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Bienen School’s Institute for New Music announces 2019-2020 season

Offerings include Chicago premiere of David T. Little’s ‘Dog Days’ and NUNC! 4 festival
Alan Pierson conducts Bienen’s Contemporary Music Ensemble. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The Institute for New Music at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music will present the Chicago premiere of David T. Little’s powerful contemporary opera “Dog Days,” Nov. 21 to 24 at the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts.

The production, which marks the first collaboration between the Bienen School’s opera program and Institute for New Music, will be directed by Joachim Schamberger and conducted by Alan Pierson, conductor of the “Dog Days” world premiere in 2012. 

Bookending the Institute’s season is NUNC! 4, Northwestern’s biennial conference and festival of new music April 24 to 26, 2020. Participating artists include the internationally acclaimed Arditti Quartet, Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Bienen School alumna Jennifer Walshe, a leading voice of the aesthetic field merging music composition and performance art.

More information about the Institute for New Music’s 2019-2020 events is available on the Institute for New Music website. Tickets will go on sale in late August.

Founded in 2012 and directed by composition and music technology professor Hans Thomalla, the Institute for New Music serves as the nerve center for all contemporary music activities at the Bienen School. It presents numerous events over the course of the academic year -- including residencies of visiting ensembles and composers, workshops, lectures and master classes, and the biennial conference/festival NUNC! Additionally, the institute provides a platform for new music activities for all areas of the Bienen School and Northwestern.

Institute faculty includes Guggenheim and Grammy Award-winning artists prominent in the world of new music as composers, conductors, musicians and musicologists. They are founding members of top music ensembles such as The Crossing, Alarm Will Sound and the PRISM Quartet.

“New music is a living, breathing, evolving activity at Bienen and our upcoming season promises to bring another exceptional lineup of activities,” said institute Director Thomalla. “I look forward to our first collaboration between the Institute for New Music and our opera program. Opera is one of the most exciting and innovative genres in American contemporary music, and one of the strongest areas at our school, so it feels like the time is perfect for this collaboration.”

“We also have an incredible program of guest composers and ensembles lined up for NUNC! 4 in spring to work with conference and festival participants and with our own student ensembles to present several very exciting programs.”

The Institute will welcome a variety of guest artists during the 2019-2020 academic year, including British-American composer Oscar Bettison, Ensemble Dal Niente, Pulitzer and Grammy Award-winning composer Jennifer Higdon and pianist Mabel Kwan.

The Institute for New Music’s 2019-2020 season highlights include:

“Dog Days” opera

Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 21 to 23, 2019, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, November 24, 3 p.m.
Ryan Opera Theater, Ryan Center for the Musical Arts
70 Arts Circle Drive

Heralded as a “groundbreaking American classic,” David T. Little’s electrifying work melds kaleidoscopic musical styles ranging from opera and cabaret to electronica and heavy metal. Based on a short story by Judy Budnitz with a libretto by Royce Vavrek, “Dog Days” examines the psychology of a working-class family against the backdrop of a not-so-distant future wartime scenario. Told from the perspective of Lisa, a 13-year-old girl, the dystopian opera asks where the line between being human and animal lies.

Composer Little, librettist Royce Vavrek and conductor Pierson collaborated on the initial scenes for “Dog Days” for the Dawn Upshaw and Osvaldo Golijov Young Artists Concert at Carnegie Hall in 2009.

NUNC! 4 Conference/Festival

Friday-Sunday, April 24 to 26, 2020
Ryan Center for the Musical Arts
70 Arts Circle Drive

One of the leading conferences for new music in the world, NUNC! brings together composers, performing musicians, scholars and other new music advocates for a weekend of workshops, panel discussions and concerts.

Each biennial event features a program of new works from invited guest composers as well as from a peer reviewed call for scores. Calls for performers, electronic music and presentations will for the first time be supplemented by a call for improvisers, connecting to Chicago’s rich history of improvised music. Calls for submissions and more information will be posted on the NUNC website in mid-September.

Northwestern University Chamber Orchestra: works by Jennifer Higdon

Thursday, April 30, 2020, 7:30 p.m.
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
50 Arts Circle Drive

Jennifer Higdon returns to campus April 27 to 30 for her second residency as winner of the Bienen School’s 2018 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition. The Chamber Orchestra will perform a series of Higdon concertos featuring faculty soloists.

Other 2019-2020 Institute for New Music concerts include:

Contemporary Music Ensemble: works by Timo Andres, Missy Mazzoli and Felipe Lara
Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, 7:30 p.m.
Galvin Recital Hall, Ryan Center for the Musical Arts
70 Arts Circle Drive 

Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble Evensong Concert
Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, 5 p.m.
Alice Millar Chapel
1870 Sheridan Road

Contemporary Music Ensemble presents Hans Abrahamsen’s “Schnee”
Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, 7:30 p.m.
Galvin Recital Hall, Ryan Center for the Musical Arts
70 Arts Circle Drive

Contemporary Music Ensemble: music of Oscar Bettison
Friday, March 6, 2020, 7:30 p.m.
Ryan Opera Theater, Ryan Center for the Musical Arts
70 Arts Circle Drive

Ensemble Dal Niente
Wednesday, March 11, 7:30 p.m.
Galvin Recital Hall, Ryan Center for the Musical Arts
70 Arts Circle Drive

Contemporary Music Ensemble: works by Burhans and Zivkovic
Saturday, May 16, 2020, 7:30 p.m.
Galvin Recital Hall, Ryan Center for the Musical Arts
70 Arts Circle Drive

Mabel Kwan
Sunday, May 17, 2020, 7:30 p.m.
McClintock Choral and Recital Room
Ryan Center for the Musical Arts
70 Arts Circle Drive

Tickets for the 2019-2020 Institute of New Music season will be available online at, by phone at 847-467-4000 or in person at the Bienen School ticket office, located at the southeast entrance of Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive.

Ticket office hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 3 p.m. Saturday. Reduced ticket office hours during the summer break are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday only.

The Bienen School is a member of the Northwestern Arts Circle, which brings together film, humanities, literary arts, music, theater, dance and visual arts.