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The New Sound of Music

In today's Washington Post: Classical Musicians Rethink Venues, Sounds by Anne Midgette. How a new generation of classical musicians is infusing the field with the energy of "alt-classical."


An eclectic selection of some recent CDs representing different facets of the "alt-classical" sound, focusing on performers mentioned in the above story, and trying not to overlap too much with our last, similar CD roundup in 2008:

Alarm Will Sound: a/rhythmia (Nonesuch). For their first major-label recording, this powerhouse chamber ensemble has created a kind of dance album with arrangements of music -- by Ligeti and Nancarrow, Gordon and Josquin, and many others -- that has as its common thread a strong rhythmic profile. Highly recommended.

Christopher O’Riley: Out of My Hands (Mesa Bluemoon). After CDs focused mainly on Radiohead, Elliott Smith, and Nick Drake, O’Riley here offers his brand of classical-piano cover treatment to songs by Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Tori Amos, and others.
(read more after the jump)

Time for Three: 3 Fervent Travelers (E1). Though the release date was moved back to January, a teaser track was made available on iTunes as of yesterday: a cover of “Hide and Seek” by singer-songwriter Imogen Heap. The complete album includes a lot of the original music, as well as Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and, of course, the “Orange Blossom Special.”

Heritage Orchestra/DJ Yoda: Gabriel Prokofiev’s Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra (Nonclassical Recordings). Sergei Prokofiev’s grandson is a prominent figure on London’s alt-classical scene, and the founder of this label dedicated to alternative music. His classical-meets-hip-hop concerto (sounding not quite like either) is composed in conventional movements with unconventional sounds: the soloist, a DJ, spins specially-made recordings of the orchestra.

And two of several indie labels (mentioned before on this blog) that play a role in this scene:

Cantaloupe Records: Bang on a Can’s recording label offers a de facto definition of the alt-classical concept: Alarm Will Sound, So Percussion, the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Recent releases include John the Revelator, composer Phil Kline's powerful response to the texts of the Catholic Mass; and Untitled, the latest from composer David Lang.

New Amsterdam Records: This start-up label is showcasing the younger generation of alt-classical artists and composers, including the violist Nadia Sirota and the NOW Ensemble (coming next week to Washington and Baltimore).

By Anne Midgette  |  October 14, 2009; 6:36 AM ET
Categories:  CD reviews , national  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: WNO's "Falstaff," part II
Next: In Performance: Blandine Rannou


I'd like to add David Garrett to the list of talented alt-classical performers.

He's performing in Alexandria at the end of the month.

Posted by: gmusicchic | October 14, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Interesting article on a growing trend, but I struggle to reconcile two of the quotations you cite:

from Armando Bayolo: "I really feel groups like Alarm Will Sound and eighth blackbird represent the future of classical music."

From Nick Kendall: "If I could sustain a living playing in those kinds of places, I would do it all the time."

How do you get from B to A? Is this really the future? In this future, do orchestras and opera companies still exist? Collaborations like the one the BSO did with Time for Three are exciting but I fail to see how they can consistently fill large concert halls.

There's no doubt that the world of classical music needs to be invigorated, but it also needs oxygen and water.

Posted by: newcriticalcritic | October 14, 2009 10:04 AM | Report abuse

newcriticalcritic: Your questions get to the heart of the discussion about classical music's future. "Do orchestras and opera companies still exist?" I think some of them will still exist; but clearly this is not where some young musicians are looking for their own artistic fulfillment. One point of this piece is that a talented young musician's aspirations no longer necessarily involve a symphony orchestra. (Though as I say, some orchestras are also looking for ways to incorporate this spirit.)
To put it another way: Is filling large concert halls the only measure of success? Or is part of the future about finding new more direct ways to reach audiences?

gmusicchic: Thanks for adding the link. A lot of deserving artists were left out of the article (no space for everyone); I hope people will post other names and groups here as well.

Posted by: MidgetteA | October 14, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Filling large concert halls is not the only measure of success. But, it is a measure of success. Whether we like it or not, for the forseeable future, more classically trained musicians working in their field will make some or all of their living from professional orchestras and those orchestras depend on audiences and donors for their survival. So...empty concert halls mean fewer jobs. I don't think that's going to change anytime soon. Artistic fulfillment is nice, but you have to eat. Isn't that the essence of the musician's dilemma? It's why so many professional orchestra musicians love to play chamber music, but don't give up their day jobs.

Posted by: newcriticalcritic | October 14, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Interesting and very stimulating article, and I enjoyed listening to excerpts at several of the web sites mentioned. But newcriticalcritic is right to be skeptical of Bayolo's "I have seen the future and it works."

There is interesting sound being produced, and some of it will eventually become music, but it isn't there yet. A lot of it reminds me of some of Borges' short stories, with fascinating ideas never fully developed into literature.

A snappy brand name for an ensemble, funky titles for collections of sounds whose beginning, middle and end are interchangeable, and skilled users of musical instruments do not yet constitute works of art. It is too easy to dismiss reservations about some of this stuff, interesting as some of it is, by blaming the prejudices of the bourgeosie and the age (ageism apparently is still politically correct) of the concert-going public. But the people who pay for the "oxygen and water" the fledgling artists consume are on to something. A concert is not a religious relic, but it is the sort of thing Wagner called a Gesamtkunstwerk, an integrated experience.

What is missing, I guess, is concert programming where new art music with a beginning, a middle, and an end (I can already hear the contempt with which the sonata form beloved by us philistines is sibilantly dismissed ), with works that are related to each other thematically, can be presented, rather than forcing Joe Blow's Concerto for Peanut Butter and Orchestra down our throats in between Mozart and Beethoven.

The velvet charm of bourgeois concert hall seats, like it or not, is a better (and more comfortable) place to concentrate on music -- of any kind -- than a smoke-filled room around mojitos. New musicians should be encouraged, but the development of new art music requires tough love (are you listening, Anne?) and serious, judgmental criticism for its own good. The undisciplined emission of joyful sounds and the musical expression of adolescence overstaying its welcome may provide relief and pleasure to the performers. But if they want to make a living as musicians and composers, they need to deliver a product, not a process. The public can reasonably be asked to pay for music, even for music it has to learn to appreciate, but not for the therapy of musicians.

Still, in the meanwhile, it is fun to listen to the bubbles coming up from the fermenting music scene, knowing that something is brewing there, regardless of whether it turns into fine wine or not.

Posted by: gauthier310 | October 14, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Another artist worth mentioning: Noah Getz, His saxophone and harp duo, Pictures on Silence, is performing at the Mansion at Strathmore in November.

Posted by: lnmy223 | October 14, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

gauthier310: All I hear is whining - the musicians Anne profiles just don't meet your standards. Nowhere do you suggest alternatives, mention performers/artists that do meet your standards, and how this will arrest the decline of interest in classical music.

Posted by: kashe | October 14, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

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