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Are Your Ears Thirsty? Q and A with Seth Boustead

Seth Boustead at the Thirsty Ear Festival 2013

Seth Boustead at the Thirsty Ear Festival 2013

ThirstWFMT and Seth Boustead of Relevant Tones present the 2014 Thirsty Ear Festival, Saturday, July 12 at the City Winery. Special guests include the Fonema Consort, Graham Reynolds, and Gaudete Brass. The Festival celebrates ‘what’s new’ in music with a wide range of styles and composers.

Composer, radio host, and Thirsty Ear curator Seth Boustead spoke with WFMT about the Festival:


The 2013 Thirsty Ear Festival


The Thirsty Ear audience at City Winery

How did the festival come about? Where did the name come from? What would be your wildest dream-come-true for the festival?

I’ve been hosting a radio show for about the last ten years, on WFMT and before that on WLUW, but I also have an extensive background in concert production and promotion so it was probably only a matter of time before I wanted to do some kind of live event with Relevant Tones.
The name comes from a friend of mine who was talking about an event he went to years ago and he said of the audience, “they were incredible, they had such thirsty ears.”  I thought it was a funny and imaginative way to describe people open to new sounds and decided it would be the perfect name of the event.
Wildest dream come true would be that the festival would sell out completely within minutes of announcing the lineup, that we could book anyone we thought of and that more and more people would become interested in thought provoking new music.

What does the typical Relevant Tones or Thirsty Ear fan have on his or her iPod? Do you think they’re more inclined to listen to Schubert or to Radiohead?

I think Radiohead.  The vast majority of people coming to new music concerts and perhaps listening to Relevant Tones are younger and more steeped in pop music, although it does tend to be of the art rock variety.  That’s actually why we moved the festival from the Empty Bottle to City Winery.  The first year at the Empty Bottle the place was packed with young hipsters which was great, but if they’re already interested then I think we need to turn our attention to other people.


Seth Boustead, host of Relevant Tones

Bassist Kathryn Schulmeister of Fonema Consort

We’re hoping that over time City Winery will attract the kind of WFMT listener who thinks they only like common practice period classical, and we’re hoping they’ll come give it a try and possibly find something new they like.  It’s simply not possible to hate all contemporary, it’s far too varied a genre.

Do you find a lot of musicians and composers on the new music scene crossing over from different genres?

Not as much as you would think.  The ones who cross over from rock or pop tend to be the most successful and the most savvy with social media and so the most likely to get press.  But there are tons and tons of composers with a traditional music school background, but they just don’t make the same splash that a Glenn Kotche does.  And Relevant Tones is one of the few places where their music can be heard.


Composer/band leader Graham Reynolds

Headliner Graham Reynolds lives in Austin, Texas, which is a music town. Is he active in Austin, and how has that music scene rubbed off on him?

He’s hugely active there. I was just there in April and he’s pretty well-known.  He is a died in the wool Austiner for sure. He’s basically an indie rock guy who also happens to love jazz and classical and is wildly talented as a pianist and drummer.

But the indie hipster scene in Austin has definitely rubbed off on him, or perhaps he has been part of crafting that image.  Richard Linklater’s film “Slacker” is a huge part of that image and it wasn’t too long after that that Graham started writing scores for him so that image is part and parcel of who he is.  I can’t imagine him anywhere else but Austin.

Reynolds is associated with making music with everything from Duke Ellington’s work to garbage trucks. Which Reynolds do you think we’ll get? 

I’m not sure!  We don’t micro manage at Thirsty Ear, we hire the folks we think are going to do interesting things and let them do their thing.  I know that he wanted to play with a string quartet so I put together an incredible group for him, including Nick Photinos of eighth blackbird. Other than that I’ll find out with everyone else on Saturday!



Fonema Consort

The Fonema Consort will be performing as well. We often associate “consorts” with early music. Is there a connection? Do they make music that draws on Renaissance music or are they polar opposites?

I think they were thinking of consort in terms of vocal music but you’re right that it normally applies to early music in general.  There is no connection with early music.  Fonema is the Spanish version of phoneme which is itself the Greek word for the smallest unit of speech.  They are interested in experimental text settings and vocal techniques so perhaps they are polar opposites of Renaissance performance techniques and certainly in terms of sound.

Gaudete Brass Quintet

Gaudete Brass is arguably the most conventional or standard group on the program. What about them appeals to you?

Gaudete are one of the most exciting performance groups in town.  They commission and premiere new works all the time, they gravitate toward composers who don’t normally write for brass, they have described themselves as the anti-Canadian Brass, they have really good beer at their concerts and they’re just passionate, fun, talented performers. I really love them and knew they would do a great job.   It’s also a nice balance to the program.  Our thirsty eared audience wants to hear as eclectic a mix as possible and on Saturday that’s just what we’ll give them!

  • Jeffry Jones

    How could Borodin be left off this list? He did noteworthy research in organic chemistry, including the co-discovery of the also condensation reaction, and as an advocate for women’s rights he founded a medical school for women in St. Petersburg. It’s a wonder he ever found time for music.