Atlanta Contemporary Music Scene Comes Together For SoundNOW Festival

Chamber Cartel, one of the Atlanta-based music ensembles performing in the SoundNOW Festival.

Myke Johns / WABE

If you are looking for some adventurous and experimental music, Atlanta has you covered. The SoundNOW Festival is presenting a week of concerts from the city’s many contemporary ensembles, and bringing composers and musicians in from all over the country.

The festival runs through Saturday, April 13 at venues around town.

The main event is a concert by the group Bent Frequency. The program is titled “Anthem,” after a work by special guest composer George Lewis, who is also giving a series of lectures in conjunction with the festival.

SoundNOW includes nine groups and ensembles, all Atlanta-based, presenting works by majority living composers, including some world premiers of new works. This is the festival’s fourth year. Co-founder Nickitas Demos says the idea came after a chance encounter at Manuel’s Tavern.

“It was after a Neophonia [New Music Ensemble] concert, and Caleb Herron showed up there, and he had a Chamber Cartel concert the very same night,” Demos told “City Lights” producer Myke Johns. “We started talking about [how] it’s crazy that we do these things at the same time. The more we talked, the more we started saying ‘well what if we could just try to get all the new music ensembles.’”

“We tossed out names and it turned out there were actually a lot of contemporary music ensembles in the city of Atlanta,” he says.

Demos credits that in part to the city’s well-established acceptance of new work and diversity in its classical music scene.

“You see that all the way from programming at the [Atlanta Symphony] with [artistic director Robert] Spano dubbing the Atlanta Composers and trying to spotlight contemporary music. It’s part of the DNA of Atlanta,” Demos says. “I mean, Robert Shaw brought in Alvin Singleton as his first composer-in-residence, which at the time was a bold and brave thing to do. And Alvin has made his home in Atlanta ever since.”

Bent Frequency co-artistic director Jan Baker points out the local as well as national support for these musical endeavors from organizations like the Alice M. Ditson Fund and The Aaron Copland Fund for Music have proved essential. And the combination of that support and community enthusiasm has created an environment ripe for experimentation.

“They know they can go to a professional performer from the Symphony,” Demos says, “and go ‘Hey, I wanna do this crazy piece where you have to light your clarinet on fire and sing’ and they go ‘Cool!’”