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New-Music Picks: Cool Sounds and Heavy Metal

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 9, 2010 8:20PM

Photo from Third Coast Percussion's website
A recent article in The Guardian by music critic Alex Ross prompted a discussion between arts reporter Ben Schuman-Stoler and me in the Chicagoist HQ's Fine Arts Parlor (required for admittance: beret, loafers, air of condescension). The article's subject was why contemporary classical music is less popular than the contemporary works of other mediums, with Ross concluding that the culprit is classical music's "idolatrous relationship with the past."

While we're skeptical that the audiences of other, non-pop art forms are actually more accommodating of new works - new ideas in any medium are jarring, and more often people want to spend their time enjoying rather than pondering - classical music does seem to have a uniquely aged core repertoire.

We speculated about why other art forms haven't fallen into the same trap. Dance and theater delight the eyes as well as the ears, diffusing the shock of the unfamiliar. Likewise film, which has the added benefit of being a more popular medium. The avant-garde has infiltrated architecture, perhaps because, as Tom Wolfe argues, German socialist intellectuals usurped it, or perhaps just because the austere modernist style was cheaper to build. And with visual art, as Ross points out, you're free to consume it at your leisure, and as Ben pointed out, the environment is casual and infused with an aura of cool.

Regardless of what makes classical music different, the fact is most orchestras are stuck in a cycle of performing the same old same old to appease audience members who will only shell out the big bucks for the greatest hits (the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's MusicNOW concerts notwithstanding).

This is all a long-winded way of saying we're thankful that small, relatively subversive groups like Anaphora and Third Coast Percussion are active in our fair city, not only giving us modern and brand-spankin'-new music, but doing it on the cheap in casual environments where you won't be shunned for clapping at the wrong time. Check them out on Sunday and Monday, respectively; every composer on these concerts is still alive, and every one aside from Elliott Carter, who turns 102 on Saturday, is under 40.

Sunday at 2:00 p.m. - Anaphora's "Sonorous Shades"
The first concert in Anaphora's two-part contemporary series will feature music and instruments with a cool sound scheme.

  • "Noise Pollution" for flute, clarinet, and percussion (World Premiere) by Brian Baxter
  • "Descent" for solo flute (World Premiere) by Anaphora co-founder Sarah Ritch
Curtiss Hall, 410 S. Michigan, 10th Floor, $10, FREE students

Monday at 7:30 p.m. - Third Coast Percussion's "Between the Hammer and the Anvil"
The heavy metal-tinged concert will feature the world premiere of a piece by David T. Little inspired by the El Mozote Massacre during El Savador's civil war. Little will be on hand for a post-concert discussion.

  • Free improvisation
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, $15, $5 students