Monthly Archives: January 2015

Minimalism and Piano

Continuing the discussion of modern classical music:

Growing up, minimalism was sort of made fun of, at least in the amateur musical circles of which I was a part.  As the years have passed though, I think we’ve seen the importance of the ideas and the music.  I was exposed to some Philip Glass during high school (Einstein on the Beach), and then John Adams in my undergraduate study (China Gates).  I started to really get interested when I re-watched The Truman Show and discovered that Philip Glass had done the wonderfully lyrical score.

Although I’ve mentioned Philip Glass and John Adams, other composers use minimalist elements and ideas such as:  Arvo Part, Steve Reich, and John Tavener.  Anyone who hears the choral music of Arvo Part more than once will instantly recognize the unique voice he has through his music.

I can’t say I have a great knowledge of minimalism , but I have grown to like the pieces I’ve heard and played.  Being a pianist, I have naturally gravitated to minimalistic pieces for that instrument. Specifically, I’ve played some of Philip Glass’s pieces titled Metamorphosis.  I find them to be conducive to the imagination in almost a stream of consciousness kind of way.  Yes, it’s repetitive, but that’s the point.  The pieces gradually transform, the harmonies gently shifting.  There is a mysterious quality, and people have called the music hypnotic, but I don’t really like that term.  The music itself never stops, like the human mind.  Even when we sleep, our subconscious is active, reflecting, reconsidering our conscious experiences.  So, to me, the music is like a conscious rendering or interpretation of the subconscious state.

Below are a few clips.  The first one is Philip Glass playing and discussing one of his Metamorphosis pieces.  The next clip is Phrygian Gates by John Adams.  The final clip is part of the score to The Truman Show.  This clip shows the more lyrical side of this music.

 

 

Modern Classical Music

I once had a music history professor that said unless the classical world embraces modern classical music in a bigger way, there’s a good chance traditional classical music will die out.  I’m not sure I agree, but his point was that there has to constantly be new things and new ideas to explore for any field to remain relevant.

There are scores and scores of fantastic new “classical” music being written these days in the choral, instrumental, organ/piano, and orchestral genres.  I will do a series of short, related blog posts on these different genres of contemporary classical music.

The first area I’ll highlight is choral music:

Almost all of us know some of the popular choral composers writing today- Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre, among others.  And there are those that are content with performing a short range of these contemporary composers to balance out their repertoire of Thomas Tallis and Palestrina motets.  The problem I have with this is I get bored with hearing the same composers over and over at concerts.  It’s like taking a course on English literature and spending the entire semester on one Canterbury tale.  Yeah, it’s great stuff, but there is so much more out there.  Several of the popular contemporary choral composers write in common tonal language and I find myself wishing for more diversity.

A wonderful young composer of choral pieces (and organ, which I’ll get to in my next post) is Carson Cooman.  He is in his mid thirties, but already has a tremendously varied output in many genres, including choral.  He is a contemporary classical music aficionado himself, so he has a passion in his composing, and it comes across well.  I find it hard to pinpoint his musical influences, which for me, means that he has absorbed much and made his music something new altogether- a unique tonal language and musical voice.

Below is a recording of a somewhat simple piece by Cooman: Bless the Lord, O My Soul.  This piece was written in 2010 and uses this common sacred text to great effect.