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The Impromptu Fest celebrates classical music’s fringe

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Update Mon 9/11: Renée Baker’s Modern Black Music Ensemble have canceled their appearance at High Concept Labs on Fri 9/15. Audiovisual artist and turntablist Allen Moore will instead present selections from his project The Black Arcade.

Chicago has its fair share of festivals that orbit within the solar system of contemporary classical music, including the smartly curated Frequency Festival, the block-party celebration of Thirsty Ears, and the citywide extravaganza Ear Taxi, which returns every few years. But the vibrancy of the city’s contemporary classical community is such that there isn’t just room for more such festivals—they’re very much in demand.

The Impromptu Fest, which returns this month for its fourth edition after a hiatus last year, is a welcome addition to the scene. Organized by New Music Chicago, the same nonprofit that presents Ear Taxi, Impromptu has more than doubled in scope this year, growing to 15 free performances (from six in 2021), spread across five days and three venues: Epiphany Center for the Arts, Elastic Arts, and High Concept Labs (at Mana Contemporary in Pilsen). The lineup mixes freshly minted upstarts with accomplished long-timers, such as composer and filmmaker Renée Baker (a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) and her Modern Black Music Ensemble. The newer kids on the block include Masso Quartet (an all-saxophone group), Codex Trio (piano, cello, and violin), and OLEA (a quartet whose unusual instrumentation consists of violin, cello, piano, and clarinet). On Tuesday, September 12, pianist Holly Roadfeldt launches the festivities with a performance of Anthony Lanman’s Hommages, a tender, endearing series of miniatures dedicated to the Indiana-based composer’s artistic heroes (including tributes to Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, author Neil Gaiman, and actor Tony Kushner). And because no proper new-music fest would be complete without some brand-new music, Impromptu promises plenty of premieres. They include Dynamic Fabric: Chicago Intersections by local saxophonist and electronic-music composer Mark Nagy, a DCASE commission evoking episodes in Chicago history with music and choreography; a string quartet by cellist Tomeka Reid, played by Black chamber-music collective D-Composed; and a new Ramin Roshandel piece for setar (a traditional Persian lute) and live electronics.

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Impromptu Fest day one Sapphire Woodwind Quintet headline; Codex Trio and Holly Roadfeldt (playing Anthony Lanman) open. Tue 9/12, 5 PM, Epiphany Center for the Arts, 201 S. Ashland, free, all ages.

Impromptu Fest day two Mark Nagy’s Station 4 headline; the _____ Experiment and Juliann Wang open. Wed 9/13, 7 PM, Elastic Arts, 3429 W. Diversey #208, free, all ages.

Impromptu Fest day three D-Composed headline; Tricia Park and Masso Quartet open. Thu 9/14, 5 PM, Epiphany Center for the Arts, 201 S. Ashland, free, all ages.

Update Mon 9/11: Renée Baker’s Modern Black Music Ensemble have canceled their appearance at High Concept Labs on Fri 9/15. Audiovisual artist and turntablist Allen Moore will instead present selections from his project The Black Arcade.

Impromptu Fest day four Renee Baker’s Modern Black Music Ensemble headlines; OLEA and Ramin Roshandel & Jean-Francois Charles open. Fri 9/15, 7 PM, High Concept Labs, 2233 S. Throop #401, free, all ages.

Impromptu Fest day five William Jason Raynovich headlines; Tim Corpus & Alyssa Arrigo open. A panel of High Concept Labs artists in residence (Shi-An Costello, Mabel Kwan, and Allen Moore) begins at 4 PM, and a closing reception follows at 5:30 PM. Sat 9/16, music begins at 7 PM. High Concept Labs, 2233 S. Throop #401, free, all ages.


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