Ear Taxi Festival Day 1: Chicago’s Lively, Contemporary Sounds Come to Harris Theater


Nearly 400 enthusiastic admirers enjoyed day one of the Ear Taxi Festival (ETF) showcasing Chicago’s rich contemporary classical music scene. Wednesday’s excellent concerts were the first of six days devoted to the leading edge of new music.

High points yesterday, and there were many, included the world Premiere of Patricia Barber’s new song cycle Angels, Birds and I. These five slow-paced pieces were sung from the piano by the composer, accompanied by string bassist Patrick Mulcahy. They offered a dreamy, contemplative vision of conversations between heavenly creatures, listeners, and Barber herself.

Another high point was provided by the Fulcrum Point New Music Project, conducted by Stephen Burns, which performed the Midwest premiere of Alex Mincek’s Pendulum II: Yap, Yaw, Yawp. Starting with rhythmic bursts of fast-paced notes, this work was inspired by the movements of a swinging pendulum. The overall effect was reminiscent of the ebbs and flows of urban street sounds, an organized, well-timed soundscape of screeching tires, honking horns, and onrushing traffic.

Later in the evening, the huge Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Allen Tinkham, gave the world premiere of Eric Malmquist’s Prairie Music in a rousing performance. A careful balance of tonal melodies and atonal sounds, Prairie Music reflected autumn in the Midwest. Starting in quiet, contemplative cornfields, the work built to the harsh realities of Chicago’s urban jungle.

The one disappointment was the panel discussion that included several composers and one of the festival’s major donors. It is always difficult to make these sessions interesting, especially since they inevitably turn to laments that the audience of classical music has become so small. While this is certainly worthy of lengthy discourse, we were sitting at an event that was drawing a respectable turnout to hear contemporary classical music on a Wednesday. I hope that future conversations at the ETF focus on ways we can build off this momentum. What can be done to grow the audience for contemporary classical art music in Chicago after the festival’s final performance on Monday?

After a carillon concert earlier today at the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago, the Ear Taxi Festival moves back to the Harris Theater at 6:30 pm tonight. The full schedule can be found at Third Coast Review’s Events Page. The Festival runs through Monday, October 10. More information can be found at

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