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Three Beats: The first Thirsty Ear

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CLASSICAL: The Empty Bottle broadcasts the first Thirsty Ear Festival

On Sat 8/11 at 5 PM, the Empty Bottle will broadcast a show live on the radio for the first time in its history—but the music won't be the sort of underground rock the club usually hosts. The occasion is the first Thirsty Ear Festival, a two-hour concert of contemporary classical music featuring local ensembles and artists. It's organized by Seth Boustead, who hosts the hour-long radio program Relevant Tones on WFMT 98.7 FM every Saturday at 5 PM.

The program began airing on WFMT in April after five years on WLUW, and it's one of very few in Chicago devoted to contemporary classical music. Boustead emphasizes local composers and ensembles, a task that's become easier over the past few years as new-music groups have proliferated in Chicago. He's a composer himself, as well as the executive director of Access Contemporary Music, an advocacy organization whose activities include concerts, educational programs, and "Weekly Readings," where ACM members and freelancers record themselves working through submitted scores so that the composer can hear what the music actually sounds like.

Relevant Tones likewise attempts to be educational but nonpedantic. It airs music by and sometimes profiles of important local artists such as Eighth Blackbird and internationally acclaimed composers such as Alvin Lucier and Henryk Gorecki, and it examines movements and trends in new music, among them spectralism and remixing. Saturday's concert features the meditative free improvisation of clarinetist James Falzone (see Soundboard), works by established composers Iannis Xenkais and Shulamit Ran, and a slew of music from up-and-coming voices, including Chicagoans Brian Baxter and Kyle Vegter. Each act gets a 30-minute slot, and the order of performers is Palomar (the performing arm of ACM), Falzone, the Maverick Ensemble (playing a composition by member Jason Raynovich), and the Chicago Q Ensemble (a relatively new string quartet).

At 4:15 PM, after doors open but before the concert and broadcast begin, all of the day's musicians will spread out throughout the Bottle to perform Liminal Bends, a work in progress by former Chicagoan Ben Vida. And because Boustead has enlisted the participation of the Active Transportation Alliance, concertgoers who present a helmet or other proof that they biked to the show can get in for $5 rather than $10.

Peter Margasak

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