budget Hollywood movie and we’ve been addicted to it ever since, but with one important change: the superhero who prevents the cataclysm from occurring or at least mitigates its worst effects, and often falls in love and hawks a product while doing so.

Buck Rogers and a few other hero epics aside, most of the films from the 1950’s are disaster epics where the earth is destroyed and humanity is obliterated, irreversibly altered or forced to send a group of cryogenically frozen survivors blindly into space hoping they can restart the race on some hospitable planet in a few hundred thousand years.  And that’s a good thing!  People should get a nice dinner in a restaurant and then see their entire way of life destroyed or warped beyond recognition because of the stupidity of their race.

In today’s superhero movies, though there is often considerably more psychological depth, there is never really a feeling that anything is at stake. The terrorists, super villains, machines, etc. will be bested in an exciting scene that has just the right amount of shaky cam or CGI delivered incomprehensible action, witty repartée and maybe a quick upskirt or nip slip.

Hollywood just can’t bring itself to destroy us anymore.  Instead they manufacture a cozy false existence filled with superheros that would have been a sinister parallel dimension in the 1950’s.  You can just picture a Twilight Zone episode in which the populace is lured into a false complacency by an alien-controlled movie production industry and then destroyed at their weakest moment.

If you truly want to save the human race, I implore you to make a movie in which the superhero dies and all of humanity is lost!  It might shock us out of our complacency.  Or at least it would be something different.  Also, no shaky cam!



August 3, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

deadbird_santa_fe1I caught a performance tonight in the SITE contemporary art museum that I won’t soon forget.  About fifty of us were shown into a room with walls covered in the provocative art work by Ann Hamilton.

The artist is very interested in the intersection of man, urbanity and nature and the effects that our increasing trend toward urban environments is having on nature.  In this particular exhibition she focused on birds that had been killed as a byproduct of human activity.

She took the actual body of the dead bird and scanned it with a highly sensitive, color scanner and then hung the scans on the wall of the room.  But there were hundreds of copies of each scan and anyone seeing the exhibit is invited to tear one off and keep it as there are plenty more copies underneath.

The room was bustling as people discussed the images and the piano for the moment went unnoticed even when someone sat down at it.  Soon he began to play the intro to a song by Benjamin Britten however and a woman in the crowd began to sing and the room was transformed.

For the next 45 minutes she walked around the room and sang songs by classical composers like Britten and Vaughan-Williams as well as spirituals, an arabic inspired piece for which she accompanied herself by tapping on the piano in rhythm and finally, Sometimes I feel Like a Motherless Child.

Throughout the performance the music was periodically punctuated by the sound of tearing paper as someone would be moved to take an image down.  The whole experience was quite moving and I was thrilled to have stumbled upon it.  One of the great joys of traveling is the opportunity to see and hear things you would never have experienced at home.


July 17, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

Screen shot 2015-07-31 at 3.03.12 PMThat’s the headline of the Chicago Sun-Times on the day that I moved to Chicago, exactly twenty years ago today.   They predicted the heat toll could kill nearly 300 but in the end it would kill nearly 1,000.

I moved here the summer of that awful heat wave and there were also massive power failures everywhere and my first memories of the city are of oppressive heat and pitch black nights filled with the sounds of ambulances and half-glimpsed shadowy figures moving laconically through the streets.

On my second night in town my friend Chris and I were at the L & L Tavern and decided to go to the Green Mill and, being new to the city, that it would be best to walk there.  We walked north on Broadway through what at that time was one of the worst neighborhoods on the north side of the city during a complete blackout and, as if often the case with the innocent and the insane, made it through without incident.  It was only later that we realized how stupid we had been.

I also remember hitting the streets to look for a job and seeing a hair salon on Diversey called Curl Up and Dye and thinking how appropriate the name was.  While looking for a job that first week I saw so many signs looking for stylists that I considered becoming one.  Instead my first Chicago job was at the newly opened WTTW Store of Knowledge in the Water Tower mall unloading trucks on the loading dock.

