Top ten new composers (you probably haven’t heard of)

Clickbait and Classical Music - A terrible relationship

Clickbait and Classical Music – A terrible relationship. This is why I think top ten lists will never satisfy any reader.

Clickbait is deeply annoying and unsatisfying for any reader, but personally I find it is at its most offensive with classical music. There are many contemporary composers writing orchestral, chamber and instrumental work, and it would be pointless and foolish to even begin to create a top ten list. How recent is ‘new’ anyway? And why assume that the reader hasn’t heard of the composer? And why should I assume that my list will match the reader’s taste?

Contemporary composers are making music in a wide range of styles. It could be atonal, avant-garde, influenced by minimalism, or could sound like film music. And since everyone has their own tastes; if I were to write a lazy article about some music that I’d stumbled across on YouTube and had given the article the title above, it would be patronising, offensive and everyone would leave unhappy.

Imagine you’d seen a link on a website about films, that said,

Best top ten new films  (you’ve probably not seen)

You might click and you might read it. But often these articles are followed by comments made by very angry people with strong opinions.

How can you include Jurassic Park? EVERYONE has seen that! Idiot.

Blade Runner??!  And how is ‘The Sting’ new? – it’s 45 years old!

Often, I find that’s what it feels like to read articles about classical music on the internet.


Instead I’d like to provide you with a much more honest approach to writing about classical music. If I were to write a genuine article, it would instead have this title:

Three contemporary composers that I found whilst watching YouTube

(They are all living composers. This selection is random, and only connected by the fact that I liked the music.)

1.)   Takashi Yoshimatsu

Piano Concerto “Memo Flora” for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 67 (1997)

I found the first movement of this piano concerto simultaneously relaxing and completely engaging. I enjoyed the patterns and repeated progressions. It was beautiful whilst never being wet or sounding like background/advert music.

The second movement is intensely beautiful, and the third movement has a lot of energy and momentum whilst never losing its lightness and balance.

I’ve also had a quick listen though a couple of snippets of his Symphonies. I’ve only listened to a few minutes of this one, but it sounds really cool, with intricate orchestrations, exciting rhythmic patterns and some great percussion parts. It sounds like it’s full of surprises whilst being easy to listen to.

2.)   Aaron Jay Kernis

Kernis Musica Celestis

I liked the structure of this piece and the rhythms of the middle section. I enjoyed the energy switch from triplets to semi-quavers at 7 minutes, and then the constant growth of power onwards (This next part around 8:20 sounds like it could be out of an old horror film.)

After all that power, the ending sounds very vulnerable and delicate, and the orchestra really steps up to the challenge. (Ensemble Symphonique Neuchâtel)

3.)   Nico Muhly

Gait

The four-harp intro reminds me of Steve Reich. It’s pretty cool.

My favourite moment comes after a really interesting section at 12:32 (honestly, I can’t tell if something has gone horribly wrong with the woodwind here or if it’s supposed to sound like that. It’s a pretty unusual reaction from the conductor.) This is followed by the most beautiful trombone melody at 12:54 through to 13:45. To me, the harmony sounds as if it’s gently shifting and flowing between sounding beautiful and slightly dissonant. It’s mesmerising.

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Did you prefer that approach? If you weren’t into Nico for example, you’re less likely to have had a negative experience, because my list of composers was presented as an opinion. It was ‘some music that I like that I’m showing to you in case you’re into this sort of thing. And I’m not an expert btw.’

This is the way we should be writing about classical music.

Greg Felton, Music Lead at Amphio

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