MusicNOW 2017: from cowboy songs to cutting-edge classical with the CSO

Bryce Dessner, photo by Shervin Lainez

Bryce Dessner, photo by Shervin Lainez

The evolution of the cross-genre MusicNOW Festival continues in 2017 with new music from Bob Weir, Bryce Dessner, Lisa Hannigan and more, including a shift to a new season, new venues, a new conductor and new festival management.

For its 12th iteration, the festival will move from its customary spring-ish time frame to the normally brisk weekend of Jan. 12-14.

Thursday, Jan. 12, 7:30 p.m. / Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center

For the nonclassical portion of the festival, Dessner is bringing a special project to Cincinnati. “Blue Mountain” is the new release by Bob Weir, most famous as rhythm guitarist for the Grateful Dead. His backup Campfire Band is made up of Josh Kaufman, and members of The National: brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner, along with Bryan and Scott Devendorf. Selections from the album will open the festival.

Bob Weir

Bob Weir

“Blue Mountain” is Weir’s first solo release in many years, inspired by his time spent working as a teenage ranch hand in Wyoming. Jessie Jarnow, in his Pitchfork review, praised the album as “quietly adventurous, wise and a welcome late-career turn.” In his NPR review,  Felix Contreras referred to Weir as “a poet laureate of deep thinking and whimsy.”

Friday-Saturday, Jan. 13-14, 8 p.m. / Taft Theatre

Continuing the festival’s collaboration with the Cincinnati Symphony, two evenings will feature new and newer classical offerings.

Leading the CSO this year is conductor/composer Matthias Pintscher, music director of the distinguished, Paris-based Ensemble Contemporain. He will conduct one of his own works (“Idyll”), in addition to music by some leading young composers of this generation: Americans Timo Andres (b. 1985) and Andrew Norman (b. 1979) and Anna Thorvaldsdottir (b. 1977) from Iceland, as well as a new work, “Wires,” by guitarist and festival founder Bryce Dessner (b. 1976).

The “old guy” on the program is György Ligeti (1923-2006), whose idiosyncratic music has been plugged into our social consciousness thanks to film scores (“2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Shining,” “Shutter Island”). Ligeti’s violin concerto will feature the CSO debut of soloist Pekka Kuusisto, whom the London-based Times recently dubbed the “David Bowie of the fiddle.”

The Friday evening CSO performance also will feature Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, accompanied by guitarist Aaron Dessner.

Friday, Jan. 13, 9:30 a.m. / Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm St.

In a new offering, MusicNOW will give a free Young People’s Concert, featuring the MYCincinnati Ambassador Ensemble and performances by MusicNOW artists. Cincinnati Public Schools are closed that day for teacher training.

MusicNOW has entered a new chapter in its development, coming under the management of Ashley Capps’ AC Entertainment, producers of the Bonnaroo, Forecastle and Big Ears festivals, among others. Stay tuned; things could get even more interesting going forward.

Tickets for Thursday, Jan. 12: 513-621-2787 or

Tickets for Friday-Saturday, Jan. 13-14: 513-381-3300 or

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