Fulcrum Point New Music Project Review- Innovation and New Music drives this great Chicago organization

Fulcrum Point New Music Project (FPNMP) is an organization of musicians dedicated to excellence in expanding the scope and appreciation of New Art Music in Chicago.  They present multi-media performances, generate educational programs and both commission and record innovative works.

Fulcrum Point musicians on 5/17/2016; photo courtesy of Elliot Mandel

 This reviewer had the opportunity to attend three concerts in recent months. The Chicago musical community including Fulcrum Point artistic director Stephen Burns works together to create opportunities for its participants. Since Burns was co-curator (with Augusta Read Thomas) of the wildly successful first Ear Taxi Festival, (ETF) which ran from October 5th through October 10th at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, it makes sense that members of Fulcrum Point performed there the first night, and participated in the Preview Concert, on August 23rd, which was also part of the Chicago Summer “Rush Hour Concerts” series.

Stephen Burns; photo courtesy of Saverio Truglia

 Please note that Rush Hour Concerts have recently merged with the International Music Foundation; the merged entity, “The New International Music Foundation” will present a reception, concert and dinner on November 15 entitled “Perfect Pairings”. This Fall Benefit at The Woman’s Athletic Club, 626 N. Michigan, will be hosted “in celebration of music, milestones and their merger”. For information and tickets, call 312 640 7418

The “Here and Now 2” concert on August 23rd at St. James Episcopal Church, 60 E. Huron, also featured “Ensemble dal Niente”, a contemporary classical music ensemble based in Chicago that performs acoustic and electroacoustic chamber music. George Lewis and Mischka Zupko’s works were presented.

Ensemble Dal Niente; photo courtesy of Ear Taxi Festival

One of the pieces of award-winning composer Zupko’s was “Rising”, 2009, performed by Fulcrum Point’s Mathias Tacke on violin and Kuang Hao on piano. It was written, Zupko stated in his introductory remarks, as a commission for the 50th Anniversary of Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Northfield. A lovely, soaring piece, it “reflects on the event of Jesus’ Ascension from earth”. The violin from the very opening gives the impression of this rise, and the piano seems to suggest the earthly legions yearning toward their own heavenly ascent.

Alex Mincek and Elizabeth Ogonek; photo courtesy of Todd Rosenberg

George Lewis, renowned musician, author, professor and composer, spoke about his cutting age avante-garde piece, “Hexis”, 2013, and his investigation into and writing about improvisation; “I am trying to work out the essential part of what appears in the consciousness”. The piece was ecstatic and transcendental in feel, and as performed by Ensemble Dal Niente, who recently recorded a video of Lewis’ work, “Assemblage”, a sample of the group’s dedication to bringing “its incisive interpretation and electric performance style to the music of out time”.

The second concert I attended, on August 27th was part of a series FPNMP presented at Public Chicago, 1301 N. State, called “Jazz at the Library Bar”. This concert, entitled “Afro Beats”, took listeners “on a journey through jazz history”. It featured a 3 -part work of composer Gustavo Leone, “Corson for trumpet and video ” which Burns also performed at Concert 2 of The 11th Chicago Latino Music Festival (CLMF), among other venues- Leone is co-curator of CLMF. It was an exceptionally intriguing and multi-layered piece with satirically amusing high-level visuals accompanied by Burns’ superb trumpet playing.

Fulcrum Point musicians; photo courtesy of Elliot Mandel

The Public concert’s program, with music and videos by Jacob TV and electronics by Gustavo Leone, also featured Malinke traditional drumming and the works of Horace Silver and jazz legend Thelonious Monk, beautifully arranged and performed by musicians Stephen Burns, trumpet and Andy Baker, trombone; Jim Gailloreto, saxophone; Jeff Handley, djembe, agogo, claves and percussion; Jean Leroy, drums; Christian Dillingham, bass; and Jeremy Kahn, piano.

