I want to be more 'modern classical' literate.
January 20, 2006 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Music Filter: I want to be more 'modern classical' literate.

Going to take a special person to answer this one: 28 years old, classical music is finally starting to appeal to me. I am reasonable well versed in music in general but not at all in classical music. The leaked version of "Not about love" by Fiona Apple includes a marvoulous string arrangement while she sings "What is this posture I have to stare at" through "Step out of this sight Try to live in a lovelier life" that makes my brain squeal in delight.
For those of you who know what I am talking about, try to lead me into something similar sounding. Those of you who have never heard the leak point me in the direction of what I call 'modern classical.'
I am drawn to the speed and complexity juxtaposed with the 'classical' string sound.

I have already taken steps to answer this question myself, amazon accepted my order for Thomas Adès' "Asyla." Am I on the right track?
posted by elastic.scorn to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not quite sure what you're after, but I'll throw a few ideas out: investigate Michael Keneally, for some good contemporary orchestral music. I personally love Frank Zappa's orchestral compositions as well, which are often fast and complex.
posted by godawful at 8:44 AM on January 20, 2006

Not really an expert myself, but Peteris Vasks' String Quartet No 4, as done by the Kronos Quartet, is beautiful. And modern.
posted by AwkwardPause at 8:54 AM on January 20, 2006

Steve Reich. All of his stuff. Maybe start with Music for 18 Musicians.
posted by xmutex at 8:59 AM on January 20, 2006

May I suggest Anti-Social Music? Young(ish) musicians, many in other popular(ish) bands, tearing through insanely complicated compositions. The streaming video (on the Music page) of them playing Pat Muchmore's Fracture II is hot.
posted by milquetoast at 9:09 AM on January 20, 2006

Ades is a good start. Steve Reich is good as is John Adams. As others have said, new Classical Music is a complicated field and so it's hard to make recommendations. For pure complexity you could try looking at Brian Fernyhough or Conlon Nancarrow. You might also like Oliver Messiaen.

Personally, I'm fond of what Bang on A Can is doing, but it sounds like that might not be quite what you're after.
posted by pombe at 9:17 AM on January 20, 2006

max richter, henryk gorecki, johann johannsson, john corigliano, ryan teague...

just to name a few.
posted by jadanzzy at 9:18 AM on January 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I can't recommend Gorecki's Symphony Number 3 enough. Absolutely gorgeous and haunting.
posted by willmize at 9:52 AM on January 20, 2006

I'll second Max Richter (particularly Memoryhouse), Gorecki, and Johann Johannsson (I liked Virðulegu forsetar).
posted by driveler at 10:45 AM on January 20, 2006

John Tavener, absolutely. Sacred choral music, unbelievably beautiful.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:18 AM on January 20, 2006

I would recommend borrowing Kronos Quartet's 25 Years Box set from your local public library. They perform a wide range of composers with many unique recordings. Admittedly their catalogue is rather imposing, but that set is a good start.

I second Steve Reich and also suggest Philip Glass for a taste of minimalism.
posted by vkxmai at 11:32 AM on January 20, 2006

You're talking about a Fiona Apple song with a string arrangement. Are you sure you're looking for contemporary classical music and not lushly arranged pop?
posted by ludwig_van at 12:01 PM on January 20, 2006

You're talking to a person who has admitted they are a classical musical novice. Are you sure you're looking to help me learn and not expounding on your obviously superior musical taste by employing snark?
posted by elastic.scorn at 12:12 PM on January 20, 2006

Excuse me? I wasn't snarking at all. I was trying to help you clarify your question. You asked for contemporary classical music, and that's what people have been replying with; John Adams and Steve Reich and the like. However, your example was a Fiona Apple song, which, although I've not heard the song, I don't imagine would fall under the umbrella of contemporary classical at all.

Lots of pop songs have complex, orchestral arrangements, but that doesn't make them classical. We're talking about two very different genres here. So perhaps you could try to be more specific as to what you're asking about. Or I suppose you could just seek out some of the music that's been recommended and see for yourself if that's what you had in mind or not.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:35 PM on January 20, 2006

I began taking an interest in classical music at around the same age, and made my start with Steve Reich and Philip Glass, as both already mentioned. For Glass, the Glassworks CD might still be a good starting point.

