Watch Now: Red Note Festival Brings New Music to Illinois State Campus | local education

Student composers Ben Rieke, from Indiana University, and Wenxin Li, from the University of Iowa, talk about what excites them at the RED NOTE New Music Festival, which is scheduled for February 6-10 in Illinois State University.

NORMAL — The Red Note New Music Festival returns to Illinois State University next month, bringing together student and professional composers and performers to learn and celebrate music composition.

The organizers are delighted be back in person after doing an online festival last year, said ISU associate professor and composer Carl Schimmel.

“It’s been a long time without that,” he said.


The event brings together student composers from across the country with professional composers and performers for workshops, performances and composition competitions spread over a week. Composers include members of the ISU composition faculty, as well as guest composers.

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This year, the guest composers are Missy Mazzoli and Bright Sheng. Sheng is part of the faculty at the University of Michigan and Mazzoli was recently composer-in-residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Both are active composers and figure prominently in the compositional world today.

“These two composers write music that I think would appeal to a lot of people,” Schimmer said.

Mazzoli looks forward to the opportunity to work with students across the country and see what they’re doing in composition and how she can help them, she said.

Festivals like these give students a chance to go beyond working with a few different professors, or even just one professor, at their own university, she said.

“I think it’s really helpful to work with as many teachers as possible for the young people who are coming in,” she said.

Students attending Red Note will include graduate and undergraduate students, from as far away as the East Coast and Texas. Their application process, conducted in October, included submitting a piece they had composed. Students will have the chance to workshop their pieces with Sheng, Mazzoli and the ISU faculty at the festival.

Normally, around 80 students apply for the workshop, Schimmel said. About a tenth of the students are invited to attend.

Two guest performers, h2 Saxophone Quartet and Hub New Music, will help them with the workshop and perform the pieces at public concerts each evening during the festival.

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The festival is focused on new music, broadly defined as anything composed today. Wenxin Li, a graduate student at the University of Iowa, said she enjoys including extended techniques in her pieces, which allow instruments to create sounds beyond their normal function like multiphony. She wrote her piece for h2, and had never written for saxophone quartet before.

“For the saxophone quartet, I always think about energy and fun,” Li said.

Writing the piece for a festival allows him to work on his piece alongside the performers, which is not always possible.

“At festivals, we can go there and talk to artists…I think this collaboration is the most important part of festivals,” Li said.

Ben Rieke, an undergraduate composer at Indiana University, said he had been interested in composition since he was in high school.

“Composing is the thing I love doing more than anything else,” he said.

He likes to compose and go beyond the conventions established in the Western tradition. Past “dogmas” of music have been shattered, he said, allowing composers to explore and create their own parameters for music, including even notation.

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Mazzoli likes to write music that builds on the classical tradition but uses the broader options available to composers today.

“It’s about having the widest and most extensive palette available to you,” she said.

The festival runs from February 6 to February 10 and includes free concerts at 8 p.m. every night. Most performances are at Kemp Recital Hall, with the February 10 performance at the Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall. There will also be live broadcasts of the performances, linked to

The student pieces will be performed by the guest performers on February 8. Rieke is delighted to have the chance to work with the artists at the festival and to be invited to join them.

“It’s really encouraging to see your work noticed like this,” Rieke said.

Contact Connor Wood at (309) 820-3240. Follow Connor on Twitter: @connorkwood

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