International Contemporary Ensemble Names New Artistic Director

After an intensive, months-long search process, the International Contemporary Ensemble is thrilled to welcome renowned composer, musicologist, computer-installation artist, and trombonist George Lewis as Artistic Director.

The Ensemble first collaborated with Lewis in 2011, presenting a Composer Portrait concert at Miller Theatre in New York City for which he composed his now well-known work for 16 players, The Will to Adorn. This work, along with his Born Obbligato, inspired by the Ensemble’s work on Beethoven’s Septet Op. 20 and its unique performances of his Shadowgraph, 5 and Artificial Life 2007, was featured on the first album by Lewis and the Ensemble, released in 2017 on New Focus Recordings.

Over the past decade, George Lewis has become an influential and driving creative force and advisor for the Ensemble, as well as serving on the Board since 2018. “George Lewis and the AACM were a big part of what inspired the founding of our Ensemble in the first place. With his vast experience, insatiable curiosity, and drive to elevate a generation of new artists, George Lewis is the perfect Artistic Director for our Ensemble,” says Board President Claude Arpels.

“George’s impact on this ensemble is almost immeasurable,” says Artistic Director Emeritus and Board Member, Rebekah Heller. “His voice and his vision have been quietly shaping the musical direction of our collective.”

“It is an Executive Director’s dream come true to welcome such a groundbreaking artist as George Lewis to be our next Artistic Director,” says Executive Director Jennifer Kessler. “George is a leader in our field around decolonizing contemporary music, and much of our organization’s work over the past three years to shift all entry points to our organization through a lens of equity has been inspired by conversations with George. I’m thrilled to imagine what we’ll create with George at the artistic helm to advance our commitment to diversifying our world’s stages.”

After five years of inspiring leadership and creative direction as Artistic Director, Ross Karre will transition to a new role as Executive Producer until August 2022, when he’ll take up his new position at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music as Associate Professor of Percussion. Over the past 11 years with the Ensemble, Karre has performed in more than 500 concerts, including hundreds of premieres. He has developed important new works with emerging artists with the Ensemble, while at the same time combining a keen organizational and logistical focus with an unparalleled commitment to radical collaborative creation. “George and I began collaborating with the International Contemporary Ensemble at the same time, around 2011. More than any other artist-collaborator in my lifetime, George Lewis has a unique ability to break down assumptions and expand our imagination,” says Karre.

The Ensemble is eager to work with George Lewis to advance the Ensemble’s commitment to new collaborations and programs, discovering new composers and artists as well as extending current relationships. “This is a tremendous opportunity to work with one of the world’s finest and most innovative ensembles to advance the field of new music,” Lewis says. “I see unlimited possibilities for what we can accomplish together.”

Ensemble members have been unanimous in their enthusiasm for this new appointment. Director of Recordings and pianist Jacob Greenberg further notes, “George’s storied history with the AACM in Chicago promises revelations about what it will mean to guide a contemporary ensemble through the joys and challenges of the concert scene today – and we’ll all discover how an insatiably curious polymath leader can deepen the Ensemble’s practice.” Violist Wendy Richman mentions, “One of my favorite things about contemporary and experimental music is the challenge of balancing intellectual rigor with communication of emotional meaning. George’s approach to music – writing, performing, discussing – is everything I aspire to as a musician. But his sincerity as a human and a musician is even more inspiring.”

On a personal level for many in the Ensemble, George’s work and ethos have been influential on artistic expressions and outlooks. Violinist/violist Josh Modney articulates this point by stating, “George Lewis has been such an important influence on my thinking about music. In any encounter with George, whether it be through his inspiring work as a composer-performer, his book A Power Stronger Than Itself, or a casual conversation after a concert, I always come away from the experience feeling that some new concept or musical idea has been awakened. I can’t wait to see the kinds of creativity and relationships he will awaken with the Ensemble.”

Gareth Flowers (trumpet) also comments, “George’s creative output as a composer, a scholar, and a performer is one of a kind. His work in the realm of computer music has had a large impact on my own practice, and I look forward to his leadership.” And guitarist Dan Lippel echoes, “his unique perspective and the breadth and depth of his knowledge on so many facets of contemporary music are unparalleled, and we are privileged to have him join the organization in a leadership capacity at this exciting time.”

