What exactly is a contemporary classic?

'Peter Sellars doesn't think the age of genius - of great classical music - is dead. At all. When I last met him, wandering the streets of Vienna, he was raving about John Adams's latest opera A Flowering Tree - 'You can put his recent pieces up against anything of Verdi' - and the new Kaija Saariaho oratorio La Passion De Simone, which he called 'breathtaking'.

Sellars could be right. This is the most interesting time in classical music for at least a generation. It's safe to get back in the water after the chilly era of the over-intellectual avant-garde (the legacy of Arnold Schoenberg's 12-tone technique) or the initially exciting but occasionally facile repetitions of the Philip Glass and Steve Reich generation (cited as an influence by pop acts as different as Giorgio Moroder and Sonic Youth). Some of the most inspiring, moving and challenging - and also some of the most daft and insane - music of this century has been written by contemporary composers.

10 contemporary classics

1. El Nino - John Adams (2000)
2. Tevot - Thomas Ades (2007)
3. St Mark Passion - Osvaldo Golijov (2003)
4. L'Amour de Loin - Kaija Saariaho (2000)
5. 3rd String Quartet - Gorecki (2007)
6. Neruda Songs - Peter Lieberson (2007)
7. You Are (Variations) - Steve Reich (2006)
8. A Flowering Tree- John Adams (2006)
9. Nuevo - Kronos Quartet (2001)
10. The Tempest - Thomas Ades (2003)'

From a major feature in today's Observer Music Monthly. Great to see contemporary music getting the exposure it serves. But the article rather misses the point that there is a lot of exciting new music, and even some contemporary classics, beyond the corporate bandwagons of Adams, Ades, Glass, Gorecki, Golijov, Reich et al.

Now read about inspiring, moving and challenging new music from a host of other contemporary composers.
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Henry Holland said…
he was raving about John Adams's latest opera A Flowering Tree - 'You can put his recent pieces up against anything of Verdi'

Nonsense! Better than Otello, Don Carlo(s), Rigoletto and Falstaff? Silly American PR hyperbole. "Corporate bandwagon" is right, Pliable. As for the ghastly El Nino, my friend Jim said it best as we walked out of a performance here in Los Angeles: "I'm half black, half Latino and John Adams is a typical fucking white man, he's completely run out of ideas so he steals them from my cultures". Um, OK then! :-) Adams is horribly over-praised these days, isn't he?

Can't wait for the The Tempest recording later this year.
Garth Trinkl said…
I find El Nino far from ghastly, and as for Mr Adams running out of ideas, it should be noted that he's always been (except for his orchestral music titles) highly dependent (too dependent?) on the conceptual/theatrical input of Peter Sellars (and, before that, Peters Sellars and Alice Goodman).
[LA Times Music critic Mark Swed and others think Peter Sellars a genius, pure and simple.]

(Philip Glass seems to be finding new dramatic seriousness now with Christopher Hampton after spending long years collaborating with such surrealist Soho colleagues such as Robert Wilson and David Henry Hwang.)

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