I had no money to even take the train and a co-worker gave me a shitty old bike he had with no seat that I rode each day from Rogers Park.  I brought exactly sixty-two cents with me each day which what a $.59 bean burrito cost at Taco Bell and was all I could afford for lunch.  To this day I’m convinced that Taco Bell saved my life although I did stop eating their food as soon as my circumstances improved.

I’m in a better place now twenty years after the big move but I’ll never forget that first week and I can still feel the incredible heat of that first summer in the city.




July 9, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

Screen shot 2015-07-31 at 2.54.35 PMThis was the scene of last night’s concert as part of the SIRGA Festival in Flix (pronounced Fleesh,) a very small town about three hours out of Barcelona.  It’s hard to see as I was trying to capture everything but we’re in a medieval Spanish castle overlooking a beautiful river valley and, inside the castle, there are musicians performing a piece by Giacinto Scelsi.

Throughout the evening we moved from room to room within the castle to hear music by composers from Spain, Germany and other parts of Europe.  Most of the music called for extensive electronics and I was impressed by the sheer amount of gear that they hauled all the way up here to make it work.

There were also no technical difficulties which is a minor miracle in itself.  I found the experience exhilarating.  We basically had a slow tour of the castle with a concert along each step of the way.  Tomorrow night we’ll be in a church that’s nearly as old as the castle.

I’m very impressed by the musical quality of the SIRGA festival but equally impressive are the stunning venues for each concert.  The flag flying from the castle by the way is the flag of Catalonia, not Spain.  I gather that’s rather a hot button issue here…

June 30, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

We’ve finished the listings for the last quarter of 2015 and it’s a great lineup of shows if I do say so myself.  And I do!


Music of Marrying and Burying
Although music, since earliest times, has always had a ritual purpose in human society, these ritualistic functions are often forgotten in the hustle and bustle of the modern world.  We’ll play music by composers still thinking of the ceremonial importance music can play in our lives.

Live From the Santa Fe Opera Festival
Known as well for its commitment to commissioning exciting new works from big name composers as for its idyllic setting, the Santa Fe Opera Festival has been the scene for some exciting developments in modern opera. We’ll feature the premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain as well as three other fascinating Santa Fe opera commissions.

A Decade of New Music Chicago
Formed as an unprecedented umbrella organization comprised of all of the groups in the city performing contemporary music, New Music Chicago is a model of large scale, inter-organizational cooperation.  We’ll feature audio and interviews from their ten-year anniversary concert.

Kickstarter has emerged as a viable way for artists to realize their wildest ambitions including new CDs, commissions, world premiere performances and more.  We’ll sample a few current kickstarter projects that we feel deserve wider support and recognition.

In the Field: Colombia Part I
Relevant Tones continues our popular In the Field series with a trip to Bogotá for first person interviews and features of composers and performers busily making this South American capital a mecca for new music.

In the Field: Colombia Part I
We continue our survey of music by Colombian composers and performers.

Kronos Quartet
A group that needs no introduction, Kronos Quartet has practically defined what it is to be a performing ensemble in the modern era.  We’ll pay our respects in this show of hits and little known gems from their storied career.

Musical Moonlighters II
When we featured composers for whom music is a second job it was such a successful show, and we discovered so many “secret” composers, that we’re returning to the subject to feature another crop of musical moonlighters.

Modern Symphony
The symphony is perhaps the most storied form in classical music but that doesn’t stop critics from periodically declaring its demise.  What’s happening with the symphonic form in the modern era?  Who is choosing to write for large forces and how are they keeping the sound fresh?

Thirsty Ear Festival from SoundBox
The Thirsty Ear Festival features live performances by established masters and up and coming artists, all dedicated to performing ground-breaking works by living composers.  In this special edition we’ll broadcast live from SoundBox in San Francisco.

Composer Spotlight: Bright Sheng
Chinese composer Bright Sheng grew up hearing traditional Chinese music but fascinated by western classical music.  As a composer he’s forged a highly successful career blending both sound worlds into a fascinatingly distinctive sonic identity.

