ACM to present program of wide-ranging new music Friday night

Sun Jun 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm

By Wynne Delacoma

Seth Boustead’s Access Contemporary Music will present a program of new music drawn from its Weekly Readings Friday night at Ganz Hall.

Eight years ago, when composer and pianist Seth Boustead asked a few musician friends to read through new pieces of music with him every week, he was simply trying to fill a gap.

“I was inspired by Victory Gardens Theater company, which was doing readings for playwrights,” said Boustead. “The artistic director said, ‘A playwright can’t know if a play’s any good if he doesn’t hear it spoken aloud.’ And that hit me on the head. That’s exactly right for composers too. And there’s another element for us, because we’re often writing for instruments we don’t play.”

Nearly a decade and some 200 new compositions later, Boustead and his colleagues will celebrate what has become Access Contemporary Music’s signature Weekly Readings Series. At 7:30 p.m. June 22 in Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall, ACM will present “The Best of Weekly Readings,” a concert of chamber pieces by Aaron Alon, Stephen Cohn, Amy Wurtz, David Heuser and Benedikt Brydern.

The five composers’ varied backgrounds are typical of the Weekly Readings series. Alon teaches at Lone Star College’s CyFair campus in Texas, and Cohn, who writes for film and television as well as the concert hall, has won an Emmy. Wurtz is a Chicago-based composer whose debut CD, featuring her first and second string quartets, has just been released. Heuser is associate dean at the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, N.Y., and Brydern is a German native now based in the U.S.

Boustead and his colleagues typically spend two hours on a session, reading through and recording each work. They have never lacked for new material.

“We did a call for scores through the American Music Center,” said Boustead, recalling the series’ first days, “and the response was unbelievable. We got over 100 scores. A lot of these people were professors of music, and it just hit me. There was a huge need for this. There are so many composers out there who are writing music and they’re not getting to hear it.”

The five works scheduled for June 22 include some that ACM’s players have been itching to get back to. Performers will be violinist Jeff Yang, cellist Alyson Berger, clarinetist Daniel Won, percussionists Renee Keller and David Eisenreich. Wurtz will be pianist for the concert.

“All these years that we’ve been doing this,” said Boustead, “there have been a few pieces that really stuck out in our minds. David Heuser’s Catching Updrafts is such a virtuosic piece; we just never really felt our reading did it justice. Anticipation of Light [by Cohn], everybody really liked. Amy’s piece [Ekhlas (Pure)] we got a year ago, and it was hard to get it together because of the percussion requirements. I like that it’s a little more rhythmically dynamic than other stuff on the program.

“And Spell [by Alon] had been a disaster,” Boustead recalled. “We read it years ago and performed it at the Green Mill, and my recording device malfunctioned that day. I always felt bad about that because it’s such a great piece.”

Like ACM’s Weekly Readings, Wurtz’s debut CD is an innovative solution to a need. The young, gifted players of the Chicago Q Ensemble were impressed with Wurtz’s moody, atmospheric string quartets, but neither Wurtz nor the players had the money to record them.

So they turned to Kickstarter, the Web-based funding source for creative projects. Thanks to 60 Kickstarter donors, they raised slightly more than their $3,000 goal and recorded the CD last November at Experimental Sound Studios in Andersonville.

“I really like [the Kickstarter] philosophy,” said Wurtz. “They say, ‘Yes, there are charities out there, but also, artists deserve some support too.’ I think that’s good.”

Concert is 7:30 p.m. Friday at Ganz Hall, 430 S. Michigan Ave. Concert tickets are $20, $12 if purchased online at

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