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September 9, 2017
Posted by Seth Boustead

213cd41fd8ACM’s first Chicago concert of the season is the musical culmination of a lifelong fascination with comparative religion, spirituality, and altered states of consciousness and I’m so excited about it.

We’ll perform music inspired by Tibetan Buddhism, sacred spaces in Australia, the Christian mystical tradition, a hallucinogenic mushroom trip and my piece The Numinous inspired by C.G. Jung’s concept of mythical archetypes.

I first got into Jung when I was still in high school. I was obsessively reading Joseph Campbell and he seemed to be obsessed with Jung and I thought, the obsession of my obsession must be worth obsessing about.  And it was!  I almost never think of anything now in less than mythic terms which, while it makes life interesting,  does have a downside or two.

At any rate, this concert is happening in our new venue, the recently restored Davis Theater in Lincoln Square, a gorgeous movie theater with adjoining bar and restaurant.  And, as if that weren’t enough, this concert also includes the first installment of our new Composer Alive collaboration with David Smooke.

David is writing a short piece in installments called Mechanical Birds and I’m very excited to hear the first couple minutes of it.

September 1, 2017
Posted by Seth Boustead

2304636361_ed697a9284_bAfter I finished my piano concerto at the beginning of this year and it was performed in March I felt empty inside. It was one of the greatest creative events of my life and yet when it was done I just went into a kind of depression and didn’t want to write any more music.

I wish I could say that I felt that the concerto was the supreme expression of my art or some nonsense like that but it was more just like this incredible ennui like, I finished a great challenge and was pleased with it and all but really, did the challenge or the completing of the challenge really matter after all?

That’s a terrible frame of mind for a creative person to be in and it unfortunately lasted for several months, until just last week actually. I struggle a lot with finding meaning in the world.  It seems to me that you can focus on the really big things, like the eventual death of the universe, or you can focus on really small things like what kind of salsa to buy for your blue corn chips.

I let myself get lost in the idea that it really doesn’t matter what kind of salsa you buy for your corn chips, or even if the chips are made of blue corn at all, considering that the entire universe will eventually implode. Nothing mundane matters in the face of this and everything is mundane.  But it occurred to me last week that I’ve had this exactly backwards.

The truth is that if you find the right salsa for your corn chips then it really doesn’t matter that the universe will one day implode. A simple epiphany but it got me writing music again and I’m thankful for that.  I’m writing small ensemble works but I think I know what my next big project will be too.

And I did find the right salsa for my blue corn chips and it’s so good.

August 15, 2017
Posted by Seth Boustead

ACMThirstyEars_8.12.17_by_ElliotMandel-7For all of the magic of holding a classical music festival on the street, every year I think the most special part of it for me is Sunday night after we’ve torn down the tents and stage, moved everything back inside, after the vendors have left, after every chair is taken off the street and there’s this incredible moment when we remove the blockades and traffic starts up again and it’s as if the fest never happened.

I don’t know what it is about that that gets me but it’s an incredible feeling. I stand there muscles aching from my arduous labors over the weekend and look at the cars going by with drivers totally oblivious to the fact that just hours ago the street was full of people and music was ringing out.  It’s like building your castle in the sand and taking great pride in it but also taking joy in watching the ocean wash it away.

That said I have many favorite moments of the actual festival itself including hearing Shostakovich’s e-minor trio performed while the sun was setting behind me, overhearing people rave about the music, watching the kids enjoying the WTTW Big Ideas Van performance and, not least, seeing this event that had existed in my head for so long come to life.

The smartest thing I did was hire Elliot Mandel to take photos.   Looking at these is now my favorite part of the fest and reminds me that it did indeed happen and it was indeed awesome.

 

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August 14, 2017
Posted by Seth Boustead

ff705e99-d5e5-4216-b2db-c9e7b1449934Newcity’s Music 45 celebrates the musicians behind the scenes whose unseen sweat, blood and tears make the show happen.

