UI cellist: 'For many, things have been challenging'

UI cellist: 'For many, things have been challenging'

TOMEKA REID, a University of Illinois doctoral of musical arts degree candidate, will see her new composition, "Present Awareness," have its world premiere Thursday evening at Krannert Center as part of "The Black Composer Speaks" concert.

It's presented by the Chicago-based Fulcrum Point New Music Project, with artistic director Stephen Burns and performances by Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, with Corey Wilkes and Alex Harding.

Fulcrum Point champions the music of three generations of artists, ranging from impressionistic to pop-inspired minimalism to free-jazz improv. Reid's music is both jazz and classically influenced, making her the natural fulcrum point, where tradition meets innovation, according to Krannert Center.

Ahead of the big night, Reid answered a few questions from staff writer Melissa Merli.

Can you describe your new piece, "Present Awareness" and tell us what inspired you to write it?

The piece relies heavily on ostinatos, along with composed sections and moments for improvisation.

There are three sections — titled "Present Awareness," "The Divine" and "Radical Hope." I think many of us are searching for ways to deal with what's going on in our world currently. For many, things have been challenging for a long time and for many others, this election, for example, seems like a huge wakeup call.

People are really riled up and hopefully are more awake to some of the injustices many others have felt for a long time. This sentiment reminded me of a statement I read a while back that said something like you can't live above your present level of awareness.

What inspired me to write the piece is that personally, I have been struggling, trying to make sense of what's been going on while at the same time traveling and having the fortunate opportunity to make and share music.

I really feel lucky that I have music in my life and I try to keep upbeat, but sometimes, when you read or hear the news, you can feel a little lost and hopeless. I thought about that a lot when I was writing, remembering the need to feel grateful for family and friends and life in general and to keep focused on following my dreams.

How did you feel about being named Chicago Tribune's Chicagoan of the Year in Jazz in late 2015?

It was both a surprise and an honor.

It was not something that I expected, so when I got the call I was really shocked.

When and why did you start playing the cello? And what other instruments do you play?

I chose the cello while attending public school. I wasn't familiar with the instrument but since many of the other girls were picking the flute and violin, a friend and I thought it would be cooler to pick something big like the cello.

I also have dabbled in electric bass.

We've noticed you've traveled a lot overseas to perform. What are some of your most memorable performances or venues?

I feel so grateful to travel and make music with people that are very dear to me. It's hard to pinpoint any one event.

I will say that I love going to Italy and have made great musician friends there.

If you go

What: Fulcrum Point New Music Project, directed by Stephen Burns, presents "The Black Composer Speaks," featuring music by three generations of composers, performed by the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble directed by Kahil El'Zabar.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Foellinger Great Hall, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., U.

Tickets: $34, adults; $29, senior citizens 65 and older and retired UI faculty and staff; $15, non-UI college students; $10, UI students and youths high school age and younger.

The program: Alvin Singleton's "In Our Own House," with UI faculty Ronald Bridgewater on soprano saxophone; Jeffrey Mumford's "still air"; Jessie Montgomery, "Strum"; Olly Wilson, Piano Trio; Tomeka Reid, world premiere of "Present Awareness"; and selections by El'Zabar, with the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble.

Note: There will be a pre-concert talk at 6:45 p.m. at Foellinger Great Hall, free with a concert ticket, featuring Burns, El'Zabar, composer Jeffrey Mumford and Seth Parker Woods, curator of inclusion and discoveries.