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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

New music composers coming to Normal for Red Note Festival

Noted new music composers will come to Bloomington-Normal the week of Feb. 6 including MacArthur Genius Grant winner Bright Sheng to showcase their works in ISU's Red Note Music Festival.

A new wave of classical music has been growing in the arts community for several decades, and Illinois State University is showcasing some of the prominent names in new music today during its annual Red Note Music Festival.

The festival the week of Feb. 6 will feature guest composers from all over the country. Carl Schimmel, a professor of music theory at ISU and the director of the festival, said "new classical music" is a combination of classic composers and modern music.

“They (new classical composers) might use instruments that were not known to Mozart or Beethoven. There are a variety of ways that composers can borrow from music of the past or depart from it,” said Schimmel when asked about the development of this genre.

Schimmel said contemporary classical music is now more than the type of composing that began in the mid 1940s, introducing minimalist sounds and even early electronic music.

“In the last 30 to 40 years, there has been more interest in the incorporation of popular styles and exploration of rhythms. Maybe even akin to what you might hear when listening to a rock song or a pop song.”

Missy Mazzoli is a guest composer at the festival, who also leads a rock group. Other acts at the festival include a saxophone quartet, a woodwind quartet and two guest composers of classical Chinese music.

Schimmel said even in in the days of Beethoven and Mozart the music of the day reflected the society of the time and that remains true now.

"It just really depends on the piece and it depends on the composer. A few years ago one of our guests composers was William Bolcolm and he is well known for incorporating popular styles in his music. An example of a piece he wrote is called Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise. It's like a cabaret song and has a lot in common with like musical theater with elements of comedy. There are pieces of music that are vocal that comment on politics of the present day. Some composers out there really draw on kind of a harmonic palette that would be very familiar to I think most listeners of popular music," said Schimmel.

Bright Sheng is another composer in residence at this year's Red Note. Sheng has strong Chinese and Asian influences, said Schimmel.

“Any time you can learn something new is something that has been gained. With each piece there is going to be something different that maybe a listener hasn’t experienced before. And maybe that composer is expressing something musically that is original.”

Sheng is also a recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant.

"Sheng's music is noted for its lyrical and limpid melodies, a Shostakovich sense of breath in music phrases, a Bartokian sense of rhythmic propulsion, an dramatic and theatrical gestures," according to Sheng's website.

The Red Note Music Festival begins on Feb. 6 and continues for the entire week. Performances will take place at Kemp Recital Hall and the Center For The Performing Arts. Each concert will also be live-streamed. Specific events and locations can be found on their website.

Jack Graue is a student reporter at WGLT. He joined WGLT in summer 2021. He is also a student in the School of Communication at Illinois State University.