Pushback is a modular contemporary music ensemble founded in 2018 by Ben Roidl-Ward (bassoon) and Ally Smither (soprano). Our objective is to commission and present a new body of work featuring bassoon and soprano that addresses, interacts with, and exposes social and political issues within our communities. This goal arose from a growing frustration with what we see as an unnecessary and harmful dislocation of our artistic practice from the realities of our lives. Pushback was formed from a desire for a close collaboration between two unusually paired voices; this spirit of collaboration expands to a deep desire to form meaningful relationships with composers of our generation, and to actively participate in the creation of new work that challenges performers and listeners alike.
Our first commissioning project featured the premieres of four new works: three duos for bassoon and soprano by LJ White, Karim Al-Zand, and Binna Kim, and one sextet for bassoon, soprano, and string quartet by Theo Chandler. We are grateful to the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and the Luminarts Cultural Foundation, whose generous support made these commissions possible and our performances throughout 2018 and 2019 possible. Our programs in the 2019-2020 season will include new works by Sepehr Pirasteh and Yi-Ting Lu.
Ben Roidl-Ward is a bassoonist and improviser based in Chicago. His dedication to working with and advocating for composers of his generation has led him to commission and premiere numerous solo and chamber works featuring the bassoon with the goal of broadening the repertoire and expanding the possibilities of the instrument. Ben has appeared as a soloist with the Seattle Symphony and the Northwestern and Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensembles, along with several regional orchestras throughout the United States. He has performed with the International Contemporary Ensemble, Ensemble Dal Niente, the Spektral Quartet, the Chicago Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic. His festival appearances include the Mostly Mozart, Ravinia, Lucerne, Tanglewood, Spoleto, and Banff Festivals. A 2018 Luminarts Fellow in Classical Music, Ben is the second bassoonist of the Illinois Symphony and a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He is on the faculties of Carthage College, the Music Institute of Chicago, and the People’s Music School, and is completing his doctoral studies at Northwestern University, where he studied with David McGill. Previous teachers include Ben Kamins at Rice University, George Sakakeeny at the Oberlin Conservatory, and Francine Peterson in the Seattle Area.
With a vocal technique described as “beautiful, elegant, and masterfully manipulated” (Schmopera), Alexandra Smither was named one of Canadian Broadcasting Co’s 2017 “30 Young Hot Classical Musicians Under 30”. She was the grand prize winner at the 2017 Eckhardt-Gramatée Competition, earning both first prize and the prize for best performance of the commissioned work, Nicole Lizee’s “Malfunctionlieder”. She made her triumphant debut with Houston Grand Opera as Younger Alyce in their production of Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied, in which she “imbued her solo aria “My Darling Jim” with heartbreaking tenderness” (Texas Classical Review). She returned to Houston Grand Opera in May as Diana in Cruzar la cara de la Luna. Her 2018 New York debut at the Baryshnikov Arts Center of Luciano Berio’s “Sequenza III” called “an extraordinarily adept soprano, one who can shriek, gurgle, cackle, mutter, gesture, and declaim as well as sing beautifully” (The Threepenny Blog).
As a 2017 Soprano Fellow at the Tanglewood Festival, she made her Seiji Ozawa Hall debut at the Tanglewood Festival alongside Emanuel Ax and Bill Hudgins in Schubert’s "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen". The festival also brought performances of selections from Berg’s Sieben Fruhe Lieder with the Tanglewood Festival Orchestra, recital of French song, coached by Roger Vignoles. and Bach cantatas under the baton of John Harbison. She returned for her second fellowship at Tanglewood in the summer of 2018; highlights included the premiere of Theo Chandler's "Two Taylor Songs" which were written for her, and the premiere of a new work by Oliver Leith under the baton of Thomas Adès. Additionally her “high bright voice embodied Max’s shrill ravings to perfection” (Boston Musical Intelligencer) in a memorial performance of Oliver Knussen’s “Where the Wild Things Are”, under the baton of Stefan Asbury.
Ms. Smither has held fellowships at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Songfest, Fall Island Vocal Arts, The Song Continues at Carnegie Hall, and Music Academy of the West. 2018 brought diverse performance from the Metropolis New Music Festival in Melbourne to early music ensembles Ars Lyrica and Emmanuel Church. 2018/2019 brings performances with BARE Opera in New York, the Baryshnikov Arts Center, the Wyoming Symphony, a recital tour of Japan, and the inaugural tour of PushBack with bassoonist Ben-Roidl Ward.