Why does new music have to be non-musical?
Ok, calling new music non-musical is not really fair, there are musical elements to the most atonal pieces by Webern, clustered conglomerations of Lutosławski, or the intense complexity of Ferneyhough. And (truly) I admire all of these composers...
However, I do find it interesting that some composers and critics find music that doesn't push these kinds of boundries, that somehow 'returns' to tonal roots to be slushy neo-romantic and therefore tired and boring. Stravinsky, one of the greatest composers of the 20th Century explored numerous different styles and yet it was his neo-romanitic period which was contains his largest output. Messian explored a number of different styles as well, but felt his one serial piece was a failure (I agree) and eventually moved back to a more tonal style (although to call it neo-romantic is pushing the definition).
Krzysztof Penderecki, who wrote "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima" (1960), a thoroughly modern piece of music, has also explored neo-romanitic styles. In a recent performance by the cellist Alisa Weilerstein (pictured) at Avery Fisher Hall in New York with with the New York Philharmonic, led by Lorin Maazel, Penderecki's Second Cello Concerto(1982) shows Romanticism and traditional orchestral forms can still be modern, while including elements of Mr Penderecki's own style.
Vivien Schweitzer gives a review of the performance saying, "The mood of this searingly emotional concerto is mostly dark and frenzied, veering between mild anxiety and enveloping despair. At one point in the score — which is full of chromatic passages, rhythmically complex dialogue between soloist and ensemble, and weeping cello melodies — the violins buzz like disgruntled bees over a solitary low drone from the cello. The darkness is penetrated from time to time by almost incongruously jovial percussion outbursts and lyrical cello interludes, which Ms. Weilerstein played with passionate commitment. Mr. Maazel aptly illuminated Mr. Penderecki’s varied sonic landscapes."
Music can be musical, tonal, romantic and still be modern, intense and dramatic. Even the composers mentioned above wrote pieces that have romantic/tonal tendancies, even though these pieces are the ones they are perhaps most remembered for (Ferneyhough is still writing so perhaps the jury is still out as to how he will be remembered). So, just because a piece of modern music has elements which are common to Mozart, Mendelssohn or Mahler doesn't mean it isn't good, interesting, worthwhile music. Here's a cheer to the tonal composers, may they continue to expand our definition of what possible and yet still musical.