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On this first weekend of spring, we may be seeing orange as we scope out the first robin for seasonal confirmation.

But we'll be hearing red, thanks to the return of Illinois State University's annual vernal music fling, the Red Note Music Festival, now in its 11th stanza.

The four-day event, starting Monday and continuing through Thursday, is largely composed of, well, composers.

And their exciting new music.

The Red Note is known for attracting the country's leading contemporary talents, as well as guest ensembles and performers from ISU's own student/faculty resources.

Per tradition, the fest participants will be involved in a series of concerts and events in the Center for the Performing Arts and Kemp Recital Hall, all open to the public.

One of the guest composers for this year's event is no less than a (take a deep breath) Pulitzer Prize-winning, four-time Grammy Award-garnering, National Medal of the Arts recipient (handed off in the Oval Office by none other than President George W. Bush in a 2006 ceremony).

We're talking about William Bolcom, who, as his resume reveals, has pretty much done it all, composer-wise.

He may be best known to the general public for a pair of his film scores ... chief among them, Joan Micklin Silver's 1975 indie classic "Hester Street," featuring Carol Kane in her Oscar-nominated performance as a Russian immigrant who settles with her son in New York City's Lower East Side, circa the 1890s.

Bolcom also scored John Turturro's 1998 romantic comedy, "Illuminata," starring Turturro, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, Beverly D'Angelo and Rufus Sewell.

The Pulitzer Prize for music came in 1988, courtesy of his "12 New Etudes for Piano" ; the quartet of Grammys were a consequence of his setting William Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience" to music in 2005.

Bolcom also has composed four operas (including one based on Robert Altman's film "A Wedding"), nine symphonies, four violin sonatas and 11 string quartets.

With his wife. noted mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, he's recorded 25 albums featuring cabaret songs, show tunes and popular 20th century American music.

There's more.

In addition to Bolcom, this spring's Red Note roster includes yet another distinguished composer: Gabriela Lena Frank, who is regularly commissioned by the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, our own IWU alumna Dawn Upshaw and the King's Singers (who headlined a BCPA concert just three winters ago).

Born in Berkeley, Calif., to a mother of mixed Peruvian-Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian-Jewish descent, Frank is noted for exploring her multicultural heritage through her compositions.

She recently collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo ("Anna in the Tropics") Cruz for on a new opera about famed painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. 

On the performing front, the Red Note Fest's featured guest is the Chicago-based Ensemble Dal Niente, a contemporary classical music ensemble specializing in acoustic and electroacoustic chamber music. 

Formerly known as the New Music Festival, the “Red Note” part was appended some years back to help distinguish the event’s celebration of contemporary concert music in all its many modes.

Kemp Recital Hall is the festival’s base, with occasional forays to other campus locales. Apart from the opening concert, all events are free.

The opener, at 8 p.m. Monday in ISU’s Center for the Performing Arts, will feature the ISU Symphony Orchestra, Wind Symphony and choruses performing works by Bolcom (in attendance), faculty composer Martha Horst and the winner of the Composition Competition for Chorus, Michael D'Ambrosio.

At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Kemp, ISU students and faculty present a program of works by Frank and Bolcom, who will both the present. The concert will also include the winning work in this year’s Composition Competition for Chamber Ensemble, "Downloads," by Jack Frerer.

At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Kemp, Ensemble Dal Niente takes the stage to perform music of contemporary European composers, including Salvatore Sciarrino, Kaija Saariaho and György Kurtag.

The festival finale, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Kemp, features a concert of premieres by the participants in the Red Note Composition Workshop: James Chu, Joshua Hey, Howie Kenty, Joungmin Lee, Minzuo Lu, Mert Morali, Erik Ransom and Mac Vinetz.

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com 

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