Soon after Spektral cracked its first six-pack, reading through quartets and wondering if we wanted to gallop off chasing windmills, we decided that taking this particular brand of music into unexpected locales was a must. We would head to a bar after our shows. Our audience heads to a bar after shows. Why not save us all a bit of shoe leather? And so the Sampler Pack tradition was born. We'd start each season with a single-movement and short piece menu at one of our favorite haunts, The Empty Bottle.
Prior to our third time packing the Bottle mid-week, I was approached by the venue's owner to inquire whether or not I'd like to curate a new-music series there. Chicago has no shortage of new-music ensembles, and most are looking to add dates to their schedules, so of course I replied with an Omar Little-ian: "InDEED!" And now Chicago may add The (Un)familiar Music Series to its roster, with yours truly selecting the talent.
The second installment of (Un)familiar arrived on Oct 24th, with Fischoff Chamber Music Competition gold-medal-winners The City of Tomorrow.
Featuring Chicago's own Andrew Nogal on oboe, this new-music-evangelizing woodwind quintet had the dubious distinction of being an early-adopter of a brand-spanking-new endeavor, so the crowd was unsurprisingly diminutive. Gainesville, FL rockers Levek, who held the late slot that night, made up the front row of the audience, and were the most vocal about their post-show love of Berio, Salonen and Lang.
Esa-Pekka Salonen: "Memoria"
Taking a cue from Spektral's approach to playing to new faces at the Bottle, COT interjected anecdotes from its tour, the best of which revolved around David Lang's minimalist quintet, "Breathless." A woman had approached the band after a recent show to express her admiration of the music-making, but soon went long in the face and admonished them never, ever to play the Lang in public again. The piece can be confrontational for the audience in its loquacious unison and octave repetitions, and the tale drew laughs from the crowd, but the story reminded me of why it is so important for us new-music junkies to get these scores out of the concert hall on occasion. Even a negative response is a response, and chances are quite good that a large quotient of the uninitiated in a bar setting won't hear this music unless we drag Manhassets in and perform like our lives depend on it. Which they do.
"David Lang: "Breathless"
City of Tomorrow played magnificently on their (Un)familiar debut, and more than a few attendees were introduced to the awesomesauce of Luciano Berio with the band's delivery of "Ricorrenze."
Andrew Nogal (oboe) and Elise Blatchford (flute)
There are four more (Un)familiar shows coming up this year, including our next offering with Chicago Q Ensemble on Feb. 13th. Do yourself a favor. Pony up some small bills, get your hand stamped, grab a beer at the bar and find out just what Spektral has gotten stirred up in our fair city.