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I, for one, am completely optimistic regarding contemporary classical music / art music (or any other name that you, the reader, are comfortable with!) while hasting to admit that the career of a composer is definitely not an easy one. But if I concentrate on the music itself, oh my god - I keep hearing so many interesting, ravishingly beautiful, imaginative and powerful new scores literally all the time, I really can't see why today's music wouldn't stand up with the music of the past! Everyone is of course entitled to their own opinions which are as valid as mine. I'm definitely looking forward to the post-pandemic era and experiencing the thrill of premiere performances again.

All that being said, I'm very sympathetic to the problems composers are facing - lack of funding, lack of audience interests, lack of opportunities and all that; these are all very real issues. But I think I might be helping at least a tiny bit by buying concert tickets and recordings, listening to the music, speaking about it etc. :)

1,079 Posts
Could you please list 10 contemporary (living) composers you like? Even "contemporary" has lost all meaning. Anything and everything that can be done is being done. IMO 99% of it will be forgotten.
With great pleasure! I'll throw in a few favourite works to elaborate my choices. These examples will be in a random order, indicating no particular preference.

1. Sofia Gubaidulina

Gubaidulina was one of the first living composers I fully clicked with after some exposure. There's something deeply moving - dare I say spiritually engaging? - about her musical language, and the sonorities of her scores can be so elementally shattering that the listener can be left quite overwhelmed. But there is a lyrical and optimistic quality to her writing also.

Some works I love:
- The two violin concertos, Offertorium and In tempus praesens; essential Gubaidulina for anyone to explore. Especially the latter one has a place in my heart and I count it as one of the greatest violin concertos ever written. When listening to it, I am instantly captured by the narrative of the work, from the darkest abyss to the most triumhpant, life-affirming finale. A bit like Beethonven, no?
- Sonnengesang for solo cello, percussion and choir - a towering masterpiece in my opinion. I still remember hearing it for the first time, I was simply blown away by it. A lot of cellists seem to have expressed interest in it, it has already been recorded many times!
- Stimmen... Verstummen..., a symphony in 12 twelve movements. A very intersting take on the genre, and a wonderful listening experience.
- The Viola concerto, the Bassoon concerto - both works I adore!
- Various chamber works: the string trio, the string quartets, the Hommage à T. S. Elliott, organ works also... There's so much!

2. György Kurtág

One of my favourite composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. A master of miniatures, his style is often quite bleak in its Webern-like brevity, but there's also a lot of spiky humour here and there.

- Kafka-Fragmente is a classic work for soprano and violin, an amazing song-cycle exploring the absurd and morbid in Kafka's texts.
- 12 microludes for string quartet (and other works also); I think Kurtág's string quartets are of the highest quality, and offer a wonderful gateway into this composer's work.
- Quasi una fantasia for piano and a spatial orchestra - a very brief but stunning tour-de-force, starting with the most gentle descending scale but evolving into a kaleidoscope of sounds. It is quite a moving piece, I think.
- Grastein für Stephan is also very moving piece, hovering at times at the edges of silence but really exploding into a fury at times.
- There's so much more... A lot of Kurtág's output is for vocal forces, and it's an endless treasure trove. I also love when pianists play excerpts from the Játékok, short pieces meant to evoke the playing and trying out of the piano that a child engages in before being formally trained.

3. Unsuk Chin

For me, Unsuk Chin is one the most brilliant composers of our times, and probably my favourite contemporary composer.

- Chin's concertos are just amazing, and I especially love the ones for violin and piano. Hearing the piano concerto live was truly one of the most memorable concert hall experiences of my life...
- The Akrostichon-Wortspiel is probably her most famous piece, and I really love it lot. Hearing it was my first experience of her music, and I've never looked back!
- Gougalon (Scenes from a Street Theater) is one of my favourites, it's a damn funny piece. There's a video on YouTube of it, I strongly recommend watching it. The sounds Chin coaxes out the orchestra are extraordinary, and the piece it's very engaging for the listener.
- The 6 études for piano are quite popular among adventurous pianists, and the one entitled Toccata perfeclty captures the fantasy, wit and playfulness of Chin's musical language.

4. Kaija Saariaho

I hope I don't come across as too biased since I'm a Finn like Saariaho, but I really do love her music. This wasn't always the case, I remember attending a chamber concert many years ago and getting nothing out of it... But now I'm a huge fan.

- L'amour de loin; is it a cliché to mention this? Nevertheless, I really do admire this opera, it's really beautiful, mysterious and soft to the ears. I was simply blown away hearing it for the first time.
- The various concertos: Graal Théâtre for orchestra, Notes on Light for cello, D'Om le Vrai Sens for clarinet... Great stuff.
- Currently I'm enjoying many of Saariaho's chamber works a lot, for example Cloud Trio for string trio, and Mirage for cello, soprano and piano, and also Je sens un deuxième coeur for piano trio.
- I heard the premieres of the harp concerto Trans and the song cycle True Fire a few years ago - really enjoyed both!

Ok, I'm getting a bit tired of writing :)lol:) so I'll try to be a bit more compact:

5. Hans Abrahamsen

This is an interesting case. Much as I've enjoyed many of his works, it's one piece in particular and that piece alone that grants Abrahamsen a place on this list: let me tell you for soprano and orchestra. It's one of my favourite pieces of all times, any era. Such a ravishingly beautiful and moving piece, I'm moved to tears every single time I hear it.

6. Helmut Lachenmann

Lachenmann is perhaps the most "out there" avant-gardist on my list, but I do love listening to his music very much indeed. It's very different and requires a much different type of listening (at least for me) but once you catch his drift it becomes really enjoyable. I heard his Tuba concerto live a few years back and it was just amazing! I appreciate the way he's made me listen to sounds and timbre in a completely different way.

7. Wolfgang Rihm

This composer I like very much, though he has written so much that I have merely scratched the surface of his output. But he's a very multi-faceted composer, very comfortable in various styles. I have explored his violin concertos and chamber music the most, but will go on to check out his vocal works soon enough.

8. Thomas Adès

Hearing Adès' Totentanz live a few years ago was a tremendously powerful experience for me, and ever since that I've listened to his music with keen interest. The violin concerto is fantastic!

9. Harrison Birtwistle

It took me some time to start enjoying Birtwistle's music, but I'm a big fan these days. Though his operas I have hardly touched upon yet, I enjoy a lot of his orchestral and chamber music.

10. Ondřej Adámek

Adámek is an example of composer I don't really know that well, but I heard his violin concerto Follow me live a few years ago and I was simply floored by it. Absolutely one of my favourite modern takes on the genre. I must explore more of his music...

And there are so many more names: Magnus Lindberg, Péter Eötvös (a recent discovery for me!), Jörg Widmann... And individual pieces by composers I know nothing about. Also, if I can include to this list composers who have died recently (or at the end of the 20th century), then the list simply explodes: Henri Dutilleux (an absolute genius!), Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez, György Ligeti, Elliott Carter, Witold Lutosławski, Iannis Xenakis - all composers I would never want to live without!

For me, the contemporary music scene is as exciting as any previous era - an perhaps even more, since there's so much variety, so many different styles. We encounter composers and performers from all over the world, each with their individual styles and preferences. Isn't this just wonderful? Call me a naive optimist, but I'm so happy to live in this era of ours. There are so many possibilities, so many experiences to be had!
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