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Thread: Where is classical music headed?

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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    Where is classical music headed?

    In the next while (pc permitting; it`s been making odd noises these days- uhoh,) I plan to discuss in this thread what the future may hold for classical music. It seems appropriate, considering the owner of this site is a contemporary classical composer. If anyone wants to start the ball rolling with comments, feel free. Is there any particular contemporary classical movement that interests you? Are there any contemporary works that you like? If so, what is it you like about them? Any comments welcome.
    ''Music, I feel, should be emotional first and intellectual second.'' - Maurice Ravel
    ''The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.'' - Michael Jackson


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    Administrator Frederik Magle's Avatar
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    Great topic

    Seen from here, the contemporary classical music world looks more fragmented and pluralistic than ever. Which in many ways is a good thing, but also raises some concerns. Although a lot of things are happening for sure, I don't see the same kind of "epicenters" like, say, the Darmstadt School of the 50s, etc. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing as those kind of "schools" have a tendensy to inspire too much unidirectionality with its followers, and steam roll alternative directions, but on the flip side we also lose the pure "energy" and "drive" arising by having a common cause, or vision. I don't see such vision today. (but maybe I'm just too busy composing to notice things around me ).

    Nevertheless, I concur with rojo's request for comments. Let's use this thread as a sort of weather balloon on the direction of - and opinions on - contemporary classical music.

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    Captain of Water Music
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    I can not comment on composing because i am not familier with the works of contemporary composers but i feel that the skill of performers is declining.I mean there are no Wilhelm Furtwaengler's or Arturo Toscanini's amongst conductors and no Heifetz's or Oistrakh's amongst violinists.

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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    Maybe we should provide a definition of contemporary classical music. Here is what wikipedia says-

    'In the broadest sense, contemporary music is any music being written in the present day. In the context of classical music the term has been applied to music written in the last quarter century or so, particularly works post-1975. There is debate over whether the term should be used to apply to music in any style, or only to composers writing avant-garde music, or only to "modernist" music. There is some use of "Contemporary" as a synonym for "Modern", particularly in academic settings. A more restrictive use applies the term only to living composers and their works (perhaps only their recent works). Since "contemporary" is a word that describes a time frame, rather than a style or a unifying idea, there are no universally agreed criteria for making these distinctions.'

    Yikes. On top of that, wikipedia goes on to list sixteen different 'movements', each using specific techniques, many of which are sometimes combined to varying degrees in different composers` works. So Frederik is not kidding when he says the contemporary classical music (ccm) world is fragmented and pluralistic.

    I`ll try to bring up all these movements, including examples of composers who use these various techniques. As this thread is for discussion, anyone can and should feel free to jump in any time with their comments and impressions. I plan on interspersing some of my own opinions along the way.

    Kromme- I appreciate your comments, but maybe they would belong in another, more relevant thread. Feel free to start one; it would be a great topic for discussion- 'Is the skill of performers declining?' Although I don`t think I would necessarily agree with you...
    ''Music, I feel, should be emotional first and intellectual second.'' - Maurice Ravel
    ''The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.'' - Michael Jackson


  5. #5
    Midshipman, Forte
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    I think a major part of the future of classical music is in film. It's produced some amazing amazing works so far. John Williams is extremely talented composer, even if he has blatantly copied material from other great composers, he's done amazing things with it. I have enjoyed his music more than any other contemporary composer. I think that modern composers keep trying to stake out their own ground by being more and more different, when in reality the music is not getting better. But on the same hand, our tastes for music continue to expand. Just as we can learn to like a piece that seems absurd it first, we may learn to like more and more far out modern pieces, and see more genius in them. Eventually we'll be able to enjoy complete symphonic chaos. Not all modern composers are as far out though, I really have to expand my modern composer listening, I haven't really listened to enough to be an authority. has any one heard much of John Corigliano, I have heard his piano concerto but I didn't like it very much.

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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    I think it may be useful to describe a bit of the history of ccm. I hope people will forgive me quoting wikipedia once again; they say everything so well-

    'In the early part of the 20th century contemporary music included modernism, the twelve tone technique, atonality, futurism, primitivism, constructivism, New Objectivity, unresolved and greater amounts of dissonance, rhythmic complexity, nationalism, social and socialist realism, and neoclassicism. In the fifties, contemporary music generally meant serialism, in the sixties serialism, post-serialism, indeterminacy, electronic music including computer music, mixed media, performance art, and fluxus, and since then minimal music, post-minimalism, New Simplicity, New Complexity, and all of the above.

    Since the 1970s there has been increasing stylistic variety, with far too many schools to name or label. However, in general, there are three broad trends. The first is the continuation of modern avant-garde traditions, including musical experimentalism. The second are schools which sought to revitalize a tonal style based on previous common practice. The third focuses on non-functional triadic harmony, exemplified by composers working in the minimalist and related traditions.

