Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

Getting Contemporary 

Getting Contemporary 

Headshot of Courtney OrlandoWhen Courtney Orlando came to the Peabody Institute in 2004 to teach ear training and sight singing, some students and faculty members approached her about having contemporary classical music at the Conservatory.

As a founding member of the pioneering new music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, Dr. Orlando felt presenting more new music at Peabody was a great idea. “But there were a lot of changes happening at Peabody at the time,” she says, “so it would have been difficult to make something new hap- pen while there were already so many moving parts.”

Dr. Orlando says the 2014 appointment of Dean Fred Bronstein served as the catalyst for establishing a new con- temporary classical music ensemble at Peabody. She was appointed its artistic director last spring.

“Peabody has the talent and now has the support it needs to make this vision a reality,” Dr. Orlando says. “I’m incredibly excited for students to have this opportunity to interface with music of our time.”

Headshot of Vid SmookeVid Smooke, a Department of Music Theory faculty member, will serve as faculty advisor to the ensemble, which has been named Now Hear This.

The ensemble’s debut performance — featuring works by Donnacha Dennehy, Julia Wolfe, and Gerard Grisey — will take place on November 19 at Leith Symington Griswold Hall. The ensemble’s second performance, on April 15 at Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall, will showcase Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians.

“My intention is that the ensemble will mostly be students playing with faculty and other professionals who help them raise the bar,” Dr. Orlando says. “I want the students to take responsibility for not only knowing their individual parts, but also the entire score. If everyone is familiar with the score, the players should be able to lead themselves.”

Dean Bronstein believes Now Hear This represents an important step forward for Peabody.

“My initial impression of Peabody was that we had elements of this — a great composition program, individuals involved with new music. But what we lacked was a vibrant, flexible performing group that could embrace the eclecticism of contemporary music and involve students in a holistic experience in which ultimately I hope they become engaged not just as performers, but in the whole experience of programming, presenting, and advocating for this work,” he says. “I think that as it develops, we can have that in Now Hear This.”

Dr. Smooke says they envision the ensemble becoming an integral part of Peabody’s culture. “Over the next several years,” they say, “we will continue to expand the focus of what we do, including concerts in Baltimore beyond Peabody’s campus, concerts in other cities, performances of works by student composers, and side-by-side performances with faculty not just coaching students but making music together.”

— Alan H. Feiler