Matana Roberts Appointed as 2021-22 Distinguished Guest Composer at the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition

Matana Roberts headshot

The University of Chicago’s Center for Contemporary Composition (CCCC) has invited Chicago-born artist Matana Roberts to serve as this year’s Distinguished Guest Composer. As part of the residency, the CCCC has commissioned an original musical composition that will become a new 45-minute chapter in Roberts’s COIN COIN series project. In addition, CCCC is supporting the recording of the commissioned work. Roberts will participate in composition activities on campus and take the CCCC’s programming outside of the concert hall with a variety of university and community activities. 

Matana Roberts is one of the leading lights of contemporary experimental music, combining their widely recognized gifts as an alto saxophone player and improviser with an intensely engaged re-definition of Jazz traditions. Roberts has been called "a major talent" (The Wire) and "the spokeswoman for a new, politically conscious and refractory Jazz scene" (Jazzthetik). A self-taught mixed media composer, Roberts earned two degrees in performance from a smattering of American institutions but received their primary training from free arts programs in the American Public School System. 

Composer and Director of the CCCC, Augusta Read Thomas, said, “I am thrilled and excited to welcome Roberts who will be an inspiring colleague and a valuable mentor in the Department of Music and across the university! Authentic, genuine, creative, broad-minded, and intellectual, Roberts has deep artistic and political commitments allied to a captivating, energizing spirit. We are honored to be commissioning and supporting the recording of a new chapter of COIN COIN, Robert’s monumental, multi-part, ambitious work.” 

Graphic score by Matana Roberts

Roberts's COIN COIN project is a multi-chapter work that combines conceptual scoring (graphic notation, 'chance' strategies), storytelling and historical narrative, performative theatre (personae, costume, multi-media), and a deeply considered channeling of personal ancestry and the 'universal' experience of Africans in America. The Distinguished Guest Composer residency will allow for the recording of the new COIN COIN project commissioned by the CCCC.  

“I am very much looking forward to being the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition’s Distinguished Guest Composer,” said Roberts. “It is a great honor to be in an environment where the state of creative inquiry is high, and where I feel my experimentalist ideas will be enthusiastically fostered and welcomed.” 

Throughout the residency, Roberts will fully immerse themself in the CCCC’s activities — presenting at composition seminars and classes, teaching private lessons, and offering masterclasses and workshops. They will help to expand the CCCC’s impact outside of the concert halls in a variety of activities that include workshops for public school students, collaborative presentations with University partners and community organizations, and more.  

For more information about the Distinguished Guest Composer residency and upcoming events featuring Matana Roberts, visit