Contempo is the premiere performance vehicle for graduate student composers in the Department of Music. Under the artistic direction of faculty composer Marta Ptaszynska, the group normally plays a five-concert series staged in a variety of prominent Chicago venues. Two of the group’s annual concerts are traditionally devoted entirely to providing a public forum for the performance of music by graduate students in the Music Department under the rubric of “Tomorrow’s Music Today.” The larger of these concerts takes place downtown and often consists mainly of dissertation compositions.
Students benefit greatly from performances of the highest possible level, played by the Grammy Award-winning resident ensembles Pacifica Quartet and eighth blackbird together with guest artists (as needed) and conducted by new music expert Cliff Colnot. Performances by Contempo allow students to have their music heard by highly discerning listeners in full houses and to accrue the best possible recordings of their work for use in their dossiers for sharing and promoting their work as they apply to summer festivals, academic positions, and other professional opportunities.
Among downtown venues in which Contempo has played in recent years are the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Harris Theater, the Claudia Cassidy Theater at the Chicago Cultural Center, and Ganz Hall in the Auditorium Building at Roosevelt University. Among those in Hyde Park are Fulton Recital Hall, Court Theatre, and Mandel Hall. To these Contempo added the 474-seat theater in new Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts in the spring of 2012.
Through the combination of extraordinary performances and the high level of composerly talent of our graduate students, Tomorrow’s Music Today concerts have become highly anticipated events that bring the Contempo season to an exciting climax each May.
In addition to having their music programmed bi-annually on Tomorrow’s Music Today concerts, graduate student compositions are sometimes programmed on other concerts of the Contempo season. In all these ways the ensemble, which has given over eighty world premiers by such composers as Roger Sessions, John Harbison, Ralph Shapey, George Perle, Shulamit Ran, Marta Ptaszynska, and John Eaton, functions as one of the most important components of the graduate Program in Composition. Its central curricular function for Chicago’s Music Department is also one of the top reasons students come to Chicago.
To supplement the important professional performance opportunities provided by Contempo, the University’s New Music Ensemble likewise presents an impressive array of new and recent works by graduate student composers. The acclaimed Spektral Quartet, newly appointed Ensemble-in-Residence at the University of Chicago, forms the core of the NME. The group is joined by other members of the performance faculty and area professionals for the NME’s three to four concerts per season, each of which showcases four to six brand new solo, chamber, or small ensemble works by graduate student composers. As with Contempo, grad student composers receive professional level recordings of their compositions for their personal use.