It’s not often that Charlotte boasts a world premiere, but since its inaugural run in 2012 the Charlotte New Music Festival has premiered more than 150 pieces of music by contemporary classical composers. That number will exceed 200 following the fourth annual festival’s run of music and dance performances taking place over the next three weeks.
The concert portion of the festival – which includes weeklong workshops on technology and electronic music, composition and dance – begins Saturday with the Laptop Orchestra’s return to Snug Harbor.
Founder and executive director Elizabeth Kowalski created the New Music Festival while finishing her master’s in composition at UNC Greensboro.
“I wanted to attend something like it, learn to work with dancers more and work with professional musicians, which is hard to do,” she says, “especially as a student composer.”
A serious pianist who practiced eight hours a day in her youth, she turned to composition eight years ago after she was struck by a car while walking, resulting in injuries that made it difficult to play piano.
At home after grad school, Kowalski made it her mission to attend as many Charlotte concerts as possible. She calls the multi-genre networking experiment of three to four concerts a week, each under $20, “one of the best things I ever did.” It was during that time she met Arlynn Zachary, who directs the dance component of the festival.
“It became what I envisioned,” says Kowalski, 28, of Zachary’s contribution. Besides the collaboration between modern dance and contemporary classical, this year’s festival includes the equivalent of an open mic night for dancers – another idea that encompasses Kowalski’s vision of exchanging ideas between disciplines.
This year also marks the first time the New Music Festival has received grant support from the Arts & Science Council and Arts South, an indication of its growth. Kowalski works with fellow organizers from Seattle and Atlanta, and while other cities might be more open to avant garde pieces anchored in the classical style by form and technique, she wants to foster the scene at home.
“There are so many fantastic local composers. I’ve had people say to me they thought ‘composers’ were all dead,” she says, with a trace of disgust. She wants to change that misconception. “How are you supposed to get a job if your trade is dead?”
The festival also gives 32 composers a chance to have their original works performed by professional ensembles like Pittsburgh’s Beo String Quartet.
“They’re such a dream to work with,” says Kowalski, whose award-winning piece “Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire” was performed at the Kennedy Center in 2012. “They’ve gone to some of the top conservatories. They’re enthusiastic. They love new music – that’s what they do. Contemporary music requires a lot of technique and out-of-the-box thinking.”
That’s one reason she encourages audiences to leave their expectations at the door.
“It can be a lot of different things. It could be rock- or jazz-influenced, atmospheric or classical,” she says. “I wouldn’t go in with a lot of expectations, because it’s not going to be what you expect.”
Charlotte New Music Festival
Dance performances and concerts begin Saturday and continue through June 27. The lineup:
▪ Laptop Orchestra, 6 p.m. Saturday, Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St.
▪ New Music Open Mic Night, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Petra’s Piano Bar, 1919 Commonwealth Ave.
▪ An Evening of Dance, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Black Box Theatre, Northwest School of the Arts, 1415 Beatties Ford Road.
▪ Beo String Quartet, 7:30 p.m. June 19, Suzanne Little Recital Hall, Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Ave.
▪ Great Noise Ensemble, 7:30 p.m. June 20, Suzanne Little Recital Hall, Queens University.
▪ Loadbang, 7:30 p.m. June 22, New Gallery of Modern Art, 435 S. Tryon St.
▪ Chamber Concert with Beo String Quartet, 7:30 p.m. June 23, Suzanne Little Recital Hall, Queens University.
▪ Great Noise Ensemble, 7:30 p.m. June 24, Suzanne Little Recital Hall, Queens University.
▪ Miniature Extravaganza, 7:30 p.m. June 26, New Gallery of Modern Art.
▪ Art Align Music & Dance, 7:30 p.m. June 27, Dana Auditorium, Queens University.
TICKETS: $15 ($10 for students, $5 for CPCC students); $95 for 12-concert pass, $50 for five-concert package.