Contempo to celebrate timeless music of Ralph Shapey on March 1

Nora Semel
Director of External Relations for UChicago Arts and the Logan CenterUniversity Communications, UChicago Arts

The University of Chicago’s new music group, Contempo, will celebrate its founder, the late Ralph Shapey (1921-2002), in a tribute concert at 7:30 pm. on Friday, March 1. Shapey, who was a renowned composer and conductor, founded the Contemporary Chamber Players (now Contempo) 48 years ago at UChicago.

Contempo: Tribute to Ralph Shapey is curated by Shulamit Ran, the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor of Music, Contempo’s artistic director and a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, studied with Shapey.

Ran and violinist Miranda Cuckson, will discuss Shapey’s work at 6:30 p.m. Andrew Patner, WFMT Critic-at-Large, will moderate the discussion. The concert will take place in the Performance Hall at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.

Shapey joined the UChicago music faculty in 1964, becoming a vital force in the musical life of not only Chicago, but also the nation. He taught composition and conducting, and guest conducted throughout America and Europe. In the fall of 1964, Shapey founded the Contemporary Chamber Players Players—renamed Contempo in 2004—and continued to direct the ensemble until his retirement in 1993. 

Featured performers for the tribute concert are members of the New York-based new music ensemble nunc, some of Ralph Shapey’s most ardent and brilliant advocates, and led by violinist Cuckson. As Shapey once did, Cuskson creates her own way of leading a new generation of musicians. A passionate champion of contemporary works, she is an enthusiastic and sought-after advocate in the area of new-music performance and has recorded six much-lauded solo albums, including two recordings of Shapey’s violin music.

“Our tribute to Shapey, featuring his searing and visionary music in performance by some of his most passionate and committed champions, exemplifies what he as founder set out to accomplish with the Contemporary Chamber Players, and what defines Contempo as a new music collective: drawing on the finest across generations and artistic forces to bring to our audiences the music as the composer imagined it,” said Ran.

Cuckson said, “Shapey was particularly inspired by Beethoven, and I love the gritty strength, abundance of energy, and the radiant joy of both Shapey and Beethoven. Shapey’s late music, like other great artists’ late work, conveys alternately a sense of spiritual ecstasy, spacious calm, noble striving and released joy.”

“I think there should always be a treasured place for those like Shapey who engaged with the collective learning and achievements of our musical forbears and sought to continue these values into the present in their work. As a violinist, I enjoy playing Shapey's music because he was a violinist, and he wrote both very naturally and very challengingly for the instrument. I also love his slow movements, which are expansive like a vast landscape, and his impish, goofy humor, and the mighty ruggedness of some of his music,” Cuckson added.