Speak For Yourself! A Hyper-History of American Composer-Led New Music Ensembles

Founded 10 years ago in the Windy City, the Chicago Composers Consortium’s initial mission was unambiguous: to foster the local composers community get their works out to the general public. Much in the spirit of the Copland-Sessions Concerts, the composers were likely to be found on stage themselves, either performing or conducting.

“I can’t say we had any specific role models in mind,” says John H. Wallace, who is completing his two-year term as president and is still in charge of marketing this season. “The only thing is that we are composer-organized rather than being performer-organized.”

But, just as the Copland-Sessions Concerts were conceived to give voice to American composers, the Consortium’s original mandate was to promote Chicago-based composers. Over the years, though, the restrictions have loosened a bit as non-Chicago resident composers such as Andrew Imbrie, John Eaton, Donald Erb, Tera de Marez Oyens, Bernard Rands and David Zicarelli have been honored with performances. The Consortium has even shared the spotlight in rare cases with certain performing groups, such as eighth blackbird.

“There’s a dearth of small concert spaces in Chicago,” says Wallace, citing just one of the problems. “You can go the gallery route, where you gain urban allure, but you lose in professional presentation.” This spring they held their first concert at the 200-seat Chernin Center for the Arts, and they are currently discussing releasing their first recording this year.

Being a self-governed organization, the CCC’s members meet every year in late summer or early fall to plan their three-concert season. Besides Wallace, the current membership includes Kathleen Ginther, Sebastian Hurdts, Pieter Snapper, Elizabeth Start, Kurt Westerberg, and Timothy Edwards, who takes the reins as president of the organization this season. The president is responsible for finding venues and working out the logistics but only has a say in programming as a last resort.

“There is no ideology in the programming,” Wallace affirms. “Being president is more like being traffic cop, corralling everyone into place.”


Excerpt from Kurt Westerberg: Five Preludes for Piano, movement 3 (1992)
Kurt Westerberg, piano
RealPlayer  [121 seconds]
RealAudio sound clip



Excerpt from John H. Wallace: Piano Quintet, movement 3 (1990)
David Katz, violin
James Martin, violin
Elizabeth Holzman, viola
Elizabeth Start, cello
Kurt Westerberg, piano
John H. Wallace, conductor
RealPlayer  [209 seconds]
RealAudio sound clip


From Speak For Yourself! A Hyper-History of American Composer-Led New Music Ensembles
by Ken Smith
© 1999 NewMusicBox