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Jessie Montgomery is advocating for the future of American classical music

A woman in a fuchsia shirt with dark curly hair poses for a portrait.
© Todd Rosenberg Photography
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Todd Rosenberg Photography
Composer Jessie Montgomery is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Mead Composer in Residence.

Composer, violinist, and educator Jessie Montgomery is shaping the future of classical music. On this episode of Sound Currents, hear how she's using her music to promote inclusion, experimentation, and exploration, collecting accolades along the way.

The New York Times' 2021 profile on Jessie Montgomery has a striking headline: 'The Changing American Canon Sounds like Jessie Montgomery.'

Since 1999, Montgomery has been affiliated with the Sphinx Organization, which supports young African American and Latinx string players and has served as composer-in-residence for the Sphinx Virtuosi, the Organization’s flagship professional touring ensemble.

She is also currently Artist-in-Residence at the Vanderbilt University Blair School of Music, Composer-in-Residence at Bard College, and Professor of Violin and Composition at The New School.

Alongside these strong roots in traditional institutions, Montgomery is shifting the way she approaches classical music as a whole, in opposition to preconceived notions of the art form.

As a violinist and composer, Montgomery didn't set out to be an activist. Through the context of her work and her personal interests, however, she naturally embraced that role. At times, highlighting her personality and individuality came in conflict with classical music's traditions and rigid structure.

"Being the best at your instrument is [seen as] the primary goal...your identity is stripped from that process. The music has an expectation associated with it."

In her curatorial pursuits, Montgomery shares music from diverse composers not through a conscious effort, but subtly, as including those voices are a natural fit for her passions and interest.

This can be heard in her compositions as well: she effortlessly weaves historical context and non-traditional musical idioms into her work.

Her "Five Freedom Songs" will be performed by the Kansas City Symphony next summer. The work, conceived in collaboration with soprano Julia Bullock, utilizes non-traditional styles coupled with Negro spirituals.

Her creative output is continually evolving and changing, as well as her goals for her art.

"My vision for music and how I make music moving forward is really based in community... and making spaces where music and community is shared openly and freely."

Hear more from Jessie Montgomery in this episode of Sound Currents.

Hosts
Sascha Groschang
Laurel Parks

Guest
Jessie Montgomery, composer

Program
Starburst
by Jessie Montgomery
The Knights

Peace
by Jessie Montgomery
Anthony McGill - clarinet, Gloria Chien - piano

Duo for Violin and Cello
by Jessie Montgomery
Lavena

Soul Force
by Jessie Montgomery
Michael Reppe with the New York Youth Symphony

Rhapsody No. 2
by Jessie Montgomery
Michi Wiancko - violin

Sascha Groschang is a host for Sound Currents on 91.9 Classical KC.
Laurel Parks is a host for Sound Currents on 91.9 Classical KC.
Sam Wisman is a Producer for 91.9 Classical KC. Email him at samwisman@classicalkc.org.
Brooke Knoll is the digital audience specialist and on-air host for Classical KC. You can reach her at brooke@classicalkc.org.