No, not my next book riff, though that’s coming very soon.
What’s long overdue are two things — first, major classical music institutions seriously acknowledging alt-classical composers, and, second, a little celebration, here in my blog, for the Chicago Symphony doing just that. A month ago! I should have posted this much sooner.
Both Mason Bates and Anna Clyne are artists who write from the heart, who defy categorization and who reach across all barriers and boundaries” commented CSO Music Director Designate Riccardo Muti. “Their compositions are meant to be played by great musicians and listened to by enthusiastic audiences no matter what their background.”
That’s exactly right. These aren’t typical classical composers. Mason, for instance (when he was at Juilliard, he took my course on the future of classical music), doubles as an electronica DJ, under the name Masonic. So he’s one of the new generation of composers who mingle classical music and pop. You can listen to his music on his website, but maybe the best place to start is with his performance with the YouTube Symphony, which maybe was the best moment in their big Carnegie Hall concert. They played his piece Warehouse Medicine from B-Sides, with him as DJ soloist. (Playing a keyboard, and, I’d guess, doing some live programming of electronic sounds.) Feel the beat, hear the cheers. That’s something you normally can’t say when new classical music is played.
Anna Clynes, too, isn’t a standard-issue classical composer. There’s less beat in her music, less obvious crossover into pop culture, but her music has immediate break-out-of-the-classical-concert hall appeal, as you can hear if you follow the link I just gave, and listen to a few moments of anything she offers. Or for a longer immersion, go to Carnegie Hall’s page about the piece they commissioned from her, where you can hear it at full length. For anyone who doesn’t normally like new classical music, bear with it a while, something I don’t think I need to say about the pieces on her own website (which is where the “her music” link above takes you).
So let me get contentious here. For years, the BIg Five orchestras — New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Philly, Boston — featured modernist new music. Boulez, Matthias Pintscher, Birtwistle (a Cleveland favorite), Magnus Lindberg currently in New York, Carter and Babbitt currently in Boston. Along with a welcome dose of John Adams, but the emphasis was modernist. Or, in other words, on music that hardly anyone likes (whatever its virtues might be), music the normal audience can’t respond to, and which also has no base (for instance among artists in other fields, or younger people) outside the classical audience. It’s music like this, I think, which leads orchestras to conclude that new music doesn’t — no matter what many people might expect — attract a young audience.
But of course there’s another kind of new music that a young audience really does like, and that’s what Mason Bates writes, and I’d think also what Anna Clyne writes. I’ve called that style alt-classical in endless posts here, pointed out that it has an audience (in New York, quite a large one), and challenged mainstream classical music institutions to wake up and start programming it. There are many, many, many composers who write in this style — and now (in a clear break from the past) they’re embraced by the Chicago Symphony. And evidently by Riccardo Muti himself, a music director I wouldn’t have guessed would go in this direction.
This is a good thing. A great sign for the future. Or better still, another piece of the future, here with us now. Let’s see where they go with it!
(Footnote: Many thanks to Carnegie Hall, for putting the music they’ve commissioned on the web. Complete with links to hear it!)