Founder Claire Chase says, “I am beside myself with gratitude and excitement about George Lewis’ appointment as the next artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble. Throughout his intrepid career, George has made an indelible impact on the world of contemporary music, and he has profoundly shaped my own thinking, playing, and sense of possibility about the power of artist-driven organizations. That he is stepping into the artistic directorship at this pivotal moment in the organization’s history is the most electrifying news imaginable.”

George Lewis joins the Ensemble as Artistic Director at a crucial moment in the organization’s trajectory. This, the Ensemble’s 20th anniversary, will be marked by a recommitment to its vision of a musical ecosystem that fosters new identities and recognizes aesthetic, historical, and cultural cross-connections, pursuing a new complexity that promises far greater creative depth as well as strengthening artist agency around the world.

On January 23, 2023, a 20th anniversary gala will honor George Lewis and founder Claire Chase, and celebrate the community of musicians, staff, and supporters that have made the Ensemble a vital home for new music and adventurous artists for over two decades. The gala will also share the Ensemble’s expanded vision for its third decade and beyond, highlighting the artists, programs, and values that will be at the core of this exciting period of the Ensemble’s evolution.

About George Lewis
George Lewis is an internationally renowned composer, musicologist, computer-installation artist, and trombonist, a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, and a member of the Akademie der Künste Berlin. Other honors include the Doris Duke Artist Award (2019), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015), and a MacArthur Fellowship (2002). His music is performed worldwide, and he is widely regarded as a pioneer in the creation of improvising computer programs. He is the author of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press) and co-editor of the two-volume Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies. Lewis holds honorary doctorates from the University of Edinburgh, New College of Florida, and Harvard University.

About the International Contemporary Ensemble
With a commitment to cultivating a more curious and engaged society through music, the International Contemporary Ensemble – as a commissioner and performer at the highest level – amplifies creators whose work propels and challenges how music is made and experienced. The Ensemble’s 35 members are featured as soloists, chamber musicians, commissioners, and collaborators with the foremost musical artists of our time. Works by emerging composers have anchored the Ensemble’s programming since its founding in 2001, and the group’s recordings and digital platforms highlight the many voices that weave music’s present.

Described as “America’s foremost new-music group” (The New Yorker), the Ensemble has become a leading force in new music throughout the last 20 years, having premiered over 1,000 works and having been a vehicle for the workshop and performance of thousands of works by student composers across the U.S. The Ensemble’s composer-collaborators-many who were unknown at the time of their first Ensemble collaboration-have fundamentally shaped its creative ethos and have continued to highly visible and influential careers, including MacArthur Fellow Tyshawn Sorey; long-time Ensemble collaborator, founding member, and 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winner Du Yun; and the Ensemble’s founder, 2012 MacArthur Fellow, and first-ever flutist to win Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Prize, Claire Chase.

A recipient of the American Music Center’s Trailblazer Award and the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, the International Contemporary Ensemble was also named Musical America’s Ensemble of the Year in 2014. The group has served as artists-in-residence at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival (2008-2020), Ojai Music Festival (2015-17), and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2010-2015). In addition, the Ensemble has presented and performed at festivals in the U.S. such as Big Ears Festival and Opera Omaha’s ONE Festival, as well as abroad, including GMEM-Centre National de Création Musicale (CNCM) de Marseille, Vértice at Cultura UNAM, Warsaw Autumn, International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt, and Cité de la Musique in Paris. Other performance stages have included the Park Avenue Armory, ice floes at Greenland’s Diskotek Sessions, Brooklyn warehouses, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and boats on the Amazon River.

Curricular activities include a partnership at The New School’s College of Performing Arts (CoPA), along with a summer intensive program, called Ensemble Evolution, where topics of equity, diversity, and inclusion build new bridges and pathways for the future of creative sound practices. Yamaha Artist Services New York is the exclusive piano provider for the Ensemble. Read more at www.iceorg.org and watch over 350 videos of live performances and documentaries at www.digitice.org.

Photo Credits: Maurice Weiss

Pictured: George Lewis