The first shock on seeing the list of most performed new music of the 21st century is the absence of contemporary superstars. No work of John Adams appears in the top ten and only one in the top 20. Adams has the biggest public profile and publishing contract of any living composer, but his new work is clearly not being performed as much as we thought. Now why is that?
Also missing are such big beasts as Steve Reich, Michael Nyman, Krzystof Penderecki, Peter Sculthorpe, Henri Dutilleux, Wolfgang Rihm, Beat Furrer and Olga Neuwirth. Could it be that their media presence is greater than their audience penetration?
The list is subject to a number of potential distortions. It excludes performances for which no fees are paid to publishers and composers and it is heavily weighted towards works that are toured by orchestras and, particularly, by dance companies – which accounts for Joby Talbot’s extraordinarily high ranking. New works by Gavin Bryars and Julian Anderson are going to receive similar exposure. One conclusion that emerges from this process is that modern dance may be having a greater impact on modern music than at any time since Diaghilev. Discuss, at your leisure.
The early results suggested a predominance of Classic-FM-style works – relax, relax and forget that it’s music you’re listening to – especially works with a synthetic spiritual dimension, hence the prevalence of requiems. But the list as a whole does not bear out this tendency. Nor does it suggest that minimalist repetition has much longer to run.
There is a surge of real invention to be found in many of the top performers, along with a return to the most productive of musical dialogues, between single instrument and full orchestra. The concerto is bouncing back.