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The Ear Taxi Festival Will Celebrate Chicago New Music—17 Months from Now

The inclusive four-day event’s organizers are seriously planning ahead.

Composer and festival organizer Augusta Read Thomas   Photo: Bernard Rands

A tree ascended there.
O pure transcendence!
O Orpheus sings! O tall taxi in the ear!

–Rainer Maria Rilke (slightly altered)

At a reception at the Harris Theater last Wednesday night, the Ear Taxi Festival made its barbaric yawp, announcing four days of new music from and for Chicago, from October 6 to 9, 2016. And just as Rilke mystified and intrigued poetry readers with his opening image (which is actually a tree in the ear, not a taxi), festival co-curator Augusta Read Thomas expanded on the vision in the festival’s name.

“If you imagine the head of a composer, and taxicabs are flying out of their ears,” she said, introducing a schedule with 20 Chicago–based ensembles of more than 300 musicians, performing the work of 80 Chicago–based composers, including at least 33 world premieres. Taxi drivers, she said, often are excellent musicians. The ear-taxi image sees vehicles of music carrying new sounds and ideas from the mind of composer to listeners. (Relatedly, the festival has scheduled a taxi-driver-musician showcase at the Chicago Cultural Center.)

“It’s a joyride. It’s a trip,” said Stephen Burns, Thomas’s co-curator. In the past 15 years in Chicago, the new-music scene has exploded, he said, with a profusion of new groups that Thomas called “effervescent.” Virtually all of that profusion is scheduled to perform at the festival, including Ensemble Dal Niente, Access Contemporary Music, Chicago Composers Orchestra, Fonema Consort, Spektral Quartet, Third Coast Percussion, and Fulcrum Point New Music Project.

The last three groups in that list all performed at the announcement event, for an audience gills-filled with Chicago’s new-music principals, suggesting everyone with a tie had been invited. The radical inclusivity of the guest list mirrors the philosophy of the festival—Thomas said that every application they received was accepted, at least in part, and that they built the schedule with no overlaps, so that new-music gluttons could hear everything.

And they’ve put that schedule in place, down to the minute, almost a year and a half in advance. Fittingly, Ear Taxi’s planners are driving this festival aggressively.

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