2020 Winter Music Preview ~ Modern Composition

Perhaps more than any other musical genre, modern composition speaks to all seasons (thank you, Vivaldi!).  Whatever hemisphere you’re living in, you’ll find some music here to match your climate.  Others may be living in winter while dreaming of spring; if so, there’s plenty of music to match your mood.

This may be the smallest of our five winter music previews (we’re still reeling from the electronic music preview), but it yields the highest quality per release ~ so much that we have two picks in this category while others have none!  Every album here is worth a spin!

Our cover image is an ice harp at Terje Isungset’s Ice Music Festival in Norway.

Rich’s Pick: Valgeir Sigurðsson ~ The County OST (Bedroom Community, January 10)
Valgeir Sigurðsson’s 2018 score for Little Moscow was only an EP, while The County is a full orchestral album hearkening back to 2010’s classic Draumalandið.  The movie centers on the battle between an independent farmer and the powers that be, creating tension borne by strings and electronics.  As a bonus, the artist’s score to An Acceptable Loss is also out, quietly released at the close of the year.


Rich’s Pick #2:  Collectress ~ Different Geographies (6 March)
Nearly six years after their last release, female quartet Collectress return with an ebullient album that marries happy Korg and Rhodes to instruments such as cello and flute.  The album sounds more like spring than winter, but that’s okay; the Northern Hemisphere will begin to thaw by the time it is released.  “Landing (Different Geographies)” is already one of the happiest tracks of the year.


Piano Music

A cold wind whips through “Ghosts of Blacker Dyke,” the lead single from Robert Haigh‘s Black Sarabande.  A train passes in the distance.  Melancholic piano is comforted by empathetic strings.  By integrating the sounds of industry, Haigh creates an ode to northern England that feels like nostalgia and home (Unseen Worlds, January 24).  Similarly sparse is Harbour, the upcoming piano album from Cheryl Duvall & Anna Höstman.  “late winter (for the left hand)” is intensely forlorn, a perfect match for the season (Redshift Music, January 11).  Tristan Eckerson returns on February 7 with Decades, a timely title considering the calendar; the album arrives hot on the heels of October’s Trozo Revisited and a series of singles.  Scottish pianist Mhairi Hall introduces her debut piano album Airs with the sound of waves, a calm reflection of “St. Kilda;” the next single is a cover of a Robert Burns song (January 31).  Giovanni Di Domenico‘s ISASOLO! takes the pianist into Lubomyr Melnyk territory, as cascades of notes fill every available space.  The artist calls his style “strumming music,” which doesn’t explain the bullfrog cover (Canti Magnetici, January 18). Olivia Belli offers a wide range of purchase options for River Path, including sheet music, a t-shirt, a mug and a cap: the complete listening experience!  Of course we’re most interested in her soft music, which is so quiet one can hear the shifting keys (1631, February 28). Also forthcoming on 1631 (which turns 5 in 2020 ~ happy anniversary!): Michael A. Muller‘s Lower River Reworks (January 17); Itoko Toma‘s The Window (January 24); Marco Caricola‘s OST to Homs und Ich (February 14) and Jordane Tumarinson’s Petites histoires de mon enfance (February 21).


Not everyone is fortunate to have a beautiful woman in a field who feels one’s music and moves to its rhythms.  Mirek Coutigny is so blessed, as one can see in the video for Atlas, the lead single from EP The Further We Ventured.  Coutingy’s piano-based music is melded to percussion and electronics to produce a crossover vibe (Vynilla Vinyl / Ikarus Records, February 13).  Tiny Leaves has been building up to the release of Alone, Not Alone for nearly a year, releasing “Respair” (which taught us a new word) and “The Fullness of Things” (which later received the remix treatment, along with a cool video).  A flurry of additional singles will follow before the release in mid-February, but adventurous souls can order the disc early using the link above.

Now Let’s Add Some Strings

A decade ago, Sylvain Chauveau released Simple