The New SONiC Youth

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A new music festival for the under 40 takes over Manhattan

If the words "composer" and "orchestra" conjure up images of stodgy concert halls replete with white-gloved conductors in tails and orchestra pits full of faceless musicians in black formal wear, this year's SONiC (Sounds of a New Century) Music Festival will be sure to shake those associations up, introducing audiences to the most talented, cutting-edge composers, ensembles and orchestras working today.

Making its debut as a festival of 21st-century music, SONiC will take over 11 venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn from Oct. 14 through Oct. 22, hosting over 100 composers and ensembles from across the world, all of whom are 40 years old or under. Co-curated by composer Derek Bermel and pianist Stephen Gosling and produced by the American Composers Orchestra and the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, the festival is loosely based on the Ditson Festival from the 1940s and '50s. That fest-which predated CMJ by a few decades-showcased premieres from the likes of Charles Ives and Aaron Copland.

Bermel described today's fest as " a window into the vast and diverse worlds that musicians are exploring today. There are no more aesthetic or stylistic barriers out there; SONiC is offering a whirlwind showcase for the boundless creativity of our contemporary composers."

The events are as diverse as the music. Highlights include "Extended Play," an all-day marathon event on Sunday, Oct. 16, that begins at noon at Columbia University's Miller Theatre. Critically acclaimed modern-day string quartet JACK Quartet will play the role of both host and performer during the 12-hour event, along with performances from Talea Ensemble, The New York Virtuoso Singers, Dither, Imani Winds, PRISM Quartet, Young People's Chorus of New York City and NOW Ensemble.

For a taste of the new vanguard of contemporary ensembles, check out eighth blackbird, the Grammy-winning septet with the self-described "energy of a rock band," when they perform Fractured Jams Oct. 15 at the Miller Theatre. Either/Or, a cutting-edge ensemble, will perform the U.S. premiere of smear, Jonny Greenwood's classical piece, on Monday, Oct. 17, also at the Miller.

On a shoestring budget? Check out the free closing night concert "American Pie" on Saturday, Oct. 22, at the World Financial Center Winter Garden, featuring the world premiere of St. Carolyn by the Sea by The National's Bryce Dessner, who will perform the adaptation of Jack Kerouac's Big Sur with his brother Aaron on electric guitar backed by a full symphony orchestra. Commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra, it's sure to be a little bit classical and a little bit rock 'n' roll.

The program also includes the world premieres of Paul Yeon Lee's Ballade, Ruby Fulton's alt-kitsch Road Ranger Cowboy, Ryan Gallagher's B-movie influenced Grindhouse, Andrew Norman's loop-based, energetic Unstuck and Suzanne Farrin's site-specific, resonant Infinite Here.

Interactive elements of the festival include Re:Sound, an app that allows audience members to vote online or via mobile phone on the pieces they'd most like to hear rebroadcast on New York Public Radio's Q2. If there happens to be a composer inside you who's just dying to come out, UrbanRemix allows participants to create mixes from sounds recorded on their smart phones, to be showcased at an after-hours event at Brooklyn's Roulette on Oct. 21 and featured on the fest's website.

Tickets for SONiC events range from free to $50 and are available for purchase at participating SONiC venues. You can also buy a SONiC pass for $25 that provides at least 20 percent off all tickets, along with other perks. For more information and a full schedule and lineup, visit or call 212-977-8495.

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