The Frequency Series, programmed by Reader staff writer Peter Margasak, presents new classical and experimental music at Constellation nearly every Sunday night. Its first concert was in April 2013, and the series celebrates its (almost) fourth anniversary with its second annual festival, which this year runs from Tuesday, February 14, through Sunday, February 19. Constellation hosts four of its seven concerts; the other three are at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the U. of C.’s Bond Chapel, and the Art Institute’s Fullerton Hall.
The festival begins with two free concerts. Tuesday at the MCA, theatrical local ensemble Mocrep will play world premieres of pieces by Natacha Diels and Bethany Younge as well as compositions by Jessie Marino and Carolyn Chen. On Wednesday, nonpareil pianist R. Andrew Lee will play Andrew Knight’s quietly quizzical Obsessions at Bond Chapel.
On Thursday the action moves to Constellation, where all shows cost $15. That night the Morton Feldman Chamber Players present two theatrical pieces with texts by Samuel Beckett. On Friday two musicians from very different realms, improvisational guitarist-singer Bill Orcutt and classical violinist Austin Wulliman, will seek common ground—and they ought to find it, since they both like to raise hackles by savaging strings. On Saturday night Chicago composer and sound artist Olivia Block and transplanted Ohio quartet Quince will perform new vocal pieces, separately and together. And finally, on Sunday, Ensemble dal Niente (who appeared at the very first Frequency concert) will play new music by Huck Hodge and Murat Çolak as part of a program called “Hard Music, Hard Liquor.” Earlier in the day, New York-based violinist Miranda Cuckson, who made an excellent CD of music by Eastern European composers for ECM last year, will give a solo recital at Fullerton Hall ($10, $5 for members) whose program includes a new piece by saxophonist Steve Lehman, who’s mixed jazz with spectral harmonies and African hip-hop.
From the beginning, Margasak has considered it part of Frequency’s mission to bridge the gaps between different avant-garde audiences: Green Pasture Happiness, a combo of free improvisers who play reeds and analog electronics, shared the bill at its inaugural show with Ensemble dal Niente. He acknowledges the social and cultural barriers that exist between jazz, classical, and experimental crowds, but he suggests that the music is “not as far apart as people think. I don’t know why there has to be such a stark division.”
Nomi Epstein, who leads the ensemble Aperiodic (veterans of nine Frequency concerts), affirms that the series has enabled some crossover. “Since the series is for new and experimental music, I do see an interesting exchange happening with audiences between these two areas,” she says. “Knowing there’s one night of the week devoted to this kind of music, there are certainly audience members who attend Sunday-evening concerts because they know the series exists but who don’t necessarily know the performers for that night. In this way, yes, there are new faces in the audience.”
Due to budget limitations, Frequency originally booked almost exclusively local musicians. “Initially the focus had been on presenting new music from Chicago,” Margasak says. “There is a deep and varied scene here.” In 2017, some of the performers from those early concerts aren’t merely local attractions anymore: “Spektral Quartet and Third Coast Percussion have kind of outgrown us, although they still like to keep a foot in the door.” But over the years the series has also hosted Eva-Maria Houben and Jürg Frey, who are German and Swiss, respectively; California composer and instrumentalist Michael Pisaro, who like them is a member of the Wandelweiser collective; and bracing Norwegian improvising quartet Spunk. Frequency was scheduled to present the Chicago debut of Kazakh-born violinist Aisha Orazbayeva, but she canceled her U.S. tour in solidarity with the refugees barred from the country by Trump’s executive order.
Moving forward, Margasak wants to continue exploring points of contact between disparate sounds and scenes. “I want to work more towards colliding things, program more double bills with people from different worlds—because they are not so far apart,” he says. “It’s a way to bring people together. There’s so much division today, and people don’t know why they are divided half of the time. Using this platform to let someone who knows classical hear something new turns my crank.”