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Big Sounds

This spring, astonishing works of classical music premiere all over town. Meet the emerging composers behind three of the most daring pieces

Composer: Rolf Wallin
Home: Oslo, Norway
Work: the North American premiere of Strange News, performed by the Chicago Chamber Musicians at the Museum of Contemporary Art
Inspiration:
African child soldiers

Moved by online news reports about Africa’s child soldiers and efforts to rehabilitate them, the Norwegian composer, 51, and his collaborators traveled to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they visited a relief agency’s relocation camp. “The idea that you can reprogram people to be social again after all these things was a theme that intrigued me,” Wallin says, “and it combined well with the tradition of symphony melodrama.” In Strange News, video footage of soldiers and the narration by a Ugandan actor playing a child soldier (both at times explicitly violent) mix with the orchestra, whose brass fanfares, swirls of strings, and lilting coda variously suggest television news themes, flocks of birds, and dance rhythms. Wallin also uses the orchestra itself as a dramatic element: The musicians evacuate the stage as a recording of helicopters and gunfire plays.

GO: May 8th at 7:30 p.m. at the MCA, 220 E. Chicago Ave. 312-397-4010, mcachicago.org

 

Composer: Josh Schmidt
Home: Milwaukee/New York
Work: The world premiere of A Minister’s Wife at Writers’ Theatre
Inspiration: Bernard Shaw’s Candida

After winning acclaim and awards for his score for Adding Machine, which transferred in 2008 from Evanston’s Next Theater to New York, Schmidt, 33, turned to Shaw’s tale of a reverend and his wife whose relationship is disrupted by the arrival of a young poet. Just as the music in Adding Machine reflected its 1920s time period, for A Minister’s Wife Schmidt tried to draw on the music of Shaw’s late 19th-/ early 20th-century prime “the best way I could without sounding like a second-rate Brahms imitator. There’s a sensuality and an epic sweep to the music,“ he says. Schmidt grew up in Wisconsin and attended college in Milwaukee, and since 2001 has been increasingly in demand by Chicago theatres as a sound designer and composer of incidental music: His work also can be heard in Steppenwolf Theatre’s current production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

GO: May 19th-July 19th at Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe. 847-242-6000, www.writerstheatre.org

 

Composer: Michael Torke
Home: New York/Las Vegas
Work: Plans, a world premiere by the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus
Inspiration: Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago

Torke based the five movements of his composition on five phrases in a statement by Daniel Burnham that included his famous dictum “Make no little plans.” Torke scaled the work accordingly: “I’ve got a full orchestra, a big chorus, and Millennium Park, which can accommodate 10,000 people. I’m going to make a big sweeping statement,” he declares. Fittingly, Torke, 47, first met the Grant Park Festival’s artistic director, James W. Palermo, in 2004 while attending a rehearsal in Millennium Park. Two years later, he received the commission and found a kindred spirit in his subject. “For a long period, because of modernism, Burnham was not taken as seriously as he should have been. My own music is about restoring a lot of the features you’d find in music before modernism. What he stood for resonated with me.”

GO: June 19th at 6:30 and June 20th at 7:30 p.m. at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. grantparkmusicfestival.com

 

Photography: (Wallin) Fotofil/Eli Berge; (Torke) Robin Holland

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