ACM to premiere new music in historic Loop venues this Saturday

Tue Sep 14, 2010 at 5:13 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Randall West’s “The Tower Aqua” will be performed at Jeanne Gang’s eponymous structure on Saturday.

Most concert venues are traditional standard-issue spaces. Symphony orchestras perform in a large grand hall, chamber concerts and recitals take place in a church or a smaller, not-so-grand hall.

Well, brace yourself for Songs About Buildings and Moods. Saturday’s moveable musical feast, presented by Accessible Contemporary Music and the Chicago Architecture Foundation, will present five world premieres in one day performed in some of Chicago’s most historic and architecturally significant Loop buildings. Call it part architectural tour, part chamber concert and part fall exercise since it will encompass a bracing two hours sprinting between the downtown venues.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” said composer Seth Boustead, executive director of the feisty new-music ensemble. “Chicago has such a great architectural legacy and we wanted to incorporate that into some new pieces.”

Along with ACM colleague Dave Hampton, a composer and architect, Boustead set about with a master list of venues they wanted to employ as performance spaces for this event. To their surprise, they were able to book most of them.

But not all.  The majestic Rookery, built by and housing the offices of Daniel Burnham and John Root, was unavailable due to its popularity for weekend wedding rentals. So too, they couldn’t swing the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute due to logistical and security issues.

Still, ACM was able to nab five architectural jewels, with the Cultural Center as the starting point. The first tour will leave at 10:00 a.m., and subsequent groups every 20 minutes thereafter.

The musical route will move southwest to the Marquette Building at Dearborn and Adams, then over to the Monadnock, before heading north to the Aon Building and finishing up at Chicago’s newest skyline wonder, Aqua. All tours will follow the same route and maps will be available, so if anyone wants to take a breather or get a bite, they can catch up with a later tour.

Each building will offer music from different composers and varied styles, though none of the music is Mahlerian in length. Hampton and Boustead’s Monadnock Building music is performed continuously and people can listen for the eight minutes allowed by the tour or stay to hear more and then catch up with a later group. Other works are by Jason Raynovich, Amos Gillespie, Randall West and Kyle Vegter. Each tour will take between an hour and a half to two hours or more depending on whether people take breaks or not.

Seth Boustead

Boustead said that he decided during rehearsals not to fight the ambient sounds of the Monadnock but to put them to use in the composition.

“I’ve incorporated the noises,” said the 38-year-old composer of the trio for violin, cello and horn, written with Hampton. “There was the sound of the old elevator, a security guard’s radio . . . I told the musicians if it gets too noisy, start playing faster and more rhythmic music.”

Like all the works, Boustead’s piece is named after the building. (Why not “Eine kleine Monadnock Music”?) His also has a Cage-ian element with historic photos of the building converted to graphic notations to be inserted into the scores.

Boustead believes Saturday’s offbeat event reflects ACM’s mission to reach as many people as possible with new music.

“’Accessible’ in architecture refers to an inviting, open space and that fits in with our mission of accessibility,” said Boustead. “A lot of people in Chicago are architectural enthusiasts and this will expose a lot of people to Accessible Contemporary Music and some great new music.”

The tours cost $20. All tours start at the Cultural Center, beginning 10 a.m. Saturday and then leaving every 20 minutes. At each building the group will be met by a docent who will speak for five minutes about the building. The composer will then talk briefly about how the building inspired his composition, and the music will be performed.

For information and to purchase tickets, go to or call 773-334-3650.

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