Friday 9 January 2015

The Way In

Looking for something outside the box of classical music? Bored with recycled soothing background music? Want to find out what's hip and happening in today's progressive music world?  Start here.

Contemporary music can be considered as music composed post World War II, that is, from the end of the 1940s on. This covers a period which could be described as a time of permanent revolution in music and includes such extremes as total serialism (Boulez), experimental (Cage), abstract expressionism (Feldman), minimalism (Glass), tintinnabuli (Part), uncomfortable (Crumb, Ligeti), mystical (Tavener), ambient (Eno), landscape (Luther Adams). There is so much, it's difficult to know where to start but rest assured there will be music that you will hate and much that you will love.

In the UK, we are blessed with some great modern composers and their works. One is Howard Skempton, expert at the miniature, given particular mention here because his work is disarmingly undemanding, despite his somewhat unorthodox personal musical history going back via Cornelius Cardew and the Scratch Orchestra. Another is the recently deceased Jonathan Harvey who has left a legacy of great contemporary music, particularly his larger scale works. The UK is also the proud possessor of BBC Radio 3 with its contemporary music programming ('Here and Now') and the annual Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music, spearheading live events.

At this point, check out my Timeline of 20th century composers and events to start building a picture of how rich and diverse contemporary music is.
Here are ten suggestions for you to listen to. It's not a 'top ten' in any sense, but a play-list cross-section of styles, so you'll get a feel for the diversity of contemporary music and maybe find something you really respond to. You can stream these pieces from Soundcloud or Grooveshark.

Morton Feldman, Rothko Chapel
Terry Riley, In C
George Crumb, Black Angels
John Luther Adams, Become Ocean
Howard Skempton, Lento
Jonathan Harvey, Speakings
John Coolidge Adams, Shaker Loops
Krzysztof Penderecki, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima
Michael Nyman, Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds
Toru Takemitsu, How Slow the Wind

Like to explore more? I've recently converted my website into amagazine format and it's all about contemporary music. It has a new address, too, and is the Contemporary Music Project.