who are the greatest living composers today?


Contemporary classical music, as its name suggests, refers to classical music whose writing is close to today. The seeds of this movement were planted in the early 20th century, at a time when many composers felt that the conventions of the so-called Common Practice era – which lasted from around 1600 to 1910 – had run their course.

The creative possibilities of one form exhausted, the composers went in search of another. Without uniform guidance, each arrived at a different destination. After the First World War, the very influential Austrian-American musician Arnold Schoenberg imagined serialism: a technique that organizes non-tonal music into rows of 12 notes that repeat in various patterns.

From serialism was born spectral music, which is based on an almost scientific study of the properties of sounds. Loosely inspired by Claude Debussy and Edgard Varèse, the spectral music is written using technology: computer algorithms generate parts of the composition, which are edited by digital programs and played using synthesized sounds alongside of traditional instruments.

Like any modern art movement, contemporary classical music embraces rather than shuns experimentation. In the infamous John Cage composition in three movements 4’33” (1952), the performers sit in silence for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. “Music” is all sounds that occur naturally in the environment, from screaming chairs to coughing audience members.

However, not all contemporary composers have moved in this direction. For every musician seeking to push conceptual boundaries, another uses electronic sounds and other technological innovations simply to build on or comment on the work of those long-dead composers whose names and melodies keep coming to us. mind when we use the term “classic”. ”

At the same time, many contemporary composers spend their careers struggling to escape the shadow of Bach and Beethoven. To this end, think big made a list of the 10 most notable musicians alive today. The results were aggregated from sources like The Guardian, BBC Music Magazine and Baltimore Symphony Orchestrawhich based its own ranking on the number of performances.

Kaija Saariaho

Kaija Saariaho is a Finnish composer. She was born in 1952 in Helsinki and began her musical training at the Sibelius Academy, then at the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg in Baden-Württemberg. Here she studied with composers Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber, whose insistence on serialism and use of mathematical concepts pushed her towards spectralism.

Saariaho is one of the most accomplished composers of our time. She is particularly known for her operas. A recent, Innocence, follows people coming to terms with the trauma of surviving a school shooting. “The journey in the music of Saariaho”, exclaims Tom Service“It’s being confronted with the darkest and most dazzling dimensions of your subconscious.”

Thomas Ades

Thomas Adès was born in London in 1971. Adès, of Syrian Jewish origin, studied at King’s College, Cambridge before becoming Britten Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music. He is best known for composing the opera Stormbased on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare, as well as Powder her facewhich depicts sexual acts through music.

“Adès gives the listener a lot to digest” Rex Levang wrote in 1999, when Adès’ career had already exploded. “He’s a great inclusion. Not that he makes musical collages, but Adès never gives the impression of sulking on an idea because it is unusual, of avoiding writing musical lines because they are difficult, or of writing a one-track if he prefers to develop it with contrasts and episodes. ”

Arvo Part

Arvo Pärt was born in Paide, Estonia in 1935. The story goes that he was driven to experimentation by circumstances rather than curiosity, playing with the upper and lower notes of the family piano after the register median has been damaged. After serving in the army, where he played in the army orchestra, Pärt enrolled at the Tallinn Conservatory where he perfected his art.

After a brief but unrewarding dance with serialism, Pärt retired from the music business to study medieval music. Part, according to Hermann Cohen“makes a silent and wordless protest against the compulsion to be modern, against a planned and prescribed progress towards the relentless new in the light of the ‘immutable truths’ of the faith.”

Jennifer Higdon

Jennifer Higdon was born in 1962 in Brooklyn but grew up in Atlanta before moving to Seymour, Tennessee. During this period, she was exposed not to classical music but to rock and folk. After joining her drumming band in high school, she went on to study flute at Bowling Green State University, but struggled to keep up due to a lack of formal training in her youth.

