At the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood, there’s a café that plays only instrumental music from movie soundtracks, and it makes for quite a unique dining adventure. From one moment to the next, your meal transforms into something sad, epic, romantic – all depending on the movie music underscoring the occasion.

Music shapes our environment and informs the way we feel, and contemporary classical music epitomizes that capacity. The delight of discovering new musical experiences is celebrated and championed at the annual John Donald Robb Composers’ Symposium.

In its 47th year, the 2018 symposium is centered around musical environments, and will take place at the UNM College of Fine Arts and other local venues.

“Sometimes there’s a sense that new classical music is always difficult and uninviting,” says symposium Co-Artistic Director Peter Gilbert. “But it’s actually much more approachable, because it’s coming out of our time and in the voice of our time.”

The composers’ symposium goes beyond bringing world class musicians to Albuquerque for performances and concerts.

“If you find yourself in the audience listening to a piece of music that’s really special,” Gilbert says, “that person is there to talk to after the performance. It’s a unique experience in that it’s very personal.”

Another standout aspect of the symposium are the happenings designed to compliment the live music performances. A variety of workshops, panels, classes and lectures will enhance the symposium experience.

For one such event, Hildegard Westerkamp, a Canadian composer and sound ecologist, will lead a Sound Walk throughout the UNM campus. Through silence and active listening, a sound walk is designed to shift the awareness of participants toward “hearing the musicality of the world,” says Gilbert.

When asked if there’s one event that he wants to highlight as the can’t miss experience of the symposium, Gilbert, after careful consideration, says the whole of this year’s lineup is truly exceptional, and bound to expand the horizons of participants and audience members.

“Think of it as an adventure in the same vein as going to a restaurant that serves a kind of food you’ve never had before,” Gilbert says. “There’s the potential for experiencing something that adds new flavors to your life.”

The John Donald Robb Composers’ Symposium takes place from March 23-29 at the UNM College of Fine Arts and additional venues around town. For more information and the complete symposium schedule, visit