The New England Conservatory is celebrating 50 years of its contemporary musical arts department with a series of free concerts starting Saturday.

One highlight of the series is the "Pushing the Limits" retrospective concert on Tuesday, Nov. 15, which will include a wide variety of music from the past five decades.

"We're both paying tribute to people who have been great innovators on our faculty, but also featuring really timely works," department co-chair Hankus Netsky said on Boston Public Radio, noting that one composition included in the program addressed the Parkland shootings and another is about climate change.

Netsky said the school's contemporary music program moves away from the concept of genre, focusing instead on an individual approach to music.

"It's a program where we see music as a continuum," he said.

Fellow department co-chair Eden MacAdam-Somer said the program takes artists who have their own voice and their own idea of their artistry, and broadens their library of music and artists they're exposed to in the effort to edify and clarify their own voice in context with that continuum.

"We give them lots to listen to, we do tons of listening, tons of singing, and the idea is by exposing yourself to an incredible array of music, and thinking about being a musician holistically ... bringing that all together, the tradition, the contemporary aspects of the music, you really start to tease out who you want to be as an artist," said MacAdam-Somer.

Netsky highlighted the importance of recordings to the 20th century, citing Billie Holiday's ability to listen to and take in Louis Armstrong when creating her own sound. Today's music is similarly impacted by recordings, he said, but with exponentially more access to different modern sounds.

"Now with the internet, and with global communication being so big, there's really nothing — you can't really avoid anything in your continuum, you need to be listening and listening and listening," said Netsky, who admonished anyone who thinks today's music is of a diminished quality than in previous eras.

"I think it's amazing, honestly, what people take in these days, because they have access to everything," he said.

More information on the upcoming six days of free concerts, starting this Saturday, is available at