    Contemporary music composition has been altered with growing force by computers in composition, which allow for composers to listen to renderings of their scores before performance, compose by layering performed parts over each other and to disseminate scores over the internet. It is far too soon to tell what the final result of this wave of computerization will have as an effect on music.

    All history is provisional, and contemporary history even more so, because of the well known problems of dissemination and social power. Who is "in" and who is "out" is often more important to who is known than the music itself. In an era with perhaps as many as 40,000 composers of concert music in the United States alone, first performances are difficult, and second performances even more so. The lesson of obscure composers in the past becoming important later applies doubly so to contemporary music, where it is likely that there are "firsts" before the officially listed first, and works which will be later admired as exemplars of style, which are as yet, unheralded in their own time.'


    Thanks for sharing your opinions, LBaG; as for complete symphonic chaos, who hasn`t enjoyed some of that already?

    But seriously, I think film is and will continue to be a great 'venue' for exposing many people to ccm who otherwise would not seek it out. There are numerous examples; seeing as you brought him up, why don`t we mention John Corigliano`s music for the film 'The Red Violin'? Haven`t seen the film, but I do like some of this music, as well as his 'Fantasia on an Ostinato' for piano. Actually, I like ostinato in general; changing harmonies over a held or repeated note. But I digress. I found there were some lovely moments in the piece. Wikipedia describes Corigliano as a Neo-Romantic composer. Which means he employs the vocabulary of extended tonality used in the early 20th century. No wonder I like this music. Anyway, that would make Corigliano one of the composers following the second trend of the three listed by wikipedia, I think.
    ''Music, I feel, should be emotional first and intellectual second.'' - Maurice Ravel
    ''The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.'' - Michael Jackson


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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    I stumbled on this interesting video of interviews with Corigliano and other composers. The background music is annoying because it tends to drown out the speaking, but it`s well worth a listen. I especiallly like the last thing Corigliano says.

    YouTube - So You Want To Become A Composer

    Any comments?
    ''Music, I feel, should be emotional first and intellectual second.'' - Maurice Ravel
    ''The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.'' - Michael Jackson


  8. #8
    Captain of Water Music Ouled Nails's Avatar
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    Projecting into the future is not exactly my forte. I generally agree with the notion that contemporary music has become more fragmented and less focused on "schools" then a few decades ago. Yet, let us remember that numerous individual contemporary composers opted out of these trends while they were building momentum. A Alan Hovhaness, for example, never accepted atonal composition because he viewed it as "against nature." He created his own musical language very much like Leos Janacek had done long before him. People also assume that contemporary music was struck by a specific virus -- it lost many listeners when it became too intellectual (e.g., Cage). This assumption supposedly provides a rationale for the return to "neo-romantic" music. In reality, most contemporary musical trends, whether one speaks of its occurrence with Mahler in 1906, with Bartok in 1936 or with Stravinsky in 1956 resulted in much indifference and neglect. It is not a great consolation for the owner of this site but the truth is that the "dissonant" Bartok died a poor man and Stravinsky.... well, look at how music lovers on this very site respond to his music. He had to live with this odd reputation of having accomplished many of his best works early in his career. I'm sorry for all the rambling. My point here is simply that one does not know how future generations will respond to contemporary music when it is no longer contemporary!
    For my part, I listen to it with interest. As I stated in another thread, I devoted part of my time today to Petrossi and Scelsi, two Italian composers who were still living not so long ago. I am also curious about these new "trends" such as some of the quite young composers whose works have been interpreted by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra a few months ago. As long as there occur international competitions between today's composers, such as the one organized by Nagano in Montreal and which is scheduled to be completed on 10 January (a French composer, 2 Spanish composers, an American composer, and a Canadian composer are finalists, if I recall correctly), as long as the Naganos of today continue the Koussevitsky tradition of yesterday, then contemporary composers can at least hope to develop their own unique musical language, with or without the solidarity provided within a particular school of thought.
    Best wishes to you, composer Magle.

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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    Btw, for those interested, here is some info about the finalists of Nagano`s competition. If I understand correctly, one can listen to the concert Jan. 10 on Espace musique (radio-canada.)

    The International Composition Prize - Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
    ''Music, I feel, should be emotional first and intellectual second.'' - Maurice Ravel
    ''The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.'' - Michael Jackson


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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    I`ve just been listening to Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977) by Arvo Pärt. This is not the first thing I`ve heard by him, and so far I`ve liked what I have heard. This piece, rather simple in construction, creates a mesmerizing atmosphere using the natural minor scale (or perhaps descending melodic minor scale would describe it better,) and fairly standard chords. Generally this composer is termed a minimalist.

