Have you become a little tired of traditional classical music and, especially, from the composers of previous centuries that are philharmonic standards? Are you ready for a challenge in classical music?

Clasical music today is very exciting -- if you're tuned into what's being written today. Or, at, least, in the last eighty or so years. My awareness of the new generation of music began with Webern, whose work intrigued me. Later, I locked onto the complete works of Messiaen and graduated to John Adams whose Third Violin Concerto I consider a masterpiece.

Adams is probably one of the best composers to listen to as an introduction to new music of the 20th and 21st centuries. His musical invention is captivating, even without a melodic line. He's also less "minimalist" than, say, Brian Ferneyhough.

But, this school of neo-modern music clearly isn't for every listener whose classical universe is Mozart to Mahler: music of the Baroque, the Romantic and what was once thought of as the Modern Era. The term moves with the times and is anything but static; and I think it's fair to say most clasical listeners aren't even aware of the people who have been moving music along; people like Morton Feldman (American), Karlheinz Stockhausen (German), Iannis Xenakis (Italian), Toru Takemitsu (Japan) or Gyorgy Ligeti (Italian).

And, yet, millions of us have heard and been moved by some of these composer's music in films. Stanley Kubrick knew what he was doing when he appropriated the latter's Lux Eterna for his futuristic "2001: A Space Odyssey," (1968)." And what would "The Hours" have been without the gyrations of Philip Glass' 2009 composition in the soundtrack to make those hours seem endless?

In a way, discovering a composer's work by hearing it in a soundtrack is a perfectly good way to go about discovering your own taste for music beyond Shostakovich, Bartok, Prokofiev and Stravinsky. Or, should I say Mozart and Beethoven? But, the point is to use this first exposure as an introduction; then to follow up with some serious listening and/or collecting. That is, if you're ready to be challenged.

The terms used to describe the music I'm referring to includes "minimalist" (mostly associated with American composition originating in New York), "12-tone" (Arnold Schoenberg's technique in the mid-20th century that woke up the musical world by suggesting that there's more than tonal music and that a little dissonance can open up new compositional vistas.

The crop of "new" composers is more than "living," and the term "twenty-first century" doesn't easily mark out the category. The movement of classical music has been progressing without fitting into one generalized term, but we could settle, perhaps, for "post-modern" or "new school."

In any event, if you've read down to here I'm going to assume you're looking into the subject and might like a few suggestions or, at least, some names you haven't heard before. Here's a list of composers to look into (with links to one album at Amazon, which will lead to other albums), and it might surprise you. So, dip your ears in these sonic waters:

  • Violin Concerto / Shaker Loops by John Adams
    I don't list Adams first because his name begins with "A." Rather, it's more that his music is more relateable to classical listeners unfamiliar with the New School. Also because he's one of the most active and successful in the genre. He's richly inventive, influential and productive, steadily drawing commissions from great orchestras and other venues. His Violin Concerto, to me, is arguably, one of the best transition pieces for an inductee to post-modern. "Shaker Loops" is an earlier work and one which has been very influential on upcoming composers. Don't know which came first, but it relates to much of Philip Glass's early style from which, I believe, Glass has finally moved on.


  • Fulgurances
    by Unsuk Chin
    This composer is, perhaps, the most unusual in music today. Born in South Korea, she studied in Berlin where she lives today. "Exciting" would be one word to describe the originality and invention of her music. She is a discovery and has yet to receive the fame and appreciation her work will one day bring her. Other albums include: XI, Fantaisie mecanique, Rocana', Violin Concerto, and her Double Concerto,

    Her latest album contains her No 1 In C. (That's an "N" followed by the character for degrees, as in Fahrenheit). Other top works include: Rocana', Xi, Fantaisie Mecanique. But she hardly misses, so try any of them.

  • John Luther Adams This composer's "Become One" is one of the most calming pieces I've heard. Not related to John Adams above.
  • Jonathan Harvey His "Ritual Melodies" will give you an idea of this composer's breadth and gifts. With electronic instrument voices in a chain of combinations, this is advanced music whose 'chord clouds' and melodic line will stop anything you're doing to listen. Other pieces: "From Silence," "Nataraja." Adventurous, complex, explorative, exquisitely inventive and, yet, quite accessible music. A master and a high favorite.
  • Louis Andriesen: Dutch composer known for his De Staat (The State). Big music with a grand sweep, fiery at times, lyrical in others. Entirely exciting with hammering rhythm and percussion. From boogie beats to a meditation on death.
  • Xenakis
  • Wuorinen
  • Webern
  • Tveitt
  • Takemitsu Stockhausen Tandun Varese Schnitke Schulhof Salonen Rzewski Riley, John Rorem, Ned Sallinen Schelsi Partch Primosch Rautavara Mackey, Steven Lutoslavski Kernis Maderna Ades, Thomas Andriesen Part, Arvo Cage Dressner Dutilleax Ewazen Feldman, Morton Ferneyhough Gubaidalina Henze Lachenmann
  • Note that this is a work in progress. More albums and composers will be added to the list here. But, know that your approval may be measured by your purchases on Amazon which I'll take as a stimulus.

  • Educational Software Titles


    Classical Music Collection
    5 CD programs in one boxed set:

  • Live with Chopin
  • The Hutchinson Encyclopedia of Music
  • Vivaldi, The Four Seasons
  • Classical Orchestra Notes
  • Mozart, Prince of Harmony
  • Includes thousands of program notes, photos, music clips & over 500 composer bio's & portraits
  • For your PC (sorry, not for MAC)

    $12.95
    (Marked down)

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