It’s a thoughtful list and I was excited to make the cut again this year and to move up from #44 to #34.  Cue the Jefferson’s Theme  No, wait, don’t.

Not because it’s a bad song but because it’s an ear worm and I don’t want to walk around the rest of the day with it stuck in my head.

At any rate, check out the Newcity Music 45 Who Keep Chicago In Tune!

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 9, 2017
Posted by Seth Boustead

ab002701-dffa-43b3-a1ee-f72233be5ba2I was fascinated by this character the first time I saw this woodcut, the Galactic Drifter by Sanya Glisic. I was tasked with setting several of Sanya’s works to music by Amos Gillespie for a project called Paintings Composed and they’ll be playing this one at the Thirsty Ears Festival in a couple of days.

As I stared at the woodcut I pictured him dancing around space, teleporting to different worlds using the chronometer on his wrist and generally getting into mischief wherever he goes. Based on his footwear he may also have a passion for dancing.

I wanted to bring this idea across with a bluesy pizzicato part in the cello but I’m not really a fan of traditional blues and I have this compulsion to make everything more complex than perhaps it needs to be so it’s a bluesy cello pizz part that incorporates multiple pitch sets. But don’t worry, it’s still fun.

Then there’s a section where the flute, clarinet and cello play syncopated rhythms together and the saxophone comes in out of sync with them.  It’s my favorite part of the piece, although I like the lonely sax solo too.  Because of the sax solo and his aloofness in the syncopated part, the musicians thought that Amos was the Galactic Drifter but I promise I was thinking of no such thing.

Here’s the great recording from the original project some years back.  Best to listen to it while staring intently at the woodcut.

      Listen to it now
August 6, 2017
Posted by Seth Boustead

ACMThirstyEars_8.12.17_by_ElliotMandel-39The highlight of summer for me is the Thirsty Ears Festival, Chicago’s only classical music street festival, now expanded to two days.

From Beethoven to Shostakovich to George Flynn, there’s something for everyone!

Or if you don’t like music you can just stand around drinking beer like most people at street festivals do.  We’ll have two great beer options for you from Chicago’s own Empirical Brewing.

Plus food trucks, vendor booths and family friendly activities all on a friendly, tree-lined street in idyllic Ravenswood.

I’m so very pleased that we have sponsors this year too.  We’ve received very generous support from PianoForte Chicago, Connect Hearing, Shure, WFMT and Hazel Chicago.

August 1, 2017
Posted by Seth Boustead

Lodge4logoMy first summer out of high school I decided that I should get some life experience before starting college and so I decided to move to the Lake of the Ozarks and go to work at a resort called the Lodge of the Four Seasons.

It was 1989 and I had some vague idea that it would be like Dirty Dancing and I’d meet some hot older ladies, spend a lot of time around a pool drinking exotic cocktails, I don’t know what else, maybe learn to dance?

Unfortunately it wasn’t like that at all.  They put me to work as a linen runner restocking cabinets with sheets and pillow cases and things and getting yelled at all day by scary chain smoking maids who kept asking me if I was an idiot or something.

Worse, a linen runner had no status, none whatsoever.  I wasn’t even allowed to enter the pool area, much less lounge by it whilst savoring a tropical cocktail.  All around me I saw people enjoying themselves and having a great time while I was stuck with a guy who, upon opening a linen cabinet and finding it empty would play air guitar and sing the words Bare to the Bone, apparently a reference to that idiotic George Thorogood song.

He would literally do this with every empty cabinet and, as our job was to fill the cabinets, they were all empty.  It was intolerable. I can’t remember his name now but the scariest day of all came as he was taking me around the Lodge in the little cart they let us drive and he told me that I would “make it” as a linen runner.  This was apparently a compliment.

I quit the next day and went to work at a tie dye shop and spent the rest of the summer tie dying socks while talking to my co-worker Leann about her obsession, Led Zeppelin.  She had just read Hammer of the Gods, a sensationalized, mostly fictional account of the band’s exploits on tour.

