Contemporary classical music.
I bet some of you instinctively went to plug your ears. I wouldn’t blame you. Atonal, dissonant music has done quite a bit to alter how people think about contemporary classical.
Only recently have I discovered the wealth of highly listenable music by current composers that is less atonal and more Arturo Marquez or Leonard Bernstein.
For those still hesitant, enter WFMT’s new program, Relevant Tones, focusing solely on contemporary classical music. Don’t plug your ears yet though. I got a sneak peek and I have to say it doesn’t disappoint.
The idea for the all contemporary classical show came after producer Jesse McQuarters and host Seth Boustead decided it was time for modern musicians and composers to get some recognition, and for the classical music listener to look forward for new favorites, not just old ones. After several years fundraising, and a few hugely popular test shows later, the show is officially launching this weekend.
What is so unusual and interesting about the show is how free form it is. Each show is structured around a subject that varies each week: from contemporary composers, to new uses of familiar instruments and overarching trends in music now. The show, when appropriate, will also focus on current events in classical music, and explore many global aspects of classical music.
As a writer, I’ve always enjoyed listening to other’s creative processes. This show is in many ways the equivalent. It allows composers and artists to explain their inspirations and the nuances in the performance we might miss otherwise. We can guess what motivated Bach, but here we get the luxury of having it explained right from the horse’s mouth. This show offers context to works in an conversational and “everyman” tone, something that modern classical music cab benefit from.
Even better, Relevant Tones is out to fix the image problem for modern classical music, with shows featuring pieces that are just as inspired and listenable as something more traditional for the new listener.
“In every episode in some way we always reference the past. The difference is that we can talk to the composers now,” said host Seth Boustead. “Classical music has been pegged as one thing and been saddled by this label ‘classical music’, so we’re trying to redefine what that is and show all this amazing music being created in the same tradition. We’re trying to look forward.”
Beyond just introducing new music, the show also aims to bring in new listeners and old. Classical music can really have an image problem: the picture of a crazy Beethoven figure if you’re thinking traditionally, the turtleneck-wearing, academic circa 1950 if you’re thinking modern. Relevant Tones wants to reach listeners who are unfamiliar with many of the trends in contemporary classical, and maybe intimidated by the definitions of classical and contemporary classical, or think of the genre as a ‘dead tradition’.
Seth Boustead, the host, is a Chicago-based classical composer and teacher, and McQuarters, a producer at WFMT, said that the program is a unique one, and the station’s backing shows that there is an increasing interest in classical music now.
“WFMT is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year,” said Jesse McQuarters. “People this year more than ever are looking forward. We’re honoring the past, but looking ahead to see what is happening in classical music now.”
The first episode airs this Saturday, April 7 at 5:00pm CST. The program kicks off with Eighth Blackbird talking about music after their most recent Grammy award win. Stay tuned every Saturday after that for conversations with a global focus and sometimes Windy City spin.