Who are the new great composers?
January 2, 2013 5:05 PM   Subscribe

Who are the next Bachs and Mahlers?

I'm looking to explore new music and one genre I know nothing about is modern classical music. I typically listen to bluegrass, art-rock and such.

Note: I'm not just looking for instrumental music. I already know about and love bands like Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Mogwai and other post-rock groups. I want to know who is making amazing music for instruments like cello, violin, clarinet, full orchestras, etc.
posted by youcancallmeal to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 102 users marked this as a favorite
Steve Reich
Philip Glass
John Cage
Terry Riley
posted by bensherman at 5:07 PM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: They're not the next Bach or Mahler, but you might enjoy holy minimalists (genre label imposed from without) like Arvo Part, Henryk Gorecki and Sofia Gubaidulina.
posted by box at 5:17 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Samuel Barber (go beyond the adagio for strings)
Stefan Wolpe
ooh, yeah Arvo Part

Also, I'm assuming by modern you don't mean contemporary.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 5:21 PM on January 2, 2013

You're using the 'experimental' tag so I don't feel bad recommending anything MeFi's own speicus is up to, usually via his performance series PiE.

MeFite ob is also a composer, though I believe his work is closer to fitting into the contemporary/modern classical sphere.
posted by carsonb at 5:26 PM on January 2, 2013

Best answer: Frederic Rzewski (give Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues a shot, which despite its crazy open unfolds into something quite beautiful)
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:29 PM on January 2, 2013

Nico Muhly is a contemporary classical composer. He's also collaborated with a lot of interesting musicians such as Jónsi from Sigur Rós.
posted by hellomina at 5:34 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Clint Mansell
posted by griphus at 5:36 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: John Adams may be of interest if you like Philip Glass (see Harmonielehre).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:37 PM on January 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

I recommend WQXR's Q2 radio station (available online) for this. It's an easy way to get a fairly broad sampling of living composers.
posted by kiltedtaco at 5:42 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Osvaldo Golijov

Especially his version of St. Mark's Passion.
posted by SNWidget at 5:43 PM on January 2, 2013

Best answer: Oh, and Jennifer Higdon.

She won the Pulitzer for her Violin Concerto, but I kind of like her Percussion Concerto.
posted by SNWidget at 5:46 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

The problem with your question is that such people tend to be identified retroactively, usually after a long career and often after they're dead. And opinions vary quite a lot.

I see a recommendation above for Philip Glass. My own opinion is that he will be forgotten within fifty years. His music isn't genius, it's stunt.

If you want great orchestrators, right now that means John Williams and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

If you want 20th century composers who are definitely going to last for the ages, that's mostly Russians: Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Khachaturian, Stravinsky. The best American composers of the 20th century were Copland and Gershwin. IMHO.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:48 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

William Bolcom wrote a series of 12 etudes that Hamelin recorded. His Graceful Ghost Rag is interesting to me, because it can be played either straight-up or with swing, and it is beautiful either way.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:23 PM on January 2, 2013

Best answer: I second John Adams; I love his opera Nixon in China and his many orchestral compositions such as The Dharma at Big Sur and his violin concerto. I am hoping to hear his new oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary in a few months.

Krzysztof Penderecki is also quite something. You might know his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima from Children of Men but also try his Sextet, symphonies and his album with free jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, Actions.

I would also suggest looking into Joan Tower (In Memory is a favorite), Marjan Mozetich (try his violin concerto, Affairs of the Heart) and I second Higdon, Glass and Pärt.