We would line up long rows of pristine, rubber-banded white socks and gently pour colored dyes on them, watching them soak in and blend while she talked about the crazy thing that the band did with a dead shark.  Summer ran out before she ran out of Led Zeppelin stories.

People will tell you that summer is running out now but don’t believe them!  We still have until September 21 dammit.

July 28, 2017
Posted by Seth Boustead

Originally published in Newcity 7/28/2017

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“It’s true I didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but I came over as soon as I could,” said Anton Cermak in 1931, in response to xenophobic slurs made against him by the deeply entrenched, and deeply corrupt, Chicago mayor “Big Bill” Thompson. Threatened by Cermak’s political skill and alarmed by his growing support, Thompson resorted to a strategy of personal insults and dark hints that Cermak wasn’t “normal.”

This strategy has a familiar ring to it, of course; but Thompson’s xenophobic and alarmist tactics backfired wildly, and Cermak rode a wave of immigrant support into the mayor’s office. Unfortunately he was killed before he could finish out even his first term—shot in the lung at a political rally by a deranged gunman who was apparently aiming at FDR, with whom Cermak happened to be shaking hands at the worst possible moment.

Cermak’s sentiment that he came to America from what is now the Czech Republic “as soon as [he] could,” speaks powerfully to me. You see, I’m a sentimental sort, the kind of guy who gets all choked up thinking about the idea of America as a melting pot, as a place where diverse peoples from around the world can live together in peace.

And yeah, I read my history. I know that the country was founded on top of one of the world’s most appalling genocides. I know about the three-fifths compromise. I know that the idealism of the American dream in no way makes up for the many atrocities committed along the way.

But from the moment that humans first climbed out of the primordial ooze and sat blinking in the full glare of newly formed consciousness, we’ve devoted an appalling amount of time and energy to killing each other; so the idea that we would at least make the attempt to put our differences behind us and live in peace—well, it’s something I still believe in with every fiber of my being.

Cermak “came over as soon as [he] could” because America represented an irresistible beacon to the world. America was an escape from authoritarianism, persecution, hereditary government and power wielded by the few in service to the fewer. But when he came over he discovered what everyone who has come over since has discovered: the ones who got here first didn’t want him.

Cermak is mostly forgotten today, but his victory over “Big Bill” Thompson is still a major win for the little guy, and a powerful reminder that the American dream cannot be taken for granted, but must be fought for in every generation.

Interestingly, though, Cermak’s longest-lasting legacy is not political but musical. He started the Grant Park Music Festival to give hard-pressed Chicagoans much-needed relief during the ravages of the Great Depression, and the festival is still going strong today. Then as now, Chicagoans had the extraordinary opportunity to hear classical music performed by a world-class orchestra and chorus in the heart of the city, for free.  It was an audacious idea then, and more than eighty years later it still is—as well as an indispensable part of summer in Chicago for tens of thousands of people.

Grant Park was also, memorably, the scene for Barack Obama’s stirring reaffirmation of the American dream upon his election in 2008 and, eight years later, the site of his stunningly gracious, optimistic and inspiring farewell address, in which he managed to find hope even as the country faced an incoming president who made “Big Bill” Thompson look like Honest Abe. Obama’s dignity in the face of despair was an inspiration to the composer Aaron Jay Kernis.

“In the months following President Barack Obama’s farewell address in Chicago, I began to turn my thoughts to composing this new horn concerto, ‘Legacy,’ for the Grant Park Festival. The President’s inspiring summation of the last eight years of our history rests incongruously next to the daily turmoil that has taken hold since then,” says Kernis.

“A great deal has been written about the ideal of the former president’s legacy: a commitment to protect our air, water, health, children… which, since then is being torn down, many pieces at a time, every single day. As a creative artist, I think frequently about what I will be able to pass on to my family, and to our world, as I spend my life attempting to create works of beauty, healing, confrontation and ideas.”

