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Take 5: Mischa Zupko

This edition of Take 5 features an interview with Chicago composer Mischa Zupko. Composer-in-residence at the Music Institute of Chicago, Zupko has received plaudits from The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. He’s been featured in the ChicagoReader and New Music USA’s New Music Box, which called him “a humble, energetic, and constantly searching artist.” Chicago’s New City hails him as a composer “with something to say, and the adventurous listener will be rewarded.” His upcoming release Eclipse: Chamber Music by Mischa Zupko encompasses world-premiere recordings of inventive, virtuosic, and impassioned chamber works written in a present-day musical language. Zupko, doubling as pianist on the album, is joined by two close friends and accomplished colleagues, the sublime violinist Sang Mee Lee and internationally renowned cellist Wendy Warner. Several of the works presented on Eclipse were written expressly for these artists.

What is your most recent project and what sparked your interest in it? 

Currently I’m working on a violin concerto for Sang Mee Lee, the violinist on this CD, and the Indiana University New Music Ensemble.  Originally, Sang Mee had approached me about writing a concerto for her after hearing an orchestral piece of mine with Camerata Chicago and I very much wanted to find a way to make this work as I’ve always adored her playing. What began as a discussion about a concerto though eventually turned into an even more ambitious idea to record an entire CD of my work, resulting in “Eclipse”!  A wonderful detour that has lead us back to our original impulse.  

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?

Dream career….I’d like to be an astronaut.  It was a childhood dream to see the true expanse of the universe and an impulse that lay dormant in me for a long time, but came back in recent years as I became drawn to Stephen Hawking’s books. Practically speaking, I think I would have been drawn to architecture as I’ve always had a passion for beautiful design and use of space.   

Was there a formative moment for you as an artist? 

After finishing my undergraduate in piano performance at Northwestern, I took a year off and near the beginning of that year I went on a month-long backpacking trip across Europe with my friend Aaron.  It was here that the seeds of creative impulse began to sow within me and when I returned to the states I had an insatiable urge to compose music.  I continued composing throughout the year and at the same time really struggled with the idea of pursuing this alternative path seriously. It was on a solo sailing trip on Lake Michigan, however, watching the sun set, that it became clear as day that this was my path now.   

What album/band are you listening to right now? 

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of “Hamilton”.  I’m currently working on a musical myself, but my 9-year-old son is completely obsessed with this musical and so I hear it during his every waking hour….which is great!  I haven’t had a whole lot of space in my life recently to just sit back with an album, but if I did, I would definitely get back into my most recent obsession with the Icelandic band Sigur Ros.   

What makes the Chicago classical music scene unique? 

I would say it’s incredible diversity and yet at the same time it’s connectedness.  I think the feeling most people have about Chicago is that it is a big, little town….very cosmopolitan with a neighborhood vibe.  The music scene feels the same way to me. There are so many of us operating in completely different musical spheres and yet we all know one another and many of us collaborate frequently.  It is an incredible breeding ground for cross discipline and innovation and the sense of comradery is an inspiration. 



Mary Elizabeth Bowden, praised for her “splendid, brilliant” artistry (Gramophone), celebrates the narrative power of the trumpet. Bowden is joined by the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra and conductor Allen Tinkham in a collection of new concertos that redefine the trumpet’s voice in modern classical music.

Monthly Playlist

To celebrate Cedille’s May 10 release of the Pacifica Quartet‘s American Voices, featuring music based on folk and popular music elements, a playlist of pieces based on folk songs, dances, hymns, spirituals, etc. (real or invented). We’ll add tracks from the new album when it’s released on 5/10.

Album of the Week

Enjoy 25% off of Cedille’s Featured Release.

Listen Now

On this episode of Classical Chicago, Cedille President Jim Ginsburg talks with Pacifica Quartet violinist Austin Hartman about his experience recording Cedille’s latest release, American Voices. The multiple Grammy Award-winning Pacifica Quartet continues its highly acclaimed recording series that explores the sounds of America with an album comprising string quartets incorporating elements of American folk music and spirituals by Antonín Dvořák, Florence Price, and Louis Gruenberg, plus a new work by James Lee III.