CD Roundup: New Releases
This new release by the Del Sol Quartet marks the first time that all of the string quartets by Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe have appeared on one recording.  We’ll play several selections from this remarkable new album.

Although a famous name can open some doors, it’s not always easy following in the footsteps of a famous artist and many children of great composers and performers have chosen to go a different route altogether, but others have found their own artistic identity.

June 15, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead


Last month at a concert by the Pilgrim Chamber Players in which my string quartet was performed, I met a delightful couple at the reception and they were very complimentary of my piece, which naturally I always enjoy.  As it turns out they were not just your average appreciators of rocking good string quartets, they are art collectors and focus particularly on the Chicago Imagists who I had never heard of but am now convinced are to play an interesting role in my artistic life.

I’m a big believer in fate and there are several things about these artists and how I came to hear about them that has me convinced that this meeting was fated to happen.  For one thing I am a composer is frequently inspired by visual art and who has written many pieces inspired by paintings and prints.

For another, the name of this movement, Hairy Who, came as a reaction to critic Harry Bouras who said that Chicago didn’t have any important artists.  Bouras was the critic for WFMT where I am a radio host.

And thirdly the art is my kind of art: visceral, uncensored, absolutely real.  These artists weren’t thinking about fame, they were simply making what they wanted to make and not being obsessed with fame meant they had the freedom to do whatever they want.

Now, after watching the Hairy Who movie, which I highly recommend, I am racking my brains to think of a project that involves musical pairings with some of this art in a way that is respectful to the art and that makes sense musically.  I know it will come to me, I expect this to be my next big project.  More on that as soon as the right idea comes my way!








June 10, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

IACI wrote a couple of months ago bemoaning the fact that the powers that be in Chicago are slashing support for the arts amid an unprecedented budget shortfall and just wanted to write a quick update as I, among many other artists in the state, just received a disheartening email from Shirley Madigan, the chairwoman of the IAC and wife of the most powerful man in Illinois, Mike Madigan.

First of all it looks like the IAC will remain operational but, according to the email, “due to circumstances beyond our control, we are unable to make any funding decisions regarding applications (current, pending, and future) at this time.”  The thing that really gets me down about this is that the cuts are not entirely owing to the budget mess.

In 2007 then-Governor Rod Blagojevich slashed the budget 35% simply because Mike Madigan was his political rival and, being unable to hurt him, he decided to hurt his wife instead.  From that point on the cuts have nearly always been politically motivated including the latest round from Bruce Rauner, who also doesn’t like Mike Madigan.

Look, I don’t like Mike Madigan either, in fact I’m pretty sure that no one in the state likes Mike Madigan except possibly his family, and even that is in doubt, so I can certainly understand the impulse but you can’t create cuts that affect millions of people simply because you want to spite the wife of a guy you don’t like.  That’s no way to use power. Although this is also the guy who literally hid in a closet when his budget director came looking for him so…

Since 2007 the IAC has been cut nearly every year until it’s now a shadow of itself.  They apparently still have staff and an office and they’re reviewing grants but as far as I can tell they will not be able to award grant money as of this year and, most likely, going forward.  Truly a shame that support for the arts are one more casualty of the never-ending partisan wars of our idiot politicians.  Fire them all!




June 5, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

This video, by Asaf Blasberg, is from my concert at Spectrum in New York City on May 29. The piece is called Ageless Animals and it’s from a film score I did for Chris Marker’s phenomenal La Jeteé originally for the Sound of Silent Film Festival in 2009.

For this piece I used still photographs from a scene in the movie in which the protagonist, who has traveled backwards in time to try and prevent a nuclear holocaust, meets with a girl he remembers from before the war and they enter a beautifully creepy museum where they have a quiet moment before everything goes to shit.

It’s one of the great moments of the film and I tried to write beautiful, and yet somewhat creepy, love music for it.

Musicians are:

Hristina Blagoeva – flute
Seth Boustead – piano
Melody Giron – cello
Matthew Lau – percussion
Medina – clarinet
Elena Moon Park – violin





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