What is Contemporary Classical Music?

Is there a sound to Contemporary Classical Music

I love'd playing Irish music a the local pub. It wasn't necessarily complicated music, none of the musicians were anything more than just local enthusiasts, but it was a great way to pass the time, drink a pint (or 3) and enjoy the sensation of music. Other times I really enjoy going to hear music by Seve Reich or Brian Ferneyhough. Both of these forms of music aren't for main stream, but they have elements that just aren't found in any other composer's music. I love sitting at the symphony concerts and hearing Beethoven or Mozart, Adams or Glass. Whether I'd heard the music before, or it's something premiering, there is still a sense I thrill to hear.

My own music tends to want to be highly rhythmical and have some sense of melody. I am writing a string quartet influenced by Ligeti. The title is Atmospheres, like his orchestral work, but the music is in many ways very different. There is both a sense of clock and cloud, the two types of music Ligeti worked with during the period he wrote Atmphosperes. His orchestral work is less a sense of rhythm and more a sonic shifting through the piece --utterly beautiful. Again, my music is very different, but I can appreciate both. Atmospheres was written in 1961, so for something more contemporary Ligeti how about his rhythmic piano etudes written in the 1985-2001? - a sense of melody with a constant sense of propultion.

Here is my string quartet:
Genus Cumulonimbus by Chip Michael

Another recent composition, a piano concerto, has the same driving rhythm to it, although it an entirely different way. Again, there is also a sense of melody, but in the Piano Concerto I played with the sound pairing against the piano and the percussive nature of the piano.
Piano concerto 1st mvt - Intense Relationships by Chip Michael

You might sense some of Steve Reich's music as an influence. I'm sure there is. His recent Double Sextet won a Pulitzer Prize. Steve has been an innovator and explorer of new music for years and this piece deserves all the accolades it gets. Brian Ferneyhough is considered the Father of New Complexity for the demanding detail included in his music. His String Quartet No. 2 is an exploration of the variety of sounds a string quartet can make, certainly more than just extended techniques.

Another recent Pulitzer Prize winner is Jennifer Higdon. A very different composer from Steve and yet, her Violin Concerto (here performed by Hilary Hahn) is an amazing work both for the virtuosity and the mixture of tonal colors. George Crumb is also a Pulitzer Prize winner and the extended techniques is his string quartet Black Angels is a great example of his style of music.

As I said earlier, I like orchestral music. Yet another direction modern classical music is taking is through composers like John Adams. His City Noir is both rhythmic and melodic (no wonder I like it). He reminds me of Bernstein only taking the next step.

Moving in this direction, perhaps the next natural step is film music. Great composers like Goldsmith, Korngold and Williams have made their mark in creating a genre like no other, music to sound. They get a lot of flack for the "simplicity" of film music, but if you listen to the final episode of Star Wars, there is only 45s in the nearly 3 hours film that doesn't have some music. Sometimes the music is there to just be fun, and other times it really does set the mood. Watch the shower scene in Psycho without the sound and you'll see what I mean.

What is contemporary classical music? It is a variety of things. There are certainly elements from past masters influencing what we hear (and what we write), but there are also cutting edge stuff that is breaking new ground, finding new ways to illicit a sense of music. I've not even scratched the surface with these examples. Hopefully readers will comment with their own links to what they like to hear.


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