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Curated by Mead Composer-in-Residence Jessie Montgomery, CSO MusicNOW’s 2021-22 Season Opens on Nov 1 with Celebration of Composers with Chicago Ties

Jessie Montgomery (photo: Todd Rosenberg)

Created in 1998 to connect Chicago audiences with the widest possible range of today’s new music, the CSO MusicNOW season kicks off on November 1 with a concert at Symphony Center celebrating contemporary composers with Chicago ties. Titled “Homecoming,” this presents the world premiere of a new CSO MusicNOW commission from Elijah Daniel Smith, recent works by Ted Hearne and Nathalie Joachim, and vocal compositions by series curator Jessie Montgomery, who begins a three-year tenure as the CSO’s Mead Composer-in-Residence this season. The performance features guest artists including soprano Whitney Morrison, a Chicago native and recent alumna of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center, with musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Michael Lewanski, the conductor of Chicago’s Ensemble Dal Niente and Curatorial Director of the city’s Ear Taxi Festival 2021, leads the works by Smith and Hearne.

A winner of both the Sphinx Medal of Excellence and the ASCAP Foundation’s Leonard Bernstein Award, series curator Jessie Montgomery has emerged as one of the most compelling and sought-after voices in new music today; as the New York Times recently reported, she is “pretty much changing the canon for American orchestras.” Reflecting on her plans for CSO MusicNOW this season, Montgomery says:

“When you experience new music, you get something you’ve never expected before, and I think we all crave that sense of adventure. Coming to a live performance and seeing something new and fresh is a very special experience, and I think we all should take advantage of that. Our first CSO MusicNOW concert is going to feature composers with Chicago connections, including myself, because although I am a native New Yorker, I’m now a Chicago guest resident as well. We’re celebrating the work of some of the amazing people who live here, and who have connections to the city.”

Bringing together four composers with close ties to Chicago, CSO MusicNOW’s November 1 concert opens with the world premiere of Scions of an Atlas, commissioned by CSO MusicNOW from rising star composer Elijah Daniel Smith, a Chicago native and graduate of the Chicago Academy for the Performing Arts. Scored for 13-piece ensemble, his new composition represents a 21st-century take on the Baroque concerto grosso. He explains:

“Rather than focusing on any one player’s technical and musical virtuosity (although there is plenty of it to be found here), the work focuses on the ensemble’s collective virtuosity paired with the remarkable impression that a group of musicians, playing aggressive yet precise material, leaves on one’s memory.”

Now a President’s Fellow at Princeton University, where he is studying for a PhD in composition, Smith has had works premiered and performed by such distinguished ensembles as Contemporaneous, earspace, Ensemble Linea, Mivos Quartet and Sō Percussion.

Scions of an Atlas shares the program with Seen by Grammy-nominated Haitian-American composer Nathalie Joachim, a familiar face on Chicago’s new music scene. Commissioned by the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, Seen draws inspiration from Whitfield Lovell’s Kin Series, a set of Conté drawings depicting unknown African Americans through symbolic found objects. Building on this exploration of cultural identity and memory, Seen comprises five intimate musical portraits for wind quintet.

The program concludes with a performance of Authority by Chicago native Ted Hearne, a Pulitzer Prize finalist whose output has been recognized as “staggering in its impact” (New Yorker). A substantial work for ten-piece ensemble, Authority is written as a series of ten overlapping movements to be played without stops. It premiered in 2019 under the leadership of Lewanski, who conducts the ensemble in this performance.

The latter two pieces bookend two of Montgomery’s own vocal works. A tribute to New York’s Lower East Side, the neighborhood where she was raised, Loisaida, My Love takes its text from an unpublished 1974 poem by Bittman “Bimbo” Rivas, who coined the name “Loisaida” to honor his home turf and its Puerto Rican community. Originally commissioned by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s for its 2017 Five Boroughs Festival, Montgomery’s setting of the poem is scored for voice and cello, and receives its Chicago premiere in the CSO MusicNOW performance by Whitney Morrison and CSO cellist Katinka Kleijn.

A work for voice and string quintet, Montgomery’s three Lunar Songs were commissioned by ASCAP for the 2019 Leonard Bernstein centennial and written in collaboration with poet J. Mae Barizo, whose work has appeared in the Boston Review and Los Angeles Review of Books. It was a performance showcasing both Loisaida, My Love and Lunar Songs that prompted New York Music Daily to marvel: “Whoever thinks that new chamber music doesn’t have any social relevance missed this show.” Soprano Morrison joins CSO musicians Qing Hou on violin, Lawrence Neuman on viola, Katinka Kleijn on cello and Robert Kassinger on bass for the CSO MusicNOW program, following a preview performance of Lunar Songs at Chicago’s 2021 Ear Taxi Festival.

About Mead Composer-in-Residence Jessie Montgomery

As Mead Composer-in-Residence, Jessie Montgomery serves as curator of CSO MusicNOW through the 2023-24 season. The 2021-22 season will include two concerts in the spring, on March 14 and May 23, 2022; both performances will be at the Harris Theater. She will also receive commissions to write three new orchestral works for the Chicago Symphony and a number of new chamber pieces for CSO MusicNOW.

Montgomery is already fast developing a presence in Chicago. CSO MusicNOW’s 2018-19 season featured both her string quartet Break Away and the world premiere of her string ensemble arrangement of Julius Eastman’s Gay Guerrilla, while CSOtv’s 2020-21 digital season saw virtual performances of her orchestral work Starburst, by the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and her chamber piece Strum, the string orchestral version of which also received a live CSO performance in June 2021. This season, Chicago audiences can look forward to performances of her 2017 orchestral work Coincident Dances, in October subscription concerts led by Manfred Honeck, and of her new CSO commission, scheduled to receive its world premiere under the baton of Riccardo Muti next spring.

Tickets and patron information

Tickets for CSO MusicNOW’s “Homecoming” concert on November 1 are $20. Patron Services representatives are available to assist with ticket purchases by web chat at, by calling 312-294-3000 (Tuesday–Friday, 10am–4pm), or by emailing [email protected].

The performance takes place at Symphony Center (220 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago) with safety measures in place. Proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test are required for entry, and masks are required inside Symphony Center. More patron information is available at

All artists and programs are subject to change.

The Mead Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is endowed through a generous gift from Cindy Sargent and the late 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 high-resolution photos and more.

CSO MusicNOW 1
Monday, November 1 at 7pm

Musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Michael Lewanski, conductor
Whitney Morrison, soprano
Other guest artists
Program curated by Jessie Montgomery, Mead Composer-in-Residence

ELIJAH DANIEL SMITH: Scions of an Atlas (world premiere of CSO MusicNOW commission)
TED HEARNE: Authority

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© 21C Media Group, October 2021


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