Press Room

CSO: Montgomery WP & more this spring

Jessie Montgomery (photo: Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of CSO)

(May 2024) — When Grammy-winning composer Jessie Montgomery was chosen as the Chicago
Tribune’s 2023 Chicagoan of the Year for Classical Music, it was to honor her achievements as the
Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO)’s Mead Composer-in-Residence. Now that three-year
appointment draws to a close with two spring CSO programs featuring premieres of her music.
Marking the third and final orchestral commission of her tenure, Procession (2024), a concerto
for CSO Principal Percussion Cynthia Yeh, receives its world premiere performances from Yeh
and the orchestra under Manfred Honeck’s leadership (May 30–June 1). Two weeks later,
violinist Joshua Bell joins the CSO for the Chicago premiere of Montgomery’s “Space,” as part of
The Elements (2023), his acclaimed five-movement commissioning project (June 13–15). In
addition, her violin duo Musings, a CSO MusicNOW commission that premiered in the series last
year, will receive an encore performance, this time from CSO Artist-in-Residence Hilary Hahn
and CSO Concertmaster Robert Chen, in the culminating program of Hahn’s tenure (June 9).
Montgomery also hosts a free performance by musicians of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago,
showcasing new music by the Young Composers Initiative, the high-school program she
launched with support from the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute (May 31). More information is
available at

World premiere of percussion concerto (May 30–June 1)

Recognized with the 2024 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for her
piano concerto, Rounds, Montgomery has already demonstrated her mastery of the concerto
genre. Procession, however, represents her first concerto for percussion. Commissioned by the
CSO for the upcoming subscription concerts, the work was composed in collaboration with
Cynthia Yeh, the orchestra’s percussion principal since 2007. In a program note, Montgomery

“Procession was inspired by the idea of how people organize and participate in variations of
processionals. … The percussion soloist plays a dual role with their counterparts in the orchestra –
sometimes as the leader and sometimes the follower of the call and response themes throughout –
demonstrating the unique role percussion can play as both a blending color and the sheer sonic
power it has to overtake the orchestra.”

Juxtaposed with Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, Procession receives its world premiere
performances under the baton of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Music Director Manfred
Honeck, who has already led accounts of Montgomery’s orchestral works Banner, Strum, and
Coincident Dances. The composer will take part in pre-concert talks before all three
performances, the last of which forms part of the 2023/24 CSO MusicNOW series.

Young Composers Initiative finale concert (May 31)

With support from the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute, Montgomery founded the Young
Composers Initiative in 2022. During each year of the program, she has mentored Chicago-area
teenaged composition students, all of whom received full scholarships to participate. Designed to
foster diverse aspiring young composers, the program concludes its season with the world
premieres of new chamber works created and workshopped under her guidance by Angel Alday,
Clara Frantzen, Jaime García-Añoveros, Zachary Guo, Malik Muhammad, and Sylvia Pine.
Musicians from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago will premiere these new compositions in a free
chamber concert hosted by Montgomery herself. The composer, who will continue to lead the
initiative through the 2024/25 season, says, “Mentorship and opportunities for young people
are really important values that are close and dear to my heart.” Free tickets to this event
may be reserved on

Chicago premiere of The Elements, featuring “Space” (June 13-15)

Commissioned by renowned violinist Joshua Bell, The Elements (2023) is a five-part suite for
violin and orchestra, comprising individual movements inspired by the natural elements and
composed by Jake Heggie, Jennifer Higdon, Edgar Meyer, and Kevin Puts, as well as
Montgomery. In the program note for “Space,” she writes:

“I was tasked with musically conveying the fifth element, space: one which encompasses all of the
elements, all of the planets, and all the matter of the universe. … In my composition, the solo violin
takes on a melodic journey, pulling the listener both inward, into their own imagination of the
universe, and outward, into the very depths of outer space.”

When Bell premiered The Elements with Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Die Welt
singled out “Space” for praise, pronouncing Montgomery’s movement “fantastic.” Of the suite as a
whole, after its U.S. premiere by the New York Philharmonic, the Financial Times observed:

“Even for composers known for their way with a lyrical line and satisfying harmonies, the fit
between the movements was remarkable. Each was imaginative and distinctive while also flowing
naturally from one to the other.”

Now Bell joins the CSO to give The Elements its Chicago premiere in three CSO subscription
concerts led by Juraj Valčuha, Music Director of the Houston Symphony, alongside works by
Weber and Shostakovich. Montgomery will again take part in pre-concert talks before all three
performances, the last of which forms part of the 2023/24 CSO MusicNOW series.

