New Amsterdam Benefit in Chicago on December 16 (Preview)

When composer Marcos Balter heard the news that Superstorm Sandy had ransacked the headquarters of New Amsterdam Presents (and its recording label subsidiary New Amsterdam Records) in Red Hook, Brooklyn, he was beside himself with concern for his friends and colleagues. But he didn’t just fret over their devastating loss. He sprung into action. In the modern day equivalent of “hey kids, I know what we can do, let’s rent out the old barn and put on a show!” Balter fired off a post to Chicago’s new music interest group on Facebook. “I’m starting to gather interest about organizing a Chicago fundraising event to help my friends at New Amsterdam in NY, who lost pretty much everything during Hurricane Sandy,” he wrote on November 4. Within days, he had heard from nearly every Chicago new music organization and artist, as well as several supporters, wanting to know how they could help. A plan began to emerge. Doyle Armbrust offered to organize a benefit concert, leveraging his (Un)familiar Music Series infrastructure, including his relationship with The Empty Bottle club. By November 14, (Re)New Amsterdam Benefit Presented by (Un)familiar Music, co-produced by Armbrust and Balter, was announced for Sunday, December 16, 2012, at 1:00 PM at The Empty Bottle.

The not-for-profit New Amsterdam Presents is the brainchild of composers William Brittelle, Judd Greenstein, and Sarah Kirkland Snider. Formed in 2007, New Amsterdam is an artists service organization with a mission to encourage and support composers and performers of contemporary music, with a particular interest in defying genre boundaries. In five short years, New Amsterdam has had a remarkable impact on the development and presentation of new music in New York and well beyond. They have organized numerous concerts and music series and are associate presenters of the Ecstatic Music Festival. Through their New Amsterdam Records (a for-profit subsidiary), they have released a catalogue of over 40 new recordings of some of today’s most exciting and diverse music from artists like yMusic, Corey Dargel, Darcy James Argue, Michael Harrison, and Janus Trio.

In May 2012, New Amsterdam took possession of their new Red Hook headquarters, the former home of a motorcycle gang. For months they invested their blood, sweat, tears, and money into removing the years of grime and transforming it into the multipurpose office, studio, venue, rehearsal space of their dreams. In late September they were able to hold their first concert on site. Then along came Sandy. Despite frantic hours moving everything they could to higher ground, the building was flooded with four feet of polluted seawater, wreaking havoc on furnishings, equipment, CD stocks, and business records. In the face of the devastation, they have been awestruck by the outpouring of concern and offers of help. According to Greenstein, “we realize we are only one small entity among many individuals and enterprises in Red Hook and other areas who have suffered great losses from the storm. And we are involved in several local cooperative initiatives to bring our neighborhood back. It is humbling and gratifying,” he continued, “that the broader arts community, like our friends in Chicago, are so convinced of the value of what we are doing that they would organize a benefit to aid us in our plight.”

New Amsterdam’s Vintage Synthesizers Destroyed by Polluted Seawater (photo credit: David Andrako)

The help can’t come any too soon. The next Ecstatic Music Festival begins on Friday, January 25, with a concert by Shara Worden and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. New Amsterdam is committed to providing rehearsal space and other support for the festival performers. So the need for restoration is urgent. Beyond the sheer amount of work to do, they face many complex and expensive challenges to be ready, trying to determine how to best protect against a future incident of this nature.

For the (Re)New Amsterdam benefit event, Armbrust and friends have arranged what may be the biggest and most inclusive new music event ever held in Chicago. Nearly every ensemble in Chicago’s burgeoning new music community has volunteered to play. Chicago musicians scheduled to perform include eighth blackbird, Ensemble Dal Niente, Third Coast Percussion, Spektral Quartet, Fifth House Ensemble, Fulcrum Point, Gaudete Brass, Chicago Q Ensemble, Ensemble Vulpine Lupin, Access Contemporary Music, CUBE, Grant Wallace Band, Can I Get An Amen, Dojo, The Abominable Twitch, and Searchl1te. There will also be a silent auction onsite, featuring many one-of-a-kind items. Composers Augusta Read Thomas, Nico Muhly, Anna Clyne, Drew Baker, and Balter have all donated autographed manuscripts. Violist Nadia Sirota and other musicians are signing copies of their CDs from the New Amsterdam catalogue (purchased through the generous donation of a benefactor). With all this music and swag, the event is sure to draw a large and fascinating crowd. And one thing you won’t find at The Empty Bottle is empty bottles. They have one of the best stocked bars in Chicago.

(Un)familiar Music Series: (Re)New Amsterdam, a concert event to benefit New  Amsterdam Presents. Sunday, December 16, 2012, from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM at The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622; Phone: 773-276-3600. Tickets are $10 and up ($5 student tickets available at the door).

Arlene and Larry Dunn are pure amateurs of contemporary music. Visit their blog at Acornometrics and follow them on Twitter: @ICEfansArleneLD.