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I have been interviewing contemporary composers since 2014, so I have first hand knowledge of what they are doing, what they think about their career potential; and how well they are doing. I have interviewed more than 70 composers so far, from those in their 20s and 30s to one in his 80s, and those working in a more traditional style to those whose work is experimental. Some have become well known since (certainly not because of) my interview, but most have become more successful since the time of my interview even if still not "well-known."

My interviews ask the same six questions to all of them and their answers ranged from very long and expansive to relatively short and matter-of-fact. Most somewhere in the middle.

I'll just add a couple of thoughts to this thread:

1. These composers, without exception, have a purpose for writing music. Sometimes it is political, more often it is to express their own unique ideas about musical aesthetics. They consider themselves classical music composers pursuing the same profession as the composers of the core repertory. None of them expressed any idea of destroying any tradition or frustration with any tradition, however, many cited influences from popular culture as well as canonical composers.

2. They support themselves with their music in one form or another. Often they have founded or co-founded a performance ensemble and promoted their work and that of their colleagues, and often work individually as performers or vocalists. Usually they have advanced degrees and are professors in universities. Many of them have received commissions and are beginning to make a dent.

Bottom-line: these composers are (to use Joseph Campbell's phrase) "following their bliss." Their artistic integrity is intact and one of the strongest motivating factors for their work. In my interaction with them I sensed that they were brimming with optimism about their careers.

PM me if you would like the link to profiles.
 

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It's hard for me to give examples given the way the discussion has gone because we're focussing on symphonies, ]
I don't think the symphonic form is very important to today's composers. Why should it be? One of the questions I ask these composers is about their thoughts on long form works. Most reply something to the effect that they understand form as an organic process, each work is unique and the form for each work follows from the development of that work, intuitively.
 

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There is and has been, plenty of excellent craft on display imv.
The modern sensibility requires different technical approaches and paradigms to composing that study of CP counterpoint and harmony doesn't necessarily provide. What a contemporary composer has to learn and assimilate is no less daunting than learning 5th species counterpoint and remember also that a contemporary composers immediate tradition and canon is the middle 20thC onwards.
I personally believe in a thorough grounding in older practices which is why I studied them, but they are not that relevant to a modern outlook and a composer with contemporary sensibilities would be wise to concentrate more on modern techniques. Doing so is a learning curve no less demanding than it was 150 or so years ago imv and still requires high standards of craft....maybe more so given the expanded and open nature of all the elements involved in composition.
I agree with you and will only add one thought - e.g., learning and perfecting 16th century counterpoint (taught in every conservatory) is a discipline which any composer will benefit from no matter what is their chosen style.
 

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They like what they do, yes, it isn't the reason of their existence though. Maybe I'm wrong.
I watched a documentary about Frank Zappa. There is no other way to describe him than as you described Mozart and Beethoven's obsession.

This dichotomy that some here want to claim divides the composers of the CP with today's composers is false, IMO. Don't fall prey to the idea that because you have trouble connecting with today's new classical music that the motivation behind it is either on a lower level than that for earlier composers whose music connect with easily, or that they don't have the same kind of dedication.

Much in the world has changed but what hasn't changed is that composers and artists are still motivated by an aesthetic vision and have developed the craft and discipline to carry it out.
 

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OK but that's Frank Zappa, like Jimi Hendrix that slept with his guitar. He's one in a million, I was talking in general about composers trained in a conservatory.
That's the point - they're not "one in a million." You are simply making an assumption, that in my experience is not true.
 

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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.
Can you event list ten contemporary composers?

Here's my list:

Rebecca Saunders
Brian Ferneyhough
Wolfgang Rihm
Alexandra du Bois
Turgut Erçetin
Péter Eötvös
Pascal Dusapin
György Kurtág
Ivan Fedele
G.F. Haas
Katherine Balch
Christopher Cerrone
Joanna Bailie
Hèctor Parra
Katharina Rosenberger
Philippe Manoury
Lera Auerbach
Enno Poppe
Krzysztof Meyer

I could go on ....
 

