The Washington Post has named 23 composers and performers that are "changing the sound of classical music" in 2023, including UChicago graduate students Paul Novak and Kari Watson, both PhD candidates in the Department of Music. Also included on this list is Ben Melsky, harpist of the Grossman Ensemble, the resident ensemble housed within the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition.
The musicians included on this list are artists "whose music directly engages and eagerly embraces the realities of the world around them. Their music addresses climate change and the natural world; the push and pull of identity; the pain, ecstasy, dizzying speed and quickening evolution of everyday life; the here and the now."
Read excerpts from the Washington Post below to learn more about Novak, Watson, and Melsky and read the full story on the Washington Post's website.
The Chicago-based composer shows impressive range and a restless energy. He composes lithe, elastic vocal pieces (like “birds, the binding of,” composed with poet Ira Goga for Quince Ensemble), vibrant orchestral works (“as the light begins to drift”) and evocative études for string quartet (“almostdances,” written for Quatuor Diotima). I’m especially fond of “a string quartet is like a flock of birds,” a spellbinding set of meditations for string quartet in nine interlocking movements, written for the Kinetic Ensemble. Novak, 24, will premiere a piece composed for Chicago-based dance company DanceWorks Chicago with choreographer Marc Macaranas and poet Victoria Flanagan on March 24. On May 1, he’ll debut a piece for Sandbox Percussion and the vocal ensemble Ekmeles. And on May 20, he’ll premiere an art song commission as part of Lynx Project’s Amplify Series, which pairs composers with primarily nonspeaking autistic poets. paulnovakmusic.com.
The Chicago-based composer and sound artist works “between the mediums of contemporary concert music, electroacoustic music and interactive installation work.” This means that her music can veer from bracing, tensile strings (“Three Places for String Quartet” composed for Quatuor Diotima) to a row of wired clay pots (“Ekklesia (motherboard mass),” an interactive installation with Emily Harter). But Watson, 24, also makes music with a personal stamp and a poetic depth — “Sunburnt Monoliths” is a setting of prose written by Watson’s parents, both of whom immigrated to the United States from Australia almost 30 years ago. On May 1, members of Ekmeles vocal ensemble and Sandbox Percussion will premiere “[of desire,” setting fragments of Sappho translated by Anne Carson alongside poems by composer and poet Kevin Madison. Also this April, Watson will release a recording of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago performing “Diving into the Wreck,” based on the poems of Adrienne Rich. kariwatson.com.
Melsky is harpist and executive director of the Chicago-based Ensemble Dal Niente. His eponymous 2019 album is a restlessly inventive collection of new repertoire for harp by Wang Lu ('21), Tomás Gueglio, Igor Santos and others. A mix of effortless chops and concerted fearlessness energize his performance of such works as “Demente Cuerda” by Hilda Paredes and “Anima” by Igor Santos. And with the 26-member Dal Niente, he’s helped bring exciting new ensemble works to life. In 2023 this will include premieres by Michelle Lou, Tomás Gueglio, Nicole Mitchell, Louis Goldford and Wang Lu. This fall, Melsky, 37, and the ensemble will release recordings of Roscoe Mitchell and Nicole Mitchell, with guest saxophonist Ken Vandermark as well as a new collection of work by Andile Khumalo, followed by new recordings of work by Carola Bauckholt and George Lewis in spring 2024. benmelsky.com.