“Legacy,” co-commissioned by the Grant Park Music Festival and given its world premiere this month, opens with allusions to “Amazing Grace” in the strings and horn, which eventually become a full-fledged theme-and-variations—leading the listener to inevitably recall Obama’s powerful, deeply moving response to a racially motivated shooting in a house of worship.

The French horn is the perfect vehicle for music with a noble ring that recalls the understated but firm resolve of the former president; and Kernis, throughout the piece, perfectly balances sentiment with solid compositional craft.

Our country is led at the moment by vicious people, a mafia-esque cabal that, far from serving a lofty ideal, exists only for personal enrichment and the entrenchment and perpetuation of their power: in other words exactly that against which America was founded in the first place. They are taking a sledgehammer to Obama’s legacy but they fail to understand that Obama’s true legacy is his belief in a humanistic ideal which cannot be destroyed.

Chicago’s Grant Park is central to the legacy of Obama, who in many ways exemplified the American dream and who provided as perfect a model of dignity, class and respect for all as I’m likely to see in my lifetime. Kernis’ piece is a moving musical portrait of that legacy and it’s fitting that it will be premiered at a music festival started by an immigrant who long ago left his country in pursuit of a dream that the majority of us still hold dear.

The Grant Park Orchestra performs Aaron Jay Kernis’ horn concerto, “Legacy,” on August 11 at 6:30pm and August 12 at 7:30pm, under the baton of Carlos Kalmar with Jonathan Boen as horn soloist.  More information can be found on their website.

July 3, 2017
Posted by Seth Boustead

Indonesia-e1435614963875I have to confess that, as the American people ready themselves for their annual pyromaniacal outpouring of frenzied joy at being liberated from the tyranny of a British king, I find myself yet again wishing there were another way to celebrate independence and our near-hysterical love of freedom than the traditional week-long (at least) fireworks displays and general blowing up of things.

I want to point out too that this isn’t just a sign that I’m finally losing the battle against the ever-encroaching crustiness brought on by old age, (although I am.)  No, truth is, I’ve never liked fireworks.  Even as a child I would stand at a fireworks display and count the minutes until we could go back home and I could get back to reading The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island.

Yes, a nerdy kid to be sure and grown into a nerdy adult but I can’t be the only one who thinks that freedom from tyranny might best be celebrated with a visit to the library, museum or the cultural outing of one’s choice.  Or just a nice long nap in the A/C.

Fireworks, sadly, are by far the most popular means of celebrating independence days around the world, but after much digging I did find a few more sedate ideas that I’d like to bring to your attention.

Did you know for example that in India the symbol for independence is a kite and so they fly kites for their Independence Day?  Tell me that people spending the day serenely flying kites over a lake isn’t better than drunk people blowing off their own fingers.

In Indonesia they celebrate by attempting to shimmy up a greased palm tree. I’m not going to run out and do this but I would be fine if it took off here instead of fireworks.  In Cambodia they celebrate liberation from French rule by releasing thousands of brightly colored balloons into the sky.  Another win.

South Korea it seems has an odd tradition:  they celebrate their victory over Japan and subsequent independence by setting prisoners free which is kind of a literal interpretation but, hey, still better than fireworks if you ask me.

Every year though I’m reminded in no uncertain terms that I’m way out of the mainstream on this, so this year I’ll celebrate the holiday the way I always do: with earplugs, alcohol and a good book. Happy Fourth!

June 14, 2017
Posted by Seth Boustead

Carlos-KalmarSummertime for me means long bike rides, outdoor drinking, walks to the ice cream shop, sitting in the park reading a book, and of course the country’s only outdoor free classical music festival, the Grant Park Music Fest.

I’m giving pre-concert talks for several fascinating concerts this summer so if you’re in town and coming out, stop by the big white tent just west of the stage an hour before the show to hear my stunning insights.

And this year I’m not just talking about contemporary music which is odd. I’ve been entrusted with talks on Mozart, Beethoven and other stalwarts from the dim past.  Wikipedia here I come!

The full schedule is here!

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