Music Institute of Chicago welcomes composer Reena Esmail

Composer Reena Esmail at the reception and workshops organized by the Music Institute of Chicago April 20, 2024. PHOTO: Mike Grittani, courtesy Music Institute

Indian-American composer Reena Esmail spent the weekend of April 19–21 at the Music Institute of Chicago ( for workshops and a free concert featuring her music.

Esmail is the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 2020–2025 Swan Family Artist in Residence and is currently an artistic director of Shastra, a nonprofit organization that promotes cross-cultural music connecting music traditions of India and the West.

Reena Esmail interacting with students at the Reception & Workshops organized by the Music Institute of Chicago April 20, 2024. PHOTO: Mike Grittani, courtesy Music Institute

The Music Institute of Chicago selected her as the featured composer this year under its “One Composer, One Community” initiative which focuses on the life and music of a single, under-represented composer during the course of an academic year, a press release from the organization said.

Esmail has written commissions for ensembles including the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Seattle Symphony, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and Kronos Quartet, and her music has been featured on multiple Grammy-nominated albums ( Esmail works between the worlds of Indian and Western classical music and brings communities together through the creation of equitable musical spaces.

Karnik Prasad, Elaine Felder, Reena Esmail, Kashyap Prasad. PHOTO: Erin Fusco, courtesy Music Institute of Chicago

On Saturday, April 20, Esmail participated in workshops for students all day, including piano, composition, strings, woodwind and brass, and voice. That evening, a Music Institute Faculty and Student Showcase Concert featured works by Esmail. She also led a Suzuki Workshop on Sunday, April 21. All events took place at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

“This was the first time most of our students had ever met a living composer,” said Music Institute President and CEO Mark George. “Reena shared her insights about the creative process, her journey as a composer, and her unique style of weaving together Western classical music with Hindustani classical music,” George said, adding, “She coached students in vocal and instrumental techniques characteristic of Hindustani tradition, worked with students on how to shape the phrasing and structure of her music, and introduced the tabla to students during a session with the Academy Orchestra.”

Neena Agrawal, Barbara Ann Martin, Reena Esmail, Sang Mee Lee. PHOTO: Erin Fusco, courtesy Music Institute

“Most importantly, Reena asked students and faculty, in an entirely authentic way, about their experiences of learning and performing her music,” George said.

Founded in 1931, the Music Institute of Chicago aims at eliciting “a lifelong engagement with music through unparalleled teaching, exceptional performances, and valuable service initiatives that educate, inspire, and build strong, healthy communities,” the organization said.

Each year, the Music Institute provides personalized music instruction to more than 1,500 students, regardless of age, level of experience, or financial means, across seven Community Music School locations in Chicago, Downers Grove, Evanston, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, and Winnetka, as well as online. In addition, the Music Institute brings music education, arts curriculum integration, professional development, and music performance and engagement opportunities to thousands in the Chicago area; offers scholarship opportunities to students in its Community School and its Academy, a nationally recognized training center for highly gifted pre-college pianists and string players; and welcomes more than 15,000 visitors annually for performances, master classes, and special events at Nichols Concert Hall.



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