UChicago launches center for contemporary composition

The University of Chicago has established the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition, which will serve as a collaborative environment for the creation, performance and study of music, as well as the advancement of the careers of emerging and established composers, performers and scholars.

The center will be led by renowned composer Augusta Read Thomas, University Professor of Composition in Music, who sees it serving as an interdisciplinary hub for new music at the University. Housed within the Department of Music, the center will be home to Contempo and the Chicago Integrated Media Experimental Studio as well as visiting ensembles, distinguished guest composers, research, performances and student-led projects.

“The center is a visionary concept through which the best professional and student composers and performers will pool their talents to create and present the most innovative works that will catalyze the field of contemporary music in the world today,” said Anne Robertson, interim dean of the Division of the Humanities and the Claire Dux Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Music.

Thomas will serve as director of the center. The co-directors of Contempo will be Marta Ptaszyńska, the Helen B. & Frank L. Sulzberger Professor of Music, along with Anthony Cheung and Sam Pluta, both assistant professors of music. Pluta also will continue to direct the Chicago Integrated Media Experimental Studio, which is known as CHIME.


“The vision for the center is to synergize all our resources and have them work together to achieve the greatest impact on our students, on the city of Chicago and beyond,” Thomas said. “A center that focuses on contemporary composition is rare. This puts the University in a unique category in this field. Our leadership has been exemplary in supporting music of our time and the people making it.”


Thomas, a Grammy award-winning composer, joined the University in 2010. Hailed as a “true virtuoso composer” by The New Yorker, she is widely considered to be among the world’s most accomplished and original contemporary composers, winning acclaim for the dramatic, spontaneous quality of her work. Thomas holds a University Professorship, an appointment reserved for scholars with internationally recognized eminence in their fields and potential for high impact across the University.


Last fall, Thomas spearheaded Ear Taxi Festival, a multi-day music festival which featured more than 350 musicians and celebrated the classical contemporary music scene in Chicago. The center is the latest step in the efforts of Thomas and the University to foster new music.


One of the signature offerings of the center will be a postdoctoral fellowship in contemporary classical composition. Aaron Helgeson will serve as the inaugural fellow, beginning in fall of 2017. He is an internationally recognized composer who draws on diverse fields including philosophy and cognitive science to discover new ways of engaging with old musical traditions.


In addition to teaching an undergraduate course along with private composition lessons, Helgeson will have the chance to develop new works that will be performed by the resident ensembles of the center.


“It’s so rare these days for artists to be given time and resources to fully devote themselves to their creative work,” Helgeson said. “To be able to do that in one of the world’s most vibrant artistic communities is a blessing. The fellowship will allow me to push my work further, to take bigger risks and have more time to incubate projects with Chicago artists and share that process with the community.”


The Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition is supported by generous gifts from Kay Bucksbaum and Gay Stanek. More information can be found at the center’s new website.