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Some works

Jurg Frey - 'Paysage pour Gustave Roud'
Alexandra Karastoyanova-Hermentin — Lintarys
Evan Johnson — L'art de toucher le clavecin, 3
Aaron Cassidy: Second String Quartet
Jürg Frey - 'Fragile Balance'
Christophe Bertrand: Haos
Liza Lim — Songs found in dream
Katharina Rosenberger — blur
Marti Epstein — Hidden Flowers
Agata Zubel — Cascando
Katherine Balch — drip music
Haukur Þór Harðarson — I
Yannis Kyriakides — Paramyth
Georg Friedrich Haas: tria ex uno
Ivan Fedele - Breath and Break (2013)
Pascal Dusapin By the way pour clarinette et piano (2014)
György Kurtág - Six Moments Musicaux, Op. 44
Chaya Czernowin — String Quartet
Rebecca Saunders: Dust (2017/18)
Alexandra du Bois — String Quartet: Oculus pro oculo totum orbem terrae caecat
 

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Being as specific as you can be, what is impressive about the Balch piece?
First of all, there is nothing I or anyone can say to you that will change your opinion if you do not find anything of merit in the work. But I will tell you why it got and held my attention. Is it impressive? That's your word, and a relative term that I don't often use for any music. One either hears a work and responds positively or not.

I was intrigued by the texture of the first part that gradually takes on more and more activity. It starts out mainly made of quiet noises and then becomes more pitch oriented and busier. This section finally matures into a more expressive section that I found captivating and beautiful, actually. The dominant seventh chords near the end are effective in contrast to the previously indistinct harmonies.

Clearly there is a beginning, middle and end, a journey she takes the listener on.

Here's the program note from the composer:

"drip music begins very quietly. From delicate, nearly inaudible drizzles of sound, splashes (heavy droplets) take over and begin to dance. This piece is about drawing attention to and then amplifying very tiny sounds, and is a celebratory exploration of the intimacies and intricacies of the string quartet. drip music was commissioned for the Argus Quartet by Concert Artists Guild, with generous support from the Adele and John Gray Endowment Fund."

But if you don't hear it ...

The Katherine Balch work and this one by Alexandra du Bois - String Quartet: Oculus pro oculo totum orbem terrae caecat - are, I think are representative works of the generation in their 30s.


Both are string quartets, clearly these two composers are interested in working in that long-standing tradition.
 

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I'm not sure that anyone understands what the subject is supposed to be. I haven't read very much from anybody that suggests what the reality of life for contemporary composers is. Is this supposed to be about what a contemporary composer faces in making a living, finding an audience, getting a commission or deciding what kind of CM music to compose?
I have been interviewing contemporary composers since 2014, so I have first hand knowledge of what they are doing, what they think about their career potential; and how well they are doing. I have interviewed more than 70 composers so far, from those in their 20s and 30s to one in his 80s, and those working in a more traditional style to those whose work is experimental. Some have become well known since (certainly not because of) my interview, but most have become more successful since the time of my interview even if still not "well-known."

My interviews ask the same six questions to all of them and their answers ranged from very long and expansive to relatively short and matter-of-fact. Most somewhere in the middle.

I'll just add a couple of thoughts to this thread:

1. These composers, without exception, have a purpose for writing music. Sometimes it is political, more often it is to express their own unique ideas about musical aesthetics. They consider themselves classical music composers pursuing the same profession as the composers of the core repertory. None of them expressed any idea of destroying any tradition or frustration with any tradition, however, many cited influences from popular culture as well as canonical composers.

2. They support themselves with their music in one form or another. Often they have founded or co-founded a performance ensemble and promoted their work and that of their colleagues, and often work individually as performers or vocalists. Usually they have advanced degrees and are professors in universities. Many of them have received commissions and are beginning to make a dent.

Bottom-line: these composers are (to use Joseph Campbell's phrase) "following their bliss." Their artistic integrity is intact and one of the strongest motivating factors for their work. In my interaction with them I sensed that they were brimming with optimism about their careers.

PM me if you would like the link to profiles.
DaveM, I suppose you didn't read the first page of posts.
 

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This "Indie classical" movement is kind of hilarious (in a tragic way though). Especially since the composers you mentioned - Nico Muhly, Missy Mazzoli, David T. Little - sound relatively tame, conservative and traditionally-oriented.
Those three composers have found a level of institutional success that IMO removes them from the "Indie Classical" label - a label that no composer I know of accepts or identifies with. All three are very talented and unique composers whose music is at the forefront of new classical music. But it is only one stream of what's happening, and not as interesting as the more adventurous composers I've heard.

Young composers born after 1980 grew up in a world dominated by the Internet and alternative avenues for finding an audience. This has influenced how they see themselves and the music they compose.

Composers in their 20s - 40s have a variety of styles, some very experimental others more conventional, the only real commonality among them is a dedication to utilizing all of the tools available to them in this social media driven market. If these composers have achieved the level of being promoted by Score Follower and Incipitsify, they are more successful than most.

I have found a number of works on these channels that I also consider the future of classical music.

But the audience for this kind of new classical music is different from the audience for institutional classical music. This audience is younger, comes from other genres, probably doesn't find Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms very interesting, and doesn't care about what many on TC do regarding the cultural importance of traditional classical music or its "canon".
 

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It goes along with the argument that there are just different but equivalent genres that are of equal value. It is an argument I feel we should recognise now, after all the time that it has been used (50 years+?), as inadequate and partly false.
It is not false in any way.

You cannot make a case that the genre of classical music is more valuable than the genre of hip-hop without making sweeping value judgments based on prioritizing the stylistic attributes of classical music as a whole and then looking to see if or how they are present in hip-hop. The reverse would be using the stylistic attributes of hip-hop as a basis for comparison with classical music. Both would appear to be artistic failures since they each do not exhibit the other's stylistic priorities.

You cannot compare genres since they rarely exhibit the same priorities, attributes and goals. So your statement is without merit since the foundation doesn't exist.

A better more humble attitude is to accept that all genres have their purpose, priorities, style, and audiences, and no audience is elevated above the others because of the music they prefer.
 

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I agree with you, but I don't think that -especially when only considering western music- there's an unbridgeable distance between genres rendering any comparison inadequate. Looking at it from a purely practical musical perspective, if there were, every genre would stay in its line and there would be no basis for mixtures, borrowings, nods, etc. That's an even more important point today when, at least in the popular scene, there's a lot of crossing of boundaries, and even these boundaries are ceasing to exist
First, I don't think it is a productive exercise to attempt to compare genres. Next, I am not a fan of cross-overs or fusion of genres, they water down both and the resulting music is usually not as good as what the unadulterated genre offers.

Lastly, why limit the scope to Western genres? Some of the most interesting music is non-Western.

Classical music is more sophisticated and complex than most other genres.
So you say.
 

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Is complexity inherently good?
Classical music fans have one idea of complexity. They think that a genre like Blues is not sophisticated music because it does not exhibit the same kind of complexity that is found in classical music. However, there is a different kind of complexity found in vernacular music that most classical music fans can't appreciate because they don't listen to the music very much.

Or if they do, they listen to it superficially.

The give-away is when they say it all sounds alike.
 

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There was more that went into making the Art of Fugue.
What went into the Art of Fugue was what J.S. Bach wished to express in his skill at counterpoint. However, the purpose, questions, problems, and priorities that Bach dealt with for writing this work are completely different than the purpose, questions, problems, and priorities that a hip-hop writer faces.

There is nothing to compare. The only issue is if you are biased: Whether you believe that the culture that produced Art of Fugue is superior to the culture that produced Paul's Boutique.
 

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The title of this thread is "The reality of life for contemporary composers" but we have strayed away from that and into one of the discussions that repeatedly occurs on TC between those who are almost exclusively interested in the classical music of the 18th and 19th centuries and those who find new music interesting.

While the discussion has taken a left turn from the main subject it does highlight a phenomenon that does impact on the reality of life for contemporary composers, i.e. rejection of their music by the traditional classical music audience. The motivation of these composers has been called into question; along with their artistic integrity. The general tone is one of hostility and antipathy toward their very existence.

Another aspect of that rejection that I've seen expressed on TC is the idea that experimental new music poses a threat to traditional classical music.

How can music, whose audience is tiny compared to the traditional classical music audience, be threatening? Since it has been claimed that much of new music occurs on the fringes, and is not a continuation of the classical music tradition, why is its existence such a lightening rod of opposition?
 
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