[All links are to Spotify albums of recommended performances. All composers listed are living.]
posted by mountmccabe at 6:55 PM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'll resist evangelizing my own favorite recent / contemporary composers and instead really recommend the following:

Pick up The Rest Is Noise, fire up Spotify, and start with chapter 1 (Mahler!), listening as you go. In a matter of weeks, you'll have an appreciation for the incredible diversity and scope of 20th century "classical" music, and some of it will resonate for you, and help you find your own answer to the question you posed above. It doesn't even end there - you can follow Alex Ross's blog of the same name and, again with Spotify and Youtube, listen to just about anyone he talks about! For free! Instantly! It's an amazing time to be learning about music...
posted by violinflu at 7:09 PM on January 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

The Rest is Noise is a great recommendation, as are the composers recommended above. Other recent composers (mostly operatic) I like but haven't seen recommended are Thomas Ades, Jake Heggie (Moby Dick is a great opera, but doesn't seem to have been recorded), and (a little bit older) Benjamin Britten.
posted by pombe at 7:41 PM on January 2, 2013

Response by poster: I'm marking best answers as I listen and enjoy things, but please don't stop suggestions!

This is great! I'm especially enjoying John Adams, Jennifer Higdon and Frederic Rzewski.
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:42 PM on January 2, 2013

A well-rounded education on significant American twentieth-century art music would be incomplete without knowing about John Cage, Morton Feldman, George Crumb, and Charles Ives. Cage and Feldman were part of the New York scene in the 1950s and 60s; Crumb taught a bizillion successful composers and his music is gorgeous; and Ives was a highly successful owner of his own insurance company by day (yet wrote some of the most uniquely daring music of his time).

I just finished a class on Iannis Xenakis and found his music to be immensely enjoyable, after one gets a little used to it. Most of his music was composed using statistical distributions, probability matrices, and simulations of Brownian motion. It's very unique.
posted by daisystomper at 8:20 PM on January 2, 2013

Since you're enjoying John Adams, I'll recommend my favorite piece of modern "classical" music: The Chairman Dances.
posted by grumblebee at 8:25 PM on January 2, 2013

Michael Torke
posted by John Cohen at 9:09 PM on January 2, 2013

Sofia Gubaidulina, Toru Takemitsu, Tan Dun, John Harbison, Anthony Davis, Judith Weir.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:26 PM on January 2, 2013

Louis Andriessen writes really intense music that takes minimalism in unexpected directions.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, once conductor of the LA Phil, is an amazing composer in his own right.

Stephen Hartke's music is incredibly inventive (he was recently nominated for a Grammy).

In general you might want to check out chamber groups like eighth blackbird, Alarm Will Sound, So Percussion, Kronos Quartet, the LA Percussion Quartet, that commission a lot of living composers. That way you can sample a bunch and figure out what you like? Because there's an overwhelming number of awesome living composers.
posted by speicus at 10:22 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Alfred Schnittke
Elliot Carter
posted by taupe at 10:37 PM on January 2, 2013

I agree with many of the suggestions above. If you want to sample a lot of stuff (complete live performances) check out DigitIce, the online archive from the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), where you can hear (and in some cases watch) full performances by ICE of works by composers named here and more, such as: Elliott Carter, John Cage, Nathan Davis, Olivier Messaien, Kaija Saariaho, etc.
posted by cushie at 12:05 AM on January 3, 2013

Some great answers here. I like speicus' suggestion of checking out individual ensembles for their repertoire. A couple of other suggestions (full disclosure: I have been worked with and know a few of these groups)

Bang on a Can
Ensemble Modern
Ensemble Intercontemporain
Ensemble Klang
London Sinfonietta
posted by ob at 6:27 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Alfred Schnittke, definitely.
Henryk Górecki.

In general you might want to check out chamber groups like eighth blackbird, Alarm Will Sound, So Percussion, Kronos Quartet, the LA Percussion Quartet, that commission a lot of living composers. That way you can sample a bunch and figure out what you like? Because there's an overwhelming number of awesome living composers.

This is an excellent recommendation. Kronos, for example, has albums that are all-Philip Glass or all-Tan Dun, but they also have albums like Winter Was Hard, Floodplain, and Short Stories with pieces from a wide variety of different composers, from standbys like John Cage and Terry Riley to young and emerging composers from Africa and the Middle East. [Disclosure, I am related to a member of the Kronos Quartet.]
posted by shakespeherian at 7:08 AM on January 3, 2013

If you like what G!YBE does with found recordings, you might want to check out composers who are mining a similar vein.

