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Question #92939 posted on 02/21/2020 11:30 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

Im hoping that you can clear up a debate I am currently having regarding a work by Sufjan Stevens titled "Chicago". I am of the opinion that the instrumental version of this track should be considered a concerto and Sufjan himself a composer (in my opinion, the best composer working today). In your opinion, is this description correct?

-An Eternal Fan.


Dear Fan, 

If Sufjan wrote the music, he's a composer - regardless of whether or not "Chicago" is a concerto. Which... I'm kind of torn about. 

A concerto, by simple definition, is a composition where one solo instrument is highlighted (and it should be very obvious which one), accompanied by an orchestra. In "Chicago", the trumpet (right, it's a trumpet?) has two solo segments. It's not a super long song, so I'd say that could be enough to qualify it as a concerto. There's even an obvious form (ABCBDB) that could arguably make it three movements within the concerto (but let's not stretch it). So sure, I think there's enough to qualify it as a concerto.

I just worry that calling the trumpet the solo instrument is a little bit bold. It's possible that the solo segments are more of a cadenza. This doesn't disqualify "Chicago" from being a concerto. The reason I'm torn is that you only hear the trumpet highlighted at those two parts, instead of it being the obvious solo instrument throughout the whole piece. Does that make it a concerto, or just a contemporary instrumental piece with two short cadenzas? But I think you're right enough to call it a concerto, and even more right to say Sufjan may be the best composer of modern times (based on your personal preferences, of course. I think Philip Glass and Steve Reich can't be ignored, of course.