This may be called Neoclassical, Modern Classical or Modern Compostion, but everyone knows what it is: classical music for a modern generation. When it comes to honoring remarkable writing and playing, Modern Compostion is the genre to which we turn.
Some of these composers fill concert halls. Others perform in smaller venues, solo or with ensembles. One creates his own orchestra. Each is identified with at least one specific instrument. While some kids grow up wanting to play the guitar, bass, and drums (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), these composers prefer the piano, cello and baton. One might call this “serious minded music”, except in many cases, it’s downright fun.
And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen‘s Top Ten Modern Composition Releases of 2013.
Aaron Martin / Christoph Berg ~ Day Has Ended (Dronarivm)
Soundtracking the passage of time that captures the day’s penumbra from sun’s descent to moon’s dominance, Day Has Ended sees Aaron Martin and Christoph Berg each contribute a half, Martin’s ending with the dip of the sun behind the horizon on track four. But this split is no simple ‘light meets dark’; it instead toils throughout under the weight of solemnity – the sense of a day passing easily inferred as a sense of waiting, or longing. Despite this, the tonal and instrumental variety across the pieces, including use of choral vocalisation, banjo and organ, makes for an engaging if soporific experience. (Chris Redfearn)
Daniel Bjarnason ~ Over Light Earth (Bedroom Community)
Processions has the big moments, but Over Light Earth is the more consistent album. As patient as an Icelandic winter, the album stores provisions for the long haul, doling them out to listeners who wait, as hungry as wolves. Inspired by Rothko and Pollock, Bjarnason utilizes broad strokes to convey his themes, but a tiny brush to elucidate his ideas. Another triumph for the young composer, this album only increases our admiration. (Richard Allen)
Eluvium ~ Nightmare Ending (Temporary Residence)
Nightmare Ending is the amalgamation of every album, side project and soundtrack that Matthew Robert Cooper has worked on to date. It is everything one would want to hear on a contemporary classical album, with mood swings coming in at the right times and wrapped in so much beauty it becomes almost unbearable. Piano, drones, ambience, muffled beats, noise: everything is here, and every single element works perfectly with the rest. It’s Eluvium’s best record date and you owe it to yourself to listen to it. (Mohammed Ashraf)
Julia Kent ~ Character (Leaf)
A real surprise from the Leaf label, better known for its electronic leanings, Character is the sound of Julia Kent coming into her own. These confident, dynamic compositions are compact and powerful, laden with sweet melodies and memorable motifs. Like Sarah Neufeld (below), Kent began as the cellist in another band; but this is the way we want to hear her now. (Richard Allen)
Luke Howard ~ Sun, Cloud (Self-released)
On Sun, Cloud, Luke Howard (composer) pays homage to another Luke Howard (the meteorologist who classified the clouds). This elegant suite moves with slow intention, like the clouds that flow from west to east. The Melbourne Symphony and Oslo Philharmonic provide the album with many widescreen moments, but Sun, Cloud soars in quiet, plaintive moments as well, as the composer dreams alone at his piano. (Richard Allen)
Rauelsson ~ Vora (Sonic Pieces)
Through a sumptuous 44 minutes that seem to coast on the crest of a single wave, Rauelsson presents an ambitious yet intimate work of composition mostly bereft of the vocals once prevalent in his output. Vora starts with a desolate piano piece before growing like the swell of that lone wave, introducing strings, harp, percussion and – in time – vocals. Occasional electronics threaten to belie the organic flow, but the masterful transition from synth-heavy rigidity to wilting orchestration actually makes penultimate track, “Parasol”, one of the highlights. A coherent and melancholic gem. (Chris Redfearn)
r+ (rotor plus) ~ dust (The Radiophonics Trading Company of New Zealand)
dust completes a trilogy that began in 2000. The waiting has been long, but the composer has been patient, not wanting to rush out an inferior product. As it turns out, dust is a quiet triumph, marked by deep gullies and sudden turns of timbre. Unlike its predecessors, it abandons the beats in favor of a sophisticated small ensemble. Our staff found dust to be an undiscovered gem; we hope it doesn’t stay a secret for long. (Richard Allen)
Sarah Neufeld ~ Hero Brother (Constellation)
This has been a stellar year for Neufeld, who appears not only here, but on the latest albums from Arcade Fire and Esmerine. Her cello is in fine form, verging from tender to tumultuous, often within the same song. The highlight is the title track, as catchy an instrumental piece as one will ever hear. We love the sound of her other bands, but we’re overjoyed to hear her performing on her own. (Richard Allen)
Sean McCann ~ Music for Private Ensemble (Recital Program)
The privacy of the ensemble may refer to the fact that McCann plays everything himself or to the suggestion that the work is meant to be played by a group of instrumentalists in one’s own apartment. Either way, Music for Private Ensemble is an excellent collage that drones hard. On the surface, this is chamber music, the reflection of an afternoon spent in a rich family’s closed garden. But its heart is that of a noisy city. Here we are, listening to true art, when suddenly a player growls. Scandalous! This is one of the reasons why Music for Private Ensemble works so well; its ambiguity is only apparent, since at the bottom it is attempting to tear apart the complacency it mimics. (David Murrieta)
Tim Hecker ~ Virgins (Kranky)
How to top a Juno Award? Tim Hecker does it by making the best album of his career. Virgins is a theological treatise, a marriage of traditional and modern, and a sonic tour-de-force. The scope is huge and the sounds are vast. Credit Kara-Lis Coverdale (organ), Ben Frost (electronics) and Valgeir Sigurdsson (production) with the expansion; credit Hecker with the vision, along with the boldness necessary to see it through. (Richard Allen)