Since it sounds like you want chamber or orchestral music specifically, check out Steve Reich's Different Trains and Gavin Bryars' Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet.

There's also a lot of pure tape music made using those techniques — often very sparse and hypnotic. I'd say the biggest hits there are Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting In A Room and Steve Reich's Come Out and It's Gonna Rain (shitty recording quality, sorry).
posted by and so but then, we at 7:27 AM on January 3, 2013

(Actually, that comment put things sort of backwards. Those pieces I recommended are decades old now. Godspeed is mining the vein that those guys first explored, not vice versa.)
posted by and so but then, we at 7:28 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

For something very experimental, Tristan Perich's pieces for small ensembles and electronics.
posted by moonmilk at 9:32 AM on January 3, 2013

(Disclaimer: I know Tristan but it's not just me who likes his stuff)
posted by moonmilk at 9:33 AM on January 3, 2013

I asked my brother-in-law (he's a composer) about this, and he gave me the following. I trust his judgement on these matters.

- Anything on Edition Wandelweiser
- Another Timbre is a really interesting experimental label out of the UK with lots of hyper-minimal improvised music
- Gravity Wave is another great label by Michael Pisaro (a wandelweiser composer based out of LA)
- Erstwhile Records

"None of these will be conventional orchestra or chamber music...but it is all likely to be interesting and (possibly) beautiful.

Oh, and the Watchful Ear is a really good blog for experimental music."
posted by jpziller at 10:31 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

While lots of these are great recommendations, most of these folks are already relatively cannonized. Part, Reich, Gorecki, Adams - these were the "Mahlers" of the later half of the 20th century,* not what I would consider the "next" Mahlers, so to speak.

Higdon is a good example of someone who is still creating a lot of new work and isn't one of the modern behemoths yet. Her music is also amazing.

Even a lot of still really "new" composers are getting considered, for better or for worse, part of the past establishment - Michael Daugherty, George Crumb, Michael Finnissy, Michael Torke.

Here are some folks that maybe still have their "Mahler" moment to come: Nico Muhly, Tristain Murhail, Lee Hyla, David Lang, Brian Ferneyhough, Thomas Ades, Richard Danielpour (probably the most "Mahler-esque" of the bunch), Osvaldo Golijov, John Luther Adams, Michael Gordon, Annie Gosfield, Johnny Greenwood, Christopher Rouse.

*"Mahlers" and "Bachs" of course is a tough analogy to today - despite the lore around Mahler, he was an incredibly popular musician in his time, as was Bach. In reality, the "Mahlers" and "Bachs" of today would probably be like a musically interesting but commercially successful rock band, like Radiohead or some such.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:57 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Other names worth bringing up, part of a vanguard (including Nico Muhly and Jonny Greenwood) who are possibly bridging the worlds of minimalism, post-rock, and electronic manipulation in interesting ways:
Max Richter
Jóhann Jóhannsson
posted by naju at 1:36 PM on January 3, 2013

Kamran Ince
posted by the foreground at 1:48 PM on January 3, 2013

posted by Stewriffic at 5:23 PM on January 4, 2013

This live performance of Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians (as posted on the blue just last week) is absolutely breathtaking.
posted by channey at 3:57 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

George Rochberg died in 2005, so he's technically not contemporary, but he's one of the great American masters of the 20th century.

Here's one of his greatest works. Go ye forth.
posted by nosila at 4:46 PM on January 8, 2013

p.s. This is an unanswerable question. You're getting a lot of great replies from people who know something about music, and a lot of great replies from people who know something about music they like. If you like some of this music, fantastic! But the question won't be answered for a long while.
posted by nosila at 5:01 PM on January 8, 2013

Ooh, Rochberg. Good one. Personally I love his Slow Fires of Autumn and the Ricordanza: Soliloquy for cello and piano, which I also recommend to the OP.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:52 PM on January 8, 2013

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