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RED NOTE New Music Festival to feature award-winning composers

Every year during the spring semester at Illinois State University, the composition department hosts a new music festival. With humble beginnings, this festival has developed international acclaim and recognition within the last 10 years.

RED NOTE is a music festival at Illinois State that devotes performances to new music composers. RED NOTE has gained international attraction, having received over 500 submissions for the composition competitions that are attached to the festival. These submissions ranged from people in the State of Illinois, to the more than 27 countries around the world from where applications were accepted. Many of the pieces performed by the renowned musicians will be world premieres.

The concert begins at 8 p.m., March 26, at Illinois State University’s Center for the Performing Arts concert hall, with the Illinois State Madrigal Singers, Concert Choir, and Wind Symphony kicking off the festival with plenty of excellent new music. This concert  is free to the public and is the first of four evenings of concerts.

Monday, March 26, 8 p.m. in the Center for the Performing Arts
Tuesday, March 27, 7:30 p.m. in Kemp Recital Hall
Wednesday, March 28, 7:30 p.m. in Kemp Recital Hall
Thursday, March 29, 7:30 p.m. in Kemp Recital Hall

See the full festival program.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these concerts is the composers themselves. Many of the composers will be on campus for the festival. In addition to the evening concerts Monday–Thursday, these composers around the world will be attending workshops, giving lessons, presenting works, and enjoying the company of the tight-knit new music community. There are also guest musicians who are around teaching lessons as well as performing this highly technical and difficult music.

Among these guests are Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award winner William Bolcom, who spent much of his life as a faculty member at the University of Michigan. Read more about Bolcom’s career. Gabriela Lena Frank is another featured composer for the evening concerts, having also received the honor of winning a Grammy as well as being nominated for others as both a pianist and a composer. The featured ensemble is Dal Niente which performs music written for large ensemble, chamber music, and solo work.

“All music makers are welcome to participate in RED NOTE, though historically we have had primarily acoustic composers, with a few notable exceptions in electronic and mixed media,” said Roy Magnuson, Ph.D., and a member of the Composition and Theory faculty. “Students will be able to hear new art that challenges their worldview and aesthetics. This is critical to the process of creation.”

According to Cristian Larios, a composition student and performer, “RED NOTE is an opportunity to build connections and explore new ways of approaching music. RED NOTE is important because it gives students a different perspective. In music schools, we are very familiar with notable western composers and while their contributions are important, I think we need to be reminded that there are living artists who need support too.”

Having studied with Magnuson and the other composition faculty during his time at Illinois State, Larios and many of the composers on campus share similar attitudes towards the new music. It is important to every composer, including the ones at Illinois State University, to be networking with people who will one day (and some currently already are) be written into history. Through the intellectual challenges experienced while going to concerts and reading program notes, one can really begin improving the musical understandings of new music and exercise the creative muscles in their brains composers are desperately trying to do every day.

“We are in no position to tell people to ‘like’ the music, but it is important that a venue exists for students and community members to hear the new, interesting, challenging sounds that are being created in our 21st century society,” Magnuson said. “The concerts provide an excellent compliment to the excellent, largely traditional concert performances happening on campus throughout the year.”

When asked about his experience performing the music, Larios said, “it’s really engaging to be performing music by people who are living. If we have questions, most composers are only a short email away. This really allows for a collaborative experience… New music challenges us and our way of thinking.” He further elaborated on the importance of RED NOTE, “For me, supporting new music means lifting up new artists which is important because it’s my livelihood. As a whole, I think musicians can use our talents to do more than just make sound. Music can have a bigger role in our society in general and RED NOTE can give us that opportunity.”

Explore the RED NOTE website.