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Music Man

Composer Mason Bates wraps up at the CSO with a wild farewell. 

RARE SPECIMEN Mason Bates is completing his stint as composer-in-residence with the CSO. 

Mason Bates could be the poster boy for a new generation of composer. He DJs at dance clubs. He’s hep to hip-hop. He of course gets the classical canon—and he’s pumped about electronica.

As Mead composer-in-residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco-based Bates (along with fellow composer-in-residence Anna Clyne) programs the MusicNOW series, where his own work is often on the bill. Considering his background (studies at Juilliard and Berkeley’s Center for New Music and Audio Technologies), it’s not surprising that his work combines solid construction with a real snap, crackle, pop. But the balance—the mix—is bracing.

This month, as Bates’ five-year position concludes, Maestro Riccardo Muti (how’s that for an interpreter?) will conduct Bates’ Anthology of Fantastic Zoology, a work for full orchestra inspired by the work of renowned writer Jorge Luis Borges. While the piece—which was comissioned by the CSO—is totally acoustic, chances are it won't sound conventional. 

“It’s based on The Book of Imaginary Beings, a psychedelic carnival of the animals,” Bates says. “You’ll hear a lot of influence from my electronic sound work in the textures. Every instrument has an animal it conjures and, in the finale, they all fuse together in this epic, deep-in-the-woods kind of moment. It’s the biggest piece I’ve ever written. This is huge for me.” June 18-20, times vary, $33-$240, 220 S. Michigan Ave., 312.294.3000