Marcos Balter, composer
With the release of Chicago magazine’s annual Power List, we in the culture department put together our own rosters of cultural influencers on the rise. This week, watch for our Chicago culture power lists for music, art, theatre, and more. Will these movers and shakers blow up or flame out? We’re watching to find out.
In the classical music world, the word “power” doesn’t come up much, seeing as it’s not tripping off violinists’ tongues in conjunction with “amplifier,” “chord,” or “ballad.” But the charisma, perseverance, and musicianship it takes to climb an artistic mountain qualify as real power. Here’s who in Chicago has an eye trained on that summit now.
Marcos Balter With commissions under his belt from Meet the Composer, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Art Institute, Balter produces new music—all gemstone-polished—at a rate other composers marvel at. On Wednesday he premiered Meltdown Upshot, a collaborative piece with the local new-music ensemble Dal Niente and the indie rock band Deerhoof at New York’s Ecstatic Music Festival, where trailblazers from art, music, and indie rock mash up their styles. Balter’s approachability, along with his apparent talent for producing an unlimited amount of new music, means the commissions should only increase from here.
Mei-Ann Chen Although Chen took over from Mr. Chicago Sinfonietta himself, Paul Freeman, her continued adventurous programming (a contemporary Israeli percussion showcase with an exclamation point in the title on the same program with Bach and Brahms) and energetic podium presence shows she doesn’t live in his shadow. She made her debut at the CSO in May while still in the conductor’s equivalent of short pants (she’s 39) and won the League of American Orchestras’ Helen M. Thompson Award—previously won by Alan Gilbert of the New York Philharmonic—as well. These two major accomplishments point toward big things to come.
George Lepauw The mild-mannered pianist is also the mastermind behind the Beethoven Festival, which arrived fully formed and surprisingly large in 2011 and then grew still larger, to nine days and 60 performances, in 2012, when the opener brought the terrific James Ehnes to play Beethoven’s violin concerto with a pickup orchestra in a somewhat shabby hall to transporting effect. Early reports suggest 2013’s festival will be even bigger.
Spektral Quartet The first name on the lips of anyone ticking off the new wave of new-music youngsters in Chicago, the string quartet and promiscuous collaborators seem to be able to play anything and work with anyone, including Mozart alongside world premieres at the Empty Bottle and high-art tango with an accordionist. Their Theatre of War program this past spring, an assemblage of documentary film, live theatre, monologues, with a centerpiece of George Crumb’s similarly kitchen-sinky string quartet Black Angels, ranked as one of the top new-music events of last season.
Craig Trompeter At a time when baroque music seems to be splitting tectonically from mainland classical music like California a million years hence, the cellist Trompeter spearheaded Haymarket Opera Company, a baroque-opera troupe that packs the Mayne Stage with happy, bibulous fans of the lute and da capo aria. Full houses again for this past weekend’s Dido and Aeneas are pushing Trompeter toward bigger spaces and more performances.
Graham Meyer is Chicago magazine’s contributing classical music critic.
Photograph: Courtesy of Marcos Balter