The MusicNOW contemporary music festival has been taking place in Cincinnati since 2006.  In that time, renowned artists such as Glenn Kotche, Andrew Bird, and Justin Vernon have showcased new material to small audiences of dedicated and interested fans.

“MusicNOW invites contemporary music and artists that take risks and do not fit neatly into categories.”  This statement, taken from the MusicNOW website, describes exactly the type of atmosphere the festival promotes.  Each year festival organizers Aaron and Bryce Dessner (of the band The National) commission new music from various artists to be performed at the festival

This year, Nico Muhly wrote the commissioned piece, which was performed by the contemporary music ensemble eighth blackbird.  While the festival has always commissioned new pieces specifically for the event, in 2009 Bryce Dessner (festival artistic director) dedicated these unique pieces to the memory of Esme Kenney, a young musician who was tragically killed in the spring of that year.  The festival program states, “The story of this young girl who brought so much energy and vitality to her creative pursuits continues on as a guiding force, a pole star leading artistic and active minds.”

In addition to the Muhly composition, several other artists were featured at the event, including legendary minimalistic composer Philip Glass.  Glass has been writing music for over 40 years, and has recently completed his Second Cello Concerto.  This concerto was premiered with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on March 30th and 31st following his MusicNOW performance on the 29th.

On Friday night’s sold out concert, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, and Sufjan Stevens performed a completely new collection of songs.  These pieces were so new they called the performance a “workshop,” noting several times throughout the concert they even they were hearing the final pieces for the first time.  They were joined on stage by a unique musical ensemble, including a string quartet and a seven trombone orchestra.

The collection of songs was the final performance at the festival, and was inspired by, and written about the planets and stars in our solar system, each piece being named after a planet (including the moon and the sun).

Other highlights from Friday’s concert came from flamenco guitarist Pedro Soler, and cellist Gaspar Claus, who performed pieces from their most recent album, Barlande.  Kate Stables musical project This Is The Kit followed.  She was joined on stage by Richard Reed Perry (of Arcade Fire) and Aaron Dessner (of The National).

MusicNOW will be back in Cincinnati next Spring.