Elizabeth Kowalski loves Charlotte. It’s where her family lives, it’s where she grew up, and it has some pretty nice people.
But her city was missing something: a contemporary classical music scene.
Kowalski searched everywhere for contemporary classical music – in Charlotte, in other states and in other countries. So she did what anyone else would do: She started her own festival.
Now in its third year, the Charlotte New Music Festival runs June 16-28 with 13 performances at seven venues, mostly in central Charlotte.
Kowalski loves classical music as much as she does her city. She first encountered it when she started playing the piano, and next when she started playing the flute. While getting her masters at UNC Greensboro, she collaborated with many musicians through her graduate program. So, when she moved back to Charlotte, she was surprised to find the same musicians who love collaboration, but no program for them.
“When I tell people I’m a composer, about nine times out of 10, they say ‘Oh, I thought that composers are dead already,’ ” she said. “That’s a serious response I get.”
The theme of this year’s festival is expansion. No, the performances and lectures will not be about expansion; rather, the number of performers, composers and class offerings has increased. In 2012, about 10 people showed up at each concert, and last year, about 75 to 100 attended, Kowalski said.
“It’s kind of grown this cultish following here,” she said. “It’s not a big following, but the people who do like it are really dedicated. They want to see it succeed; they want more of it.”
The festival also includes a dance component, which was added last year. Dancers and composers pair up to develop both a new dance piece and an accompanying musical score.
Arlynn Zachary, the festival’s director of dance, said the collaboration is what creates the festival’s unique atmosphere.
“There really aren’t any festivals in the U.S. that specifically focus on the collaboration between composers and choreographers,” she said. “There are festivals around that have an emphasis on dance and music simultaneously, but they don’t really have them together.”
Dance students will have the opportunity to take classes, ranging from classical modern dance to hip-hop to partnering.
Orlando Cela, a guest performer who is participating in the festival for the second year, said the festival is the only thing that propels contemporary classical music in the state.
“As opposed to the regular music festivals, which I have attended, they have a conservative and very restrictive views into the composers’ abilities to experiment,” he said. “Elizabeth is quite the opposite. She encourages the performers, like me, to collaborate with the composers.”
Guest composer Craig Bove, a music professor at Central Piedmont Community College, has been a part of the festival since its first year. He said he’s seen interest grow considerably.
“It’s really becoming a very important thing in Charlotte, and I think it’s starting to rival these events that take place in other states,” Bove said.
Although Kowalski cares about how many people attend the concert, she also wants to have an audience that’s open to new kinds of music.
“I want to give them a new experience – something they’re not going to have otherwise,” Kowalski said. “I want their imagination and their intellect challenged.”