EXCLUSIVE: Seth Boustead on the Thirsty Ear Festival’s Eclectic Lineup: Composer/Pianist Graham Reynolds, Gaudete Brass Quintet and More

By Louise Burton on Jun 28, 2014 12:13 PM EDT

The third annual Thirsty Ear Festival in Chicago promises adventurous new music played by Austin-based composer and pianist Graham Reynolds, new works for brass by the Gaudete Brass Quintet, and a set from the Fonema Consort enlivened by voice and percussion.

Variety is the byword of this festival, which will be held at City Winery in Chicago on July 12.

The festival is, in essence, a two-hour live broadcast of the radio show Relevant Tones, starting at 5:00 p.m. on July 12. Doors will open to the public at 4:00 p.m. 

Composer Seth Boustead is the host of Relevant Tones, an exploration of contemporary music, broadcast on 98.7 WFMT in Chicago and syndicated internationally.

I recently talked with Boustead about the unusual mix of artists and musical styles on the festival's 2014 lineup.

When it comes to a headliner for the festival, Boustead said "We are looking for people who are crossing genres, doing really interesting things with electronics, or with composers in different countries, things like that."

When Boustead first met Graham Reynolds, he discovered that Reynolds had written the music to A Scanner Darkly, a Richard Linklater film that Boustead particularly admired. "He had a new CD out called The Difference Engine. I listened to it and I thought, wow, this would be perfect for Thirsty Ear," Boustead said.

"I've been describing him as Lou Reed meets Shostakovich meets Duke Ellington," Boustead continued. "He has a great CD called Duke, that are his arrangements of Duke Ellington songs, and they're brilliant. He's written several pieces directly inspired by Shostakovich--you don't have to be a music historian to get the references."

Reynolds is currently in residence at the Soho Theater in London. For the Thirsty Ear Festival, he will premiere as-yet-unrecorded original compositions for piano and string quartet. The music he plays will be a surprise, even to Boustead.

"I trust Graham. He's this weird mix of really laid back and kind of understated, and then when he plays, he has this intense energy. But when he talks, he's really laconic... you can be fooled into thinking that he's not a dynamic performer, or that he's going to play something really low energy. But then he's just so energetic."

I recently spoke with a member of the Gaudete Brass Quintet, hornist Julia Filson. The quintet will perform recent works that they commissioned at Thirsty Ear.

Filson told me that one of the reasons the quintet was formed was to commission new works. "Since the repertoire [for brass quintet] is fairly limited, we have been commissioning works as voraciously as possible," she said.

Their Thirsty Ear set will include Still by David Sampson, their second commissioned work from this composer; and a movement from Conrad Winslow's Records of a Lost Tribe, as well as several other works yet to be determined.

The quintet has commissioned many works in the 10 years they have played together. Filson described the unique challenges that composers face when writing for brass quintet: "With a brass ensemble, it's very challenging to create the same colors that an ensemble with string players and winds and percussion would be able to create. It's interesting to see what they come up with. Because a lot of it ends up--in brass quintet--being contemporary classical music, and very accessible."

"People tend to think 'New music brass quintet? Oh no,'" she said, laughing. "But the music--It'll challenge your ears, but it also won't burn them off."

Chicago's Fonema Consort is dedicated to expanding the repertoire of new works for voice and instruments and to exploring their "fascination with the exploration of vocal possibilities in music, including the traditional presentation of a text, the breaking down of words into phonemes, or the total absence of words and the ramifications thereof."

"I don't know what repertoire they're doing," Boustead said. "Which is one of the great things, in my opinion, about Thirsty Ear: We do not dictate any repertoire. We find people who we think are doing interesting things... We just said, 'Fonema, we think you are doing interesting things. What would you do with a 33 minute set?' We'll find out."

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TagsThirsty Ear Festival, Seth Boustead, City Winery, Graham Reynolds, Gaudete Brass Quintet, Fonema Consort, Relevant Tones, WFMT

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