The New Music Chicago Festival is back! This biannual confab of the best, the brightest, and the most outrageous midwestern composers and performers promises a cornucopia of the latest trends as well as homages to avant-garde masters. Among the headliners are Cube, saxophonist John Sampen and the Black Swamp Saxophone Quartet, and the Boston Composers String Quartet. A good first stop in this ten-day fest, I think, is the (free) piano recital by Ann Arbor-based Robert Conway. For starters, he'll present the local premiere of Elliott Carter's Night Fantasies, a 1980 work written for Ursula Oppens that reveals a crusty humor beneath its meticulous, somber facade. Keyboard Essays by Antony Iannaccone (of Eastern Michigan University) offers four ways of exploring the piano's sonic potentials. Likewise, "The Breeze However Has Subsided" by Milwaukee composer Mark Mantel modulates sets of pitches to create wavelike feels that he calls "strata of piano resonance." Also on the program are Glenn Palmer's Interlocutional Involutions and Parisian Eugene Kurtz's Motivations which could either be torturous intellectual teasers or enjoyable revelations--such as the hazards and pleasures of sampling the new. Monday, 5:30 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 477-1379.