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Transcript: Jessie Montgomery reflects on her tenure as CSO’s composer in residence

SHARE Transcript: Jessie Montgomery reflects on her tenure as CSO’s composer in residence
Photographed at Wabash and Jackson streets in downtown Chicago, Jessie Montgomery is the Meade Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra through the 2023-24 season.

Photographed at Wabash and Jackson streets in downtown Chicago, Jessie Montgomery is the Meade Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra through the 2023-24 season.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography/© Todd Rosenberg Photography

Jessie Montgomery is a leading voice of a new generation of classical composers. She's finishing up a prominent residency at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Her time at the CSO will wrap after a series of concerts this weekend. But she's not leaving Chicago.

Montgomery sat down with WBEZ's Courtney Kueppers after a rehearsal at Symphony Center.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the "play" button to listen to the entire interview.

COURTNEY KUEPPERS: This is a big month for you with lots of your work being performed by CSO. I'm curious, how has your time in Chicago influenced the sound of your work as a classical composer?

JESSIE MONTGOMERY: Being in Chicago, you know, I'm a New Yorker, and I'm easily stimulated by a city environment, and it's just been nice to sort of be in another city that just has its own character to it.

And I think it really has like opened up my creativity and also, like, deepened my understanding and connection to my own heritage as a Black musician. And, you know, digging into my own influences, because there's such a rich jazz and also Black classical music scene here in Chicago.

CK: Whose work is exciting to you right now?

JM: So many people. You know, have this cohort of musicians that have performed here, the Blacknificent 7, they're my little composer family: Damien Geter, Shawn Okpebholo, Jasmine Barnes, Joel Thompson and Dave Ragland.

We kind of constantly are sharing music back and forth and getting inspiration from one another. Watching composers kind of evolve and sort of take the classical music idiom into other realms is also really interesting.

CK: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about Blacknificent 7, the cohort of composers of color that you started. How important has that group been to your work in recent years?

JM: Oh, tremendously important. We often share tools of the trade among us and also share work back and forth and get feedback. I mean, getting feedback from colleagues is like one of the best things you can do. So we do that.

And it's created a community. You know, composers are insular kind of people. And so this kind of has been giving us like a way to reach out and be a part of something.

CK: You are certainly one of the most in demand contemporary composers, how do you decide what opportunities are right for you to take?

JM: I tend to go for projects where there's maybe a concept that I'm working out personally and wanting to explore. Like, for example, I'm going to be working on a few string orchestra pieces coming up because I felt that writing a string orchestra piece was exciting for me right now, because I have some string quartets and certainly string orchestra pieces, but I'm wanting to come back and refresh that medium for myself, and/or if there's a topic that I can explore that's interesting to me personally.

CK: Your tenure here is ending certainly at a moment of transition for the CSO, a young new maestro is going to take the baton here in a few years. What do you see as sort of the opportunities for this institution?

JM: You know, Chicago's a place where I noticed there's a real hunger and a real interest for actually new works. Anytime I've ever had a new piece performed, I get a lot of immediate feedback from the audience, which is really great. Mostly positive. Luckily, usually the only people have nice things to say, but also like, you know, interesting critique, like people that are really kind of fascinated by the nuances of the work and have questions. So I feel like this is an audience and a city that is open to change.

And it seems like these changes that are coming down the pike, you know, I really hope that the CSO embraces all of that and continues to push that forward because I think their audience is going to be there with them.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is a financial supporter of WBEZ.