Stephen Burns and musicians at the Public Hotel; photo courtesy of Debra Davy

The 3rd concert I attended was the opening night of ETF, October 5, at The Harris Theatre, 205 E. Randolph. FPNMP opened the concert; another work of composer Mischa Zupko’s, among other pieces, was presented. On the program that evening, performed by Fulcrum Point pianist Winston Choi was the Chicago premiere of Zupko’s “Fahrenheit”, 1999, inspired by “images of flame as depicted in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”. The piece was gripping and enthralling.

Winston Choi; photo courtesy of Elliot Mandel

Fulcrum Point premiered that evening 3 new works for chamber orchestra by Alex Mincek and Elizabeth Ogonek. The program concluded with “sonic landscapes” and “the funky rhythms of dubstep and electronica" including the works of Mason Bates, Eric Malmquist, and  Jonathan Newman, performed by “the best of Chicago’s young orchestral musicians”.

James Sander on violin; Carmen Kassinger on violin, Dave Mason on viola and Paula Kosower on cello; photo courtesy of Elliot Mandel

The obvious yet extraordinary link between these festivals, series, composers and performances is in the quality of the artists performing. Not all of the pieces presented at Public are as newly minted as the work offered at ETF , which was between 5 and 12 months old. However, FPNMP focuses on work that is vibrant, fresh and up-to-the minute in its composition and interpretation.

Stephen Burns and musicians at "The Black Composer Speaks" concert April 29, 2016; photo courtesy of Elliot Mandel


Catch up with Fulcrum Point and enjoy their special programs at the following up and coming concerts:

-Fulcrum Point Discoveries:  “Hear and Be Heard”, concert, conversation and reception: November 16 at 6PM at Gottlieb Hall, Merit School of Music, 38 S. Peoria St.  Participants will be able to share feelings and opinions with the artists and composers over drinks and snacks- the event is free.



-“The Space Between: Fluxus Art, Music and Poetry”: November 20 from 3 PM in the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, 5751 S. Woodlawn. This multi-disciplinary event will include musical performance, readings from poetry and literary texts and  a discussion about the intersection between these art forms; fluxus is a genre that blurs the boundaries between art and life.

Stephen Burns conducting members of Fulcrum Point New Music Project; photo courtesy of Elliot Mandel


-18th Annual Concert For peace: “Politics, Poetry and Prayer”: December 18th at 4 PM at The Alhambra Palace Restaurant, 1240 W. Randolph. This event is Fulcrum Point’s annual musical ritual in celebration of it’s 18th year; the purpose is to “probe, question, rant and invoke for peace”.


-“The Black Composer Speaks” concerts:

Featuring internationally acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, composer, percussionist and band leader Kahil El’Zabar and The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, formed in 1976 and still reinventing itself while making music “with a modern sensibility and ancestral spirit”.

Kahil El'Zabar from "The Black Composer Speaks", at The Promontory, April 29, 2016; photo courtesy of Elliot Mandel

“The Black Composer Speaks” concerts, “Sonic Illinois” and “Exhortation” are a 2 part extension/continuation of the April, 2016 panel discussion held at The Du Sable Museum of African American History and subsequent New Music Event held at the Promontory. “The Black Composer Speaks” highlights the close ties between tradition and innovation, and will take audiences “through the creative landscape of contemporary African American concert music”. It will present music “ranging from neo-classical to free improv, concerto to collaborative, Afrocentric to abstract”.


 “Sonic Illinois: The Black Composer Speaks,” on February 9, 2017 at 7:30 PM at The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Foellinger Great Hall, 500 S. Goodwin Ave.,Urbana, Il. This month- long event event honors the University of Illinois sesquicentennial anniversary in 2017 and celebrates “innovative creators who challenge convention, forge new pathways and expand the creative process”.


“Exhortation: The Black Composer Speaks”, on February 10, 2017 at 7:30 PM, at The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park. This unique event celebrates the voices of black composers, championing music by 3 generations of classical and jazz artists.

Kahil El'Zabar and Stephen Burns at "The Black Composer Speaks" concert at The Promontory, April 29, 2016; photo courtesy of Elliot Mandel


For more information and to purchase tickets for these fabulous upcoming events, go to the Fulcrum Point website








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