Seth Boustead

In his quest to grow theaudience for contemporary classical music, Seth Boustead has made at least one unabashed fan. "I really admire what he’s trying to do," says Cayenne Harris, of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. "Once you leave the academic arena, it’s difficult, if not impossible, for composers to get their work performed. Seth’s creating something unique."

Though Harris could easily be lauding Boustead’s efforts as a composer—only 36, he’s already written 25 scores—she’s actually referring to Accessible Contemporary Music (ACM), the group he cofounded in 2003 on $1,500. Today, ACM promotes the music of living classical composers through weekly "readings," imaginative collaborations, and concerts at unconventional venues. This past March, ACM’s annual Sounds of Silent Film program—which pairs new short films with classical music from Chicago composers—sold out the Chopin Theater. As one of Boustead’s friends put it, "These people have thirsty ears."

But ACM’s reach extends far beyond Chicago. Since 2005, the ensemble’s Composer Alive! program allows distant composers to hear their music—via the Internet—as it is recorded. The 2006 collaboration, with Xiaogang Ye, one of China’s leading classical composers, led to several concerts at the Chicago Cultural Center. This year ACM is working with the French composer Stephane Delplace; their composition will be performed in concert at the Cultural Center on October 5th. "I see contemporary music as part of a great, unbroken tradition spanning centuries," says Boustead, who dreams of a time "when classical music will again look forward instead of backward." He’s doing just that: With the Chicago composer Amos Gillespie, he has scored 12 vignettes from the book 1,001 Afternoons in Chicago, by the famed newsman Ben Hecht. The music won’t just be performed by a classical ensemble; it will be paired with a dance concert by The Moving Architects, led by Erin Carlisle Norton. The performances are June 14th in the Fine Arts Building and June 18th at Evanston’s Music Institute.

Photograph: Joe Wigdahl