Highlights of CSO residencies and activities, 2021–24

Jessie Montgomery was appointed CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence by Zell Music Director
Riccardo Muti in April 2021 and officially began her three-year tenure in the role in July of that
year. Since then, she has developed a significant presence in Chicago, where the Chicago Reader
welcomed her recent Grammy win as “an appropriately gilded capstone to her fruitful
tenure.” The residency’s first two seasons saw the Chicago Symphony and Muti give the world
premiere performances of Montgomery’s first two orchestral CSO commissions, Hymn for
Everyone and Transfigure to Grace, the first of which may also be heard on CSO Resound’s
Grammy-winning 2023 release, Contemporary American Composers. In addition, the CSO
performed Montgomery’s Starburst, Strum, Coincident Dances, and Rounds, whose Chicago
premiere featured Marin Alsop and pianist Awadagin Pratt, its dedicatee. Montgomery’s music
also received multiple performances from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

Throughout her appointment, the composer has served as curator of CSO MusicNOW, which
connects Chicago audiences with the widest possible range of today’s new music. Series highlights
included a 2023 program devoted to new and recent work by members of the Black composers’
collective known as the Blacknificent 7, as well as concerts featuring the world premieres of
new MusicNOW commissions, including Montgomery’s own Concerto Grosso and Musings for
two violins, which she premiered with fellow violinist Rachel Barton Pine. Further deepening her
ties to the local community, she has served on the Advisory Board of the CSO’s African American
Network, which hosts an annual series of programs to engage Chicago’s culturally rich African
American community. Last season, she and the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute launched the

Young Composers Initiative, through which she has taught and mentored local teen composers,
overseeing the world premiere performances of their works.

Montgomery’s tenure continues through June, after which she plans to maintain close
connections with Chicago. As well as continuing her work with the Young Composers
Initiative next season, she looks forward to Rounds’ return to Chicago, when the Sphinx
Virtuosi orchestra makes its Symphony Center debut with a program featuring Pratt’s
performance of the Grammy-winning concerto (Feb 25, 2025).

Other recent projects and honors

Named Musical America’s 2023 Composer of the Year, Jessie Montgomery is “one of the most
distinctive and communicative voices in the U.S.” (BBC). Beyond Chicago, her recent projects
include Five Freedom Songs (2021), a song cycle commissioned for Julia Bullock by a consortium
that includes the Boston and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras; I was waiting for the echo of a
better day (2021), a site-specific collaboration with Bard SummerScape and Pam Tanowitz Dance;
BECAUSE (2021), a theatrical work for the National Symphony Orchestra; I Have Something to Say
(2019) for Cathedral Choral Society and the Cincinnati Symphony; Passacaglia (2021), a flute
quartet for the National Flute Association; and three concertos: DIVIDED (2022) for cellist
Thomas Mesa and Sphinx Virtuosi, L.E.S. Characters for violist Masumi Per Rostad (2020), and
Rounds for pianist Awadagin Pratt (2021). Pratt’s debut recording of the concerto with A Far Cry
for New Amsterdam Records was chosen as one of NPR’s Best Albums of 2023, and it was with
Rounds that Montgomery made history earlier this spring, when she became the first Black
composer to win the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Currently
serving as Artist-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music and
Composer-in-Residence at Bard College, Montgomery is Professor of Violin and Composition at
The New School in New York City. Her future projects include commissions for the New York
Philharmonic and for Alisa Weilerstein’s FRAGMENTS series.

The Mead Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is endowed through a generous gift
from the late Cindy Sargent and Sally Mead Hands. The CSO thanks the following donors who provide major
support for new music programming: the Zell Family Foundation, Cindy Sargent, the Sally Mead Hands
Foundation and the Julian Family Foundation.

Click here for a high-resolution photo.

Jessie Montgomery: culminating programs as CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence, spring 2024

May 30–June 1
Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Manfred Honeck, conductor
Jessie MONTGOMERY: Procession (world premiere of CSO commission; with Cynthia Yeh, percussion)
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7

May 31
Young Composers Initiative Finale Concert
Musicians of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago
Jessie Montgomery, host
Malik MUHAMMAD: Untitled
Sylvia PINE: “Pull of Life” from [ ] Through [ ] for String Quartet
Zachary GUO: OPERA(S)
Clara FRANTZEN: Ghost Light Vignettes
Angel ALDAY: Glorious Resurrection

June 9
Hilary Hahn, violin
Andreas Haefliger, piano
Robert Chen, violin
Stephanie Martinez, choreographer
Laura La Russa, dancer
BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 1 in G, Op. 78
Steven BANKS: Through My Mother’s Eyes*
Jessie MONTGOMERY: Musings for two violins
Carlos SIMON: Shards of Light*
BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108
* Solo violin works to be performed with dancer

June 13–15
Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Juraj Valčuha, conductor
WEBER: Overture to Oberon
Kevin PUTS, Edgar MEYER, Jennifer HIGDON, Jake HEGGIE, Jessie MONTGOMERY: The Elements (Chicago
premiere; with Joshua Bell, violin)
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 1

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© 21C Media Group, May 2024

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