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Chicago Sun-Times

11/15/2006 By Sandra Guy

A musical ensemble started by Roosevelt University graduates is changing the face of classical music with Web-based technology.

The ensemble is the public face of Access Contemporary Music (www.acmusic.org), a non-profit organization founded by Seth Boustead, 34, who received his master’s of music composition in 2002 from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt.

Boustead demonstrates a missionary zeal in the admittedly audacious goal that he and co-founder and fellow Roosevelt alum Laura Koepele-Tenges, 39, dreamed up: To bring living composers’ music to the public and to demonstrate that classical music can be, and should be, enjoyed by the masses.

“There’s a message in classical music that if you can’t perform it extremely well, you shouldn’t — and you shouldn’t come to performances,” Boustead said. Composers get a similar message, he said: If they refuse to adhere to a rigid academic definition of classical music, they get overlooked. Boustead’s response? “The classical music world needs a kick in the pants.”

Boustead and Koepele-Tenges, who completed a master of music in flute performance in 1997, have approached their mission with a business perspective, too.

They incorporated Access Contemporary Music in 2003 as a non-profit 501(c)(3) so they can apply for grants, accept charitable donations and leverage tax-exempt status on purchases.

The ensemble fulfilled its mission with its program, “Eastern Expressions: Sounds of Modern China,” performed Sept. 10 at the Chicago Cultural Center as part of the Silk Road Chicago project.

The ensemble performed for a crowd of 350 an original composition titled “Datura” by Xiaogang Ye, a well-known Chinese composer who responded out of the blue to an e-mail Boustead sent on a whim. It was the first performance of one of Ye’s compositions in Chicago.

Ye said via e-mail that he was intrigued by the idea of writing a piece, e-mailing it here, and arriving in person just two days before the performance.

He said it was “quite challenging” to post his music on the Web and invite comments.

“Although the comments about my music are mainly positive in the press around the world, I would like to hear more from anonymous critics,” he wrote in response to the Sun-Times’ questions.

The long-distance project started as part of the music group’s “Composer Alive” program. A year ago, Access Contemporary Music issued a request for compositions, and more than 200 poured in.

The ensemble, with occasional guest musicians, is dedicated to playing each one, as long as no conductor is required.

Each week in what has become known as Weekly Readings, the musicians perform a new piece of music and post the recording onto its Web site as audio streaming. People who log onto the Web site get to hear new, original music. The composer gets to see how well his work translated to the audience, and how the musicians interpreted it.

The ensemble also performs new music at concerts in bars and coffee houses, and with musical guests.

Ensemble members are paid for their concerts — four to six each year — but not for the Weekly Reading performances.

So why do it?

Hulya Alpakin, a native of Turkey and a piano teacher, said she found the Eastern Expressions project fascinating because she had never received music via e-mail. It was challenging because there was no prior performance or example to listen to, said Alpakin, who is also an accompanist at Christ the King Lutheran Church, E.L.C.A., in the South Loop.

“We didn’t know where it would go,” she said.

Alyson Berger, the cellist and an orchestra teacher in the Evanston public schools, said she found it exciting to interpret a composition that no one else had performed.

James Martin, the violinist and associate concertmaster of the Elgin Symphony, said that when Ye flew to Chicago to work with the ensemble, he spoke to the emotions he wanted to convey in the music.

Marc Geelhoed, associate music editor at TimeOut Chicago, said most people like to hear familiar classic works by composers such as Beethoven.

“It’s a great thing that [the ensemble] and other young classical musicians and composers are getting the word out about their concerts via e-mail and other technology,” Geelhoed said. “They smile on stage and they don’t wear tuxedos. They demystify the music.”



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