Modern classical music lives suspended between the present and the past, and this is why it often manages to represent, better than any other kind of music, that concept of universal and timeless beauty. Unfortunately, very often there are self-proclaimed composers pretending to describe like modern classical music something that is, in reality, only the result of a commercial manoeuvre aimed at conquering that large share of listeners who only want atmospheric and catchy songs to be put in the background while reading the emails on the phone.
For this reason, I consider it important to know how to discriminate between valuable music and songs with exclusively commercial purposes. What I’m trying to do in this series of articles is to provide my personal contribution to this kind of evaluation which, in the end, remains absolutely subjective. The judgments that I write for the various records do not intend to evaluate the qualities and the skill of the artists, but rather to provide my personal vision of the music they have composed for their recent publications.
In this first issue of the MODERN CLASSICAL radar, I have selected four albums as representatives of the most significant events of this first part of the week. Enjoy, and don’t forget to check the playlists that are suggested at the end of the article: there is plenty of good music to listen to!
“A Different Forest” by Hauschka
There are no doubts this time: the most significant event of this first part of the year for what concerns modern classical music has been the release of A Different Forest, the new album by German composer Volker Bertelmann, who operates under the moniker of Hauschka.
The LP features a collection of pieces for piano that are stylistically closer to the kind of classical music composed by artists like Philip Glass and Dmitry Shostakovich rather than to the commercial successes that are so succesfull nowadays. Nevertheless, the music of A Different Forest has a profundity and a technical depth which, today, is definitely out of the ordinary.
“Pianette”, by Bruno Sanfilippo
Within the large family of composers of modern classical music, Bruno Sanfilippo is one who has taken the good habit to release, with a certain regularity, nice and elegant records. In 2018 we appreciated his intriguing and relatively experimental work named Unity and now, just at the beginning of 2019, we enjoy his brand new LP, named Pianette, which is a good representative of that current of minimalism that has been so successful in the recent years.
One of the things that I appreciated of this LP is the general sense of kindness and elegance that emerges from the songs. There is a stylistic coherence between the tracks that doesn’t become boring repetitiveness, and it’s really a pleasure to play the record in the background while we are busy in other activities.
I have published a review of the album, you can read it from here.
“Pieces for Piano Vol. 1”, by Chris Child
Electronic producer and musician Chris Child, from the U.S., is mostly known for the music he released under the moniker of Kodomo. He’s, however, the author of one of the first albums of modern classical music that we had the pleasure to hear in 2019. The LP, named Pieces for Piano Vol.1, is a collection of simple piano pieces with the addition of field recordings and other electronic elements.
Although the album is produced and recorded in a way that it seems absolutely charming and well-executed (at least according to the current standards for modern classical music), in reality what you realize after a few tracks is that these pieces are all characterized by a disarming simplicity. Many songs look like exercises for kids who are learning to play the piano when they are in the first weeks of music school. In this sense, the choice to inserts additional electronic sounds was taken presumably in order to fill that sense of flatness and chromatic poverty that would have resulted otherwise. And the paucity of musical content becomes more evident when we listen to the full album in a single run.
By the way, the release notes explain that the LP was composed with the intention of creating something simple, intimate and quiet. If I can agree that this music is generally relaxing and direct, I personally expected something more about the actual content of the songs.
“Kreise im Wasser”, by Christian Pensel
Crhistian Pensel is a young composer and multi-instrumentalist from Germany. He started to get recognition in the modern classical and electro-acoustic scenes both as an author of movie scores but also as a leader and composer for a series of interesting musical projects.
Pensel’s newest work is called Kreise im Wasser (Circles in the water) and it’s fully dedicated to the piano. Indeed, the first reaction I had when I started listening to the album was the admiration for the fantastic sounds that were coming out from the stereo. Not only Pensel’s piano has been recorded in an excellent way for the album, but to some extent, the whole record actually seems a celebration of this instrument: the single notes, the melodies, the sequences of chords, the progressions, all seem conceived to enhance the chromaticity and richness of the piano.
Beyond this specific aspect, however, I missed some really memorable piece and also I would have expected some more emotion and tension in the songs of Kreise im Wasser. In any case, the record is interesting and pleasant to listen to, especially in the evening, at home, sitting and in dim light.
As anticipated in the introduction, there are a number of playlists that I’m maintaining on Spotify that feature meditative and modern classical music.
First of all, I’m collecting the best songs of the year in THE MODERN CLASSICAL RADAR, which is now featuring only the songs from the LPs that were mentioned in this article, but it’s going to grow as new records are released.
Another playlist where it’s possible to listen to a lot of good modern classical music is BEAUTIFUL PIANO, with 100 different songs picked up one by one in the last couple of years.
If you like music for piano and you have a predilection for intimate and thoughtful songs, there is a playlist for you. It’s called MELANCHONIC PIANO and it’s also one of the most successful playlists of mine.