Today, Higdon is one of America’s most accomplished composers. She won three Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Composition and even received the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her Violin Concerto. “After decades in which writing orchestral music to please was frowned upon,” writes the FinancialTimes” come [Jennifer Higdon].”

Steve Reich

Steve Reich was also born in New York, on Broadway of all streets. The 85-year-old composer played an important role in the development of minimalism during the 1960s. In defiance of Western tradition, Reich’s music uses repetitive figures, slow harmonic rhythms and canons to reveal rather than disguise his own composition process.

Equal parts theorist and musician, Reich has written extensively about his methods. “I am interested in perceptible processes,” he said in his 1968 essay, Music as a gradual process. “I want to be able to hear the process unfolding throughout the music that sounds (…) Focusing on the musical process makes possible this shift of attention from him and her and you and me to him.”

Unsuk Menton

Unsuk Chin was born in 1961 in Seoul. She learned to play the piano on her own from an early age. After studying composition at Seoul National University, she attended the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg, where she worked alongside the late contemporary composer György Ligeti. His music is popular in Korea as well as Western countries and has been performed by orchestras around the world.

Chin’s music has a non-national quality. His influences include composers like Béla Bartók and Igor Stravinsky as well as electronic music, which is not beholden to any specific cultural heritage. Her vocal music is based on experimental poetry and classical texts. “Chin is not the kind of composer to lay bare her deepest angst or ecstasy,” wrote The temperature. “His music is pure sonic drama; it only expresses itself.

Hildur Guðnadottir

Hildur Guðnadóttir was born in 1982 in Reykjavík. She is the youngest composer on this list. Chances are you’ve heard his music before. She composed the soundtracks of films like The ghost and Joker. In 2019, she provided the score for the HBO miniseries Chernobylabout the Soviet power plant disaster, which won him an Emmy, a Grammy and a BAFTA.

Guðnadóttir grew up in a family of musicians: her father was a clarinetist and composer, while her mother was an opera singer. “There is a rare tenderness even in the most disturbing moments of his score, a kind of wounded grace”, Fork wrote soundtrack for Jokerwhich made Guðnadóttir the first woman in history to win the Oscar for Best Original Score.

Missy Mazzoli

Missy Mazzoli was born in Pennsylvania in 1980. She studied at Boston University, the Yale School of Music and the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. In addition to her studies, she has been composer-in-residence at the Philadelphia Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Mazzoli now teaches music composition at Mannes College of Music.

“Missy Mazzoli”, mentioned John Lewis in a review of her performances for The Guardian as of 2020, “said that her ideal listener wouldn’t know anything about her or her music until they hear it, removing any gender-based preconceptions. In many ways, seeing her work performed live is as a kind of distraction.

Mason Bates

Mason Bates was born in 1977 in Richmond, Virginia. He is not only a composer of contemporary classical music, but also a DJ of electronic dance music. Many know him for having written the music for the opera (R)evolution of Steve Jobs as well as Gus van Sant’s film sea ​​of ​​trees. Bates was a composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts among other institutions.

Bates tries to combine symphonic and electronic music, and has compared his compositions to the narrative symphonies of the late 19and century. His work “explores a rich connection where organic sounds blend into digital sounds”, Fork written from his album, The stereo is king, which could easily be applied to his orchestral work. The composer is “fascinated by sounds, no matter where they come from”.

Anna Clyn

Anna Clyne was born in 1980. She grew up in London but now lives and works in the United States. A child prodigy, she wrote her first composition at the age of 11. Clyne began his musical training at the University of Edinburgh, then at the Manhattan School of Music. She also worked as director of the New York Youth Symphony’s training program for up-and-coming musicians.

Cleveland Classic describes his last album Mythologies as a “convergence of tradition and invention, sometimes pitted to offer fascinating contrast, other times wrapped up in an enchanting whole – a familiar sound and a new sensibility (…) Mythologies clearly indicates that [Clyne] is an essential voice in the field today, and an extremely pleasant voice at that.


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