Augusta Read Thomas's Ear Taxi

The American composer on why she decided to set up a major new contemporary music festival 

Augusta Read Thomas's Ear Taxi

Chicago is my home.  When I land at O’Hare airport after another of my travels I feel happy, eager to get back into my composing studio with my piano and drafting tables, ready to collaborate with friends and colleagues.  The classical contemporary music scene in Chicago is exceptionally vibrant—varied, diverse, engaging, and inspiring—just like the city’s jazz and blues and other music genres. 

Three years ago, in October 2013, while walking in gorgeous Millennium Park and reflecting on how our city has one of the world’s most effervescent and exciting scenes for classical contemporary music, I had the idea (though at the time it was literally just a daydream in the park) to organize a major festival that would enhance Chicago’s stature as an epicenter for new music.  I hoped to provide extraordinary performance opportunities for Chicago’s new music ensembles and musicians, and further the creation of new work by Chicago-based composers. Giving back to the profession and supporting the work of my colleagues is very important to me.

Music festivals exist largely to foster new relationships between composers, performers, and audiences.  The extraordinary BBC Proms, for instance, was founded more than 120 years ago to introduce new audiences to classical music through affordable tickets and an informal atmosphere.  Now the Proms is one of the world’s major festivals of classical and contemporary classical music.  In Germany the superb Schleswig-Holstein festival, founded in 1987, brings the world’s great orchestras to new spaces in rural Germany: instead of performing in concert halls, orchestras perform in barns and shipyards, allowing new audiences to experience music firsthand.  Despite its humble origins, the festival now sells hundreds of thousands of tickets each season.

That daydream in the park became an obsession for me and has occupied my attention and energies every day since. When I devised the name Ear Taxi I had an image of a composer’s head (imagine the famous bust of Beethoven) with a line of ten taxi cabs driving out of each ear.  ETF will take audiences on many aural taxi rides, each one fresh, fun, engaging, and unique, and played by a grand array of world-class musicians.  

Many festivals concentrate on the standard repertoire rather than on new works by living composers.  We composers write music that craves listeners; we believe that if we create music that is honest, personal, and human, and is technically and imaginatively elegant in its articulation, it will find its audiences, whoever or wherever they may be.  Ear Taxi Festival will be part of this cultural process. It will embrace new music composed in the classical traditions of acoustic and electronic music, featuring 32 events, more than 350 musicians, 88 composers, 65 premieres (of which 54 are world premieres consisting of eight hours of brand-new music, never before performed), and insightful panel discussions and opportunities to engage audiences. Ninety-eight percent of Ear Taxi’s composers and musicians live in Chicago; the other two percent have lived a large portion of their lives in Chicago.

Ear Taxi has been truly a grassroots effort, built from scratch with countless hours of volunteer leadership.  What makes Ear Taxi somewhat complex is that the entire festival was put together element by element.  Arranging for fiscal sponsors and concert halls; pursuing three years of fundraising; consulting with musicians and composers on their programs; hiring stage managers, interns, recording engineers, photographers, lighting designers, caterers, a social media director, a program book editor, designer, and proofreaders; cultivating marketing and public relations; renting percussion; and sending thank-you letters—all this has been a colossal effort.  I hope it will elevate Chicago's contemporary classical music community and produce a positive ripple effect for years to come.

With more than half of its events presented free of charge, Ear Taxi is created in the spirit of mutual support: there are no overlapping activities, so audiences can enjoy every fascinating detail of the six day program.  They’re invited to feel casual, comfortable, and chic.  They can chat and have a drink with the musicians, composers, and other music lovers while we all discover new ways to appreciate this ever-expanding art form. 


To find out more about the Ear Taxi Festival, click here

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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