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High Points

Veteran mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley lends her voice to the city’s newest music festival. 

Julia Bentley underneath the Tiffany dome inside the Chicago Cultural Center, one of the venues participating in the Ear Taxi Festival 

For aspiring classical singers, New York has long been the ultimate place to be. But after ending a 1991 to 1993 stint in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s prestigious young-artist development program, mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley made the unusual decision to remain in the Windy City. And she could hardly be happier. “I was able to find my way here more easily than I would have in New York,” she says. “Chicago is that amazing hybrid of top-notch arts organizations plus that kind of sweet-home feeling.”

Bentley has worked in just about every facet of the field, from baroque oratorio and opera to chamber music and 21st century art song, regularly appearing with such ensembles as the University of Chicago’s Contempo. She is even featured on a Grammy-nominated 2015 recording of forgotten 20th century Jewish cabaret music with New Budapest Orpheum Society, Ensemble-in-Residence at the University of Chicago.

Those versatile chops are one good reason why Bentley will help headline the Ear Taxi Festival, a brand-new new-music event taking place Oct. 5 to 10. Spearheaded by renowned local composer Augusta Read Thomas, this debut fest is designed to bring overdue national and even international attention to the city’s blossoming new-music sphere, with dozens of concerts, lectures, installations and webcasts. Works by nearly 90 composers will be showcased, including a staggering 53 world premieres created specifically for this event.

“It’s a way of giving a shout-out to the diversity and the vitality of the new-music scene here in Chicago,” says Bentley. She will have her moment in the spotlight Oct. 8 at the Chicago Cultural Center when she joins Access Contemporary Music in a program of poems by Carl Sandburg (he of “City of Big Shoulders” fame) newly set to music by such composers as Yuan-Chen Li, Andrew McManus and Timothy Page.

Forget the Second City. For six days in October, Chicago will be front and center in the classical world. VIP pass, $200, various venues