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May 2015
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LISTEN: Rock Musician Bryce Dessner Teams with Chicago Youth Symphony

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The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO), under the leadership of its music director, Allen Tinkham, and relatively new executive director, Joshua Simonds, has been pushing the boundaries of classical music for years now. With their 12 adventurous programming awards from ASCAP, the organization that represents music publishers, they’ve become one of the premiere new music organizations in the city of Chicago.

That the CYSO is performing new music on their spring concert this Sunday is nothing new. What is notable, though, is that they’ll be performing a piece by and with composer Bryce Dessner, better known as a member of the rock group The National. He spoke with me in the interview you can hear above.

Dessner is a trained classical guitarist and composer, and his works — including St. Catherine By the Sea, being performing on Sunday — have been well-received by critics and audiences. I enjoyed talking with him not only about his compositions and the relationship between rock and classical, but also about all the work he does convening and curating festivals that feature classical music among other genres.

Classical organizations, eager to reach new and younger audiences, are hoping that the rock-star power of musicians like Dessner will get people through the door. This past January, a Chicago Symphony Orchestra MusicNOW concert that I attended had a fuller crowd then usual. It turns out that one of the pieces being performed was by Jonny Greenwood, of the prominent band Radiohead. Many who came thought he was going to be there too (he wasn’t).

Rock and classical will collide again in June, when the CYSO performs with Ben Folds, the rock pianist who has been known to insert quotes from Gershwin into rock songs and whose shows are exciting, even raucous affairs featuring sing-a-longs.


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