    This work is said by some to be related to New Simplicity, a movement started in the 70`s and 80`s in Germany. Composers of this movement strived to compose music that was more subjective in it`s construction, and less based on intellectualism, as was the case for other 'styles' of composition of the time. However, the music of Estonian composer Pärt (and others) is more based on earlier music traditions (renaissance, medieval) than the Germans, who turned more towards Romanticism and Expressionism.

    This leads me to the next work I listened to; Klavierstuke No. 5 by Wolfgang Rihm. I would say Rihm harkens back to Expressionist techniques more than Romantic ones in this piece. Also, I don`t think this work has any functional tonality, although I can`t be sure having only heard it once. In short, I was not crazy about this work. It has these odd (I think doubled) octaves, which I found stood out, and could not figure out why. I will say that this is an interesting work, but not one I had the urge to listen to again. This is the first work I`ve heard by Rihm, and not to short change him, I`m not sure this is the best example of his work, I don`t know. Maybe some fans of his will want to share some of their fave works by him...

    Apparently Rihm was the best-known composer of the New Simplicity movement. Now, here is where I get a little confused. New Simplicity is also sometimes called 'New Expressivity', 'New Inwardness', 'New Sensuality', 'New Tonality', even 'New Romanticism', which is listed by wikipedia as a whole other movement. It seems there is always plenty of cross-over and mixing of movements. As usual, it is very difficult to categorize something such as music!
    ''Music, I feel, should be emotional first and intellectual second.'' - Maurice Ravel
    ''The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.'' - Michael Jackson


  11. #11
    Captain of Water Music Ouled Nails's Avatar
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    <This is the first work I`ve heard by Rihm, and not to short change him, I`m not sure this is the best example of his work, I don`t know. Maybe some fans of his will want to share some of their fave works by him...>

    Of Rihm, I have but one piece, "Time Chant, for violin and orchestra." But that's a great analysis of Part, rojo. I'll listen to Rihm again and, if I can say anything more, I'll get back to this thread later. Thanks!

  12. #12
    Seaman, Mezzoforte Wunderhorn's Avatar
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    What I would love to see, truly love to see, is scholars take the compositional frontline. So much beautiful music from so many masters. As we all know scholars are generally finatical about their favorite composers, and it is high time men on this earth, given the gift of being able to completely master a master's compositions, continue their legacy respectfully. 20th and 21st Century has become the greatest joke of composers with all brain and no soul. The 'brains' approaching music from a Schoebergian point of view, of "I must be the next Wagner!" They think it in their conseption to establish the next big dogma or trend. What an utter maudlin mess! All them crying out "Look at me!"
    Last edited by Wunderhorn; Jan-03-2007 at 03:45.

  13. #13
    Captain of Water Music Ouled Nails's Avatar
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    Hello Rojo. The recording I have is from a live concert in 2000, with Anne-Sophie Mutter at the violin, a wonderful artist who has long been an ardent advocate of contemporary music. I give her tremendous credit for that. Someone sitting in the third row even drew a sketch of her playing that night. You can see it here Kurt Mazur and Anne-Sophie Mutter, Avery Fisher Hall, 15 January 2000
    But that someone probably took an accurate pulse of the audience. Compared to Ravel, Rihm simply did not connect with the audience. From the distance where I am, listening to this tape seven years later, and without your expertise, I would say that Rihm may have produced for the late 20th-century what Paganini created during the romantic era: a piece that clearly displays Mutter's virtuosity at the violin, but in a very "modern" idiom. For the most part, the orchestra accompanies the artist in her pilgrimage through time. I admit, though, that the evocative title of the piece, "Time chant," raises expectations insofar that the audience expects to have an opportunity to grasp the chant....
    Last edited by Ouled Nails; Jan-03-2007 at 03:14.

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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    Interesting, ON, thanks. Were there any things you did enjoy in this work?

    I should correct myself; earlier I refered to Arvo Pärt as being a minimalist composer. Apparently he is more of a post-minimalist. It seems post-minimalists use greater harmonic and rhythmic complexity in their works than minimalists. As well, they sometimes employ storytelling, and rely more on emotional expressionism than technique...
    ''Music, I feel, should be emotional first and intellectual second.'' - Maurice Ravel
    ''The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.'' - Michael Jackson


  15. #15
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    The contemporary classical music station I`m listening to is playing Kurt Weill`s The Threepenny Opera, Act 1. This is classical? It`s Mack the Knife...

    This is the first time I listen to something by Kurt Weill. At least, that I know of. Maybe the last time I heard Mack the Knife it was actually this opera...

    I can see that this might be popular though...
    ''Music, I feel, should be emotional first and intellectual second.'' - Maurice Ravel
    ''The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.'' - Michael Jackson


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