Back in October, 2011 I read something that really pissed me off. So much so, that I decided to do something about it.
For years, I had been hearing the same thing over and over again: contemporary music is unlistenable, unplayable, and unwelcome. Say it enough, and it seems believable-- never mind that ensembles such as Kronos Quartet, So Percussion, and Bang on a Can are commercially viable (and attract large audiences) playing just such material.
No, my gripe was the assumption that one equaled all. Arnold Schoenberg, who died in 1951 is still to some the Great Satan of classical music, the Man Who Killed Melody. Let's put that into perspective. The man's been dead for over half a century. It's like someone saying (in 2014) that they can't come to terms with how the British Invasion ruined American Top 40 (also about a half century in the past). The latter opinion would be considered antiquated and out-of-touch. But the former is accepted as a ringing indictment of the state of classical music today.
Here's the thing. Contemporary classical music -- even during the heyday of the 12-tone school -- was never about just one style. Aaron Copland came after Schoenberg. So did Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, and even Leroy Anderson.
Yet the stereotype of contemporary music as ugly, bloodless, academic exercises persist. And it seems to remain the excuse for keeping concert programs conservative. Only in classical music is the promise a music program exclusively by composers safely dead and buried is considered a draw.
Jonathan Bastian's article Battle of the Curmudgeons: Classical Music vs. Literature, wasn't the first time I had read a quote like the following, but it was the one that spurred me to action: "Orchestras are basically playing the exact same historical music, again
and again and again. It’s Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart, Tchaikovsky,
Schubert, and so on. And because contemporary classical music is both
obscure and exceedingly difficult to listen to, it gets left out."
So I set out to prove Mr. Bastian wrong, by profiling living composers writing tonal music that builds on and extends the classical music traditions audiences are familiar with. The resulting Consonant Composer's Challenge (CCC) eventually evolved into something a little more far-reaching.
Initially, I was looking for composers with symphonic works that could be programmed alongside Beethoven, Mahler, et al. As time went on, I found a wide range of modern composers writing interesting music while concentrating in other genres. Some primarily write choral works, others specialize in organ music, there are those most comfortable with chamber music, some mainly write operas -- and there are still plenty who compose orchestral works.
I've profiled 100 such composers so far -- they're young, old, male, female, and hail from every continent. I've always included audio samples as well, so you can hear the music for yourself. And -- when possible -- a list of recommended recordings so you can hear more (and support the composer) if the music speaks to you.
Next week we continue on with CCC 101. I encourage you to read the posts, listen to the music, and judge for yourself. Obscure? Exceedingly difficult to listen to? Not every composer, not every work. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise.