Friday Not-So-Random Five, December 29

Dec 29 2006 Published by under Music

Friday Not-So-Random Five
I decided in honor of the new year, I'd do something a bit different this week. Instead of
doing a random shuffle on my IPod, I separated out my favorites of the modern classical pieces that I discovered this year. Some of these are brand new recordings just released this year; others are older recordings that I just happened to discover this year.
1. **Igor Stravinsky, "Suite #1", from "Shadow Dances" performed by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.** Beautiful piece for a small orchestra. Very typically Stravinsky; some strange tonalities, but they're mostly very subtle. This is modern classical music that even people who don't generally like modern classical can appreciate.
2. **Tan Dun, "Water Passion after St. Matthew"**. A piece written by the Chinese composer Tan Dun in honor of the 250th anniversary of the death of JS Bach. This is *definitely* not a piece for people who don't like modern classical music. Mostly atonal, except for a few sections. It's got some fragments from Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, with a very strong influence from Chinese opera. It often sounds oddly Jewish. I haven't made up my mind about
this yet; it's going to take a few more listenings before I really get it. At times, I think it's brilliant, and at times, I think it's just strange. In any case, it's worth the
effort of listening to, to hear the voice of a very notable modern composer writing in
an utterly unique style.
3. **Steven Reich and Maya Beiser, "Cello Counterpoint"**. I've been a fan of Steven Reich for a long time. He's a modern composer from the minimalist school, whose music is strongly
influenced by the time he spent studying with African drummers. This piece is just dazzling; it's all played by Maya Beiser, but she's recorded 7 different tracks, and plays the 8th live over the mixed recordings. This is an amazing piece of music.
4. **John Corigliano, "Fantasy on a Bach Air"**. A piece by John Corigliano, also in honor of JS Bach, built around a melody from a Bach air. Corigliano is my favorite modern composer; he tends to write a lot of very atonal stuff, but unlike composers like Stockhausen, he manages
to do it in a way that's pleasant to listen to. He finds different kinds of musical structures for the music, which still appeal to your ear.
5. **Phillip Glass, "Overture from Les Enfants Terrible"**. "Les Enfants Terrible" is one of Phillip Glass's latest operas. It's distinctively Glass, but at the same time, it's very different from much of Glass's past work. It's much more willing to be openly dissonant, and
to use larger, longer structures and more complex rhythms than most of Glass's earlier work.

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  • Mark Sheely says:

    Thanks for recommending Tan Dun's work. It is a piece I had not heard of but think I might enjoy quite a bit.
    May I recommend to you John Adam's "Dharma at Big Sur"?
    Best wishes for the new year,
    Mark S.

  • BWV says:

    The Suite #1 is a great piece, but the Octet is the real gem on that disc.
    BTW, Elliott Carter, IMO the greatest living composer, just turned 98 last month (and premiered a new piano piece). Don't know if there are any works of his on I-tunes, but there is no finer music written in the last 50 years than by EC.

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