There are a good many interesting composers from the former Soviet Union, ranging from the deliberately simple, sentimental music of the Latvian Georgs Pelēcis, through the austere & pious sounds of the Estonian Arvo Pärt, the mournful ‘postludes’ of the Ukrainian Valentin Silvestrov, to the ‘intellectual neo-avant-garde’ works of the Lithuanian composer Rytis Mažulis.

One favourite composer of mine is the Finn Einojuhani Rautavaara, many of whose works have a fairly traditional classical sound with just the odd twist here & there. Perhaps his most popular piece (and my first introduction to his work) is his Cantus Arcticus.

The only advice I can give is to follow your ears, & don’t be too deterred by the odd setback. Also (and this is advice I too often forget myself) try before you buy when possible, as it’s quite seldom that you’ll like everything by this or that composer or performer.
posted by misteraitch at 12:44 PM on January 20, 2006

I agree with ludwig_van that what you call "modern classical" may not be what most people mean by the term and are recommending here. While the suggestions are all really good stuff, I'd be kind of surprised to hear Fiona Apple sounding like these composers/groups. Is there any way you can post the excerpt in question?
posted by Espy Gillespie at 1:00 PM on January 20, 2006

Specius to thread, please.
For "Modern" classical, you're talking about Stravinski to the 12-toners. For "contemporary" classical (or arranged, through-composed music) you're talking about anyone from Cage to Xennakis to KK Null. I haven't heard the piece in question (I have only the regular version of the Apple tracks), but try to articulate a little more of what you do like about it. "Classical" has really diverged in the last 50 years, just as much as pop has. Oh, and Ludwig was being helpful. Try to be gracious.
posted by klangklangston at 1:05 PM on January 20, 2006

Based on the possibility that you are, in fact, thinking of lush strings added to pop, you might want to check out Bjork's Homogenic, or possibly Sigur Ros.

I think the point people are trying to make is that 20th century classical music generally sounds very different from a Jon Brion backing track on a pop CD. But I haven't heard the bootleg so I can't comment in great detail.
posted by selfnoise at 1:20 PM on January 20, 2006

I've been paged!

I'm choosing to interpret this question as asking for "accessible music with interesting string arrangements" with less emphasis on genre. On the pop side, Bjork and Sigur Ros were already mentioned... you might try string quartets that do a lot of crossover stuff. Kronos is the obvious choice, but there's also the Balanescu Quartet ("Possessed" has a bunch of Kraftwerk covers!) and the Brodsky Quartet (who did a pretty slick album with Elvis Costello). Also, the David Byrne album "Look Into the Eyeball" has some pretty sweet string arrangements. Also, rachel's is a piano-and-strings-based band that does fantastic instrumentals ranging from calm acoustic stuff ("Music for Egon Schiele") to frantic electronic-influenced stuff ("Systems/Layers"). The Beck album "Sea Change" also has nice strings stuff.

On the classical side, John Cage's string quartets are very pretty (and very different from his more avant-garde stuff). I bet you'd like Erik Satie too. I'm tempted to send you to Crumb or Xenakis or Feldman but it might just freak you out. For some reason the Stravinsky piece "Dumbarton Oaks" keeps popping into my head. I'm just throwing things at the wall now, hoping something will stick.
posted by speicus at 3:21 PM on January 20, 2006

Also on the lush orchestral pop side, I'd strongly suggest just about anything by The Divine Comedy (A Secret History is a good place to start), and Apple Venus, Pt. 1 by XTC.
posted by scody at 3:46 PM on January 20, 2006

Kalvos and Damian's New Music Bazaar is a really good resource.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 4:25 PM on January 20, 2006

Let's not forget jazz with lush string arrangements! I insist on playing Charlie Parker with Strings every time I take a bubble bath.
posted by cobra libre at 4:47 PM on January 20, 2006

Art of the States has a searchable database of lots and lots music files from "new music" composers in the US. Hours of free experimental listening there to help you clarify what you like. If you like strings, maybe start here.

Re: pop with strings - Randy Newman writes some of the most beautifully orchestrated pop I've ever heard; I saw him with the NC Symphony in September and it was incredible - a perfect mix of classical instruments and pop settings. But for great "modern classical" music that's actually classical music, I like Elliot Carter a lot.
posted by mediareport at 9:23 PM on January 20, 2006

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