New Music, Deep Listening: Chicago’s Frequency Festival Celebrates 5 Years

By Estlin Usher |

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Artists who’ll perform at this year’s Frequency Festival [clockwise from top left]: Crys Cole (Photo: Robert Szkolnicki), Katinka Kleijn (Photo: Todd Rosenberg), Rajna Swaminathan (Photo: Jaimie Milner), and Annea Lockwood (Photo: Nicole Tavenner)

It’s not a secret, but with all the incredible performances that happen every year around this city it can be easy to forget: Chicago is a hub for new music. With venues and organizations such as Constellation, the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition at the University of Chicago, Elastic Arts, the LAMPO series, the Experimental Sound Studio, and many more, the caliber of artistry and dedication to the vitality of classical and forward-thinking music in Chicago has never been better.

This year, one of the cornerstones of the contemporary classical music scene in Chicago marks a milestone: the Frequency Festival celebrates its fifth year in a week of new music concerts from February 24 to March 1. Coinciding neatly with the city-wide theme of the Year of Chicago Music, the festival expands its presence across neighborhoods with a feast of exceptional concerts, with performances at Constellation, UChicago’s Bond Chapel, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Cultural Center.

READ MORE: Off the Beaten Path — 9 Underrated Venues for Classical Music in Chicago

Among the special guests for the fifth anniversary of the Frequency Festival is the inimitable composer and sound artist Annea Lockwood, who returns to Chicago for the first time in over four decades. During Lockwood’s long-anticipated return, audiences get the chance to hear two sides of this influential artist’s work. On Friday, there will be a performance of her compositions (Friday, February 28, 8:30 pm, Constellation, $15) featuring hometown heroes and trumpet virtuoso Nate Wooley. The next day, Experimental Sound Studio will present an artist talk and launch a month-long exhibit of her field recording-based installation “A Sound Map of the Danube” (Saturday, February 29, 2:00 pm, Experimental Sound Studio, Free. Installation runs through March 29).

Festival organizer and artistic director Peter Margasak says of Lockwood’s music: “The sounds of nature have been crucial to her work, and she's long embraced the unpredictability, complexity, and mutability in such sonic resources.” Lockwood’s piano piece “Ear-Walking Woman”, which will be performed on February 28, “envisions a kind of mini-universe inside of the instrument ripe for exploration.”

With Miguel Frasconi, Annea Lockwood performs an excerpt of "Other Glass Worlds"

Another festival highlight will take place in Hyde Park in UChicago’s lush, reverberant Bond Chapel as violist Julia Eckhardt and trumpeter Nate Wooley present two solo works from slow-music master Eliane Radigue. (Wednesday, February 26 at 8:00 pm, Bond Chapel on the UChicago campus, Free)

Not limited to western paradigms of classical music, the Frequency Festival brings the Chicago debut of South Indian voice and instrument duo Rajna Swaminathan & Ganavya Doraiswamy, who are renowned for their improvisational virtuosity and immersive sounds. (Sunday, March 1 at 2:00 pm, Claudia Cassidy Theater at the Chicago Cultural Center, Free)

Heralded as “Chicago’s First Lady of the Cello”, CSO member and International Contemporary Ensemble regular Katinka Kleijn performs new pieces by Nathan DavisAliya Ultan, and Damon Locks, whose work blends classical themes with complex and evocative sound worlds. Then she’ll turn the floor over to Julian Otis, a genre-bending artist whose visceral opera-influenced performances are dedicated to the advancement of Black music in America. (Sunday, March 1 at 8:30 pm, Constellation, $15)

In this 3D video, Kleijn performs "Ly Ful Hood." Start the video, then click and drag to survey the mechanized ensemble in performance!

“What ties everything together,” Margasak says about the festival, “is a deep engagement with sound--whether pushing boundaries or simply basking in its richness. There's no way the festival can represent everything, but I'd like to think it would provide a strong opening for curious listeners to experience sound in new ways.”

For more information about the 2020 Frequency Festival, visit