Getting a grip on the contemporary-music scene

Posted on: August 23, 2011

“ ‘I’m writing to ask for advice,’ the e-mail began. ‘I want to know more about contemporary music. Where should I start?’ I get letters like this every few months,” writes Anne Midgette in Sunday’s (8/21) Washington Post, “and I am often puzzled about how to answer. Gone are the days when there was a fixed canon of ‘good’ composers (or, worse, ‘approved’ ones), and a critic told you what you were supposed to like. Today, musical taste has blown wide open. If you love music, chances are that you like lots of different things: Ornette Coleman and Bruce Springsteen and Dmitri Shostakovich and Sufjan Stevens. … So here, O fictive reader, are answers to some of the questions that, over the years, I’ve heard you ask. … These answers are the equivalent of a one-day tour of a major metropolis, pointing out a few highlights to give you a general sense of the landscape of living composers, hoping that you’ll return to visit, in depth, whatever grabs your interest.” Midgette provides a brief history and overview of the “minimalist” movement; examines the neo-romantic or tonal response to serialism, including works by John Corigliano, Jennifer Higdon, and Esa-Pekka Salonen; spotlights a group of “alt-classical” composers who blend rock and folk music into classical scores; and provides a list of five works by other major living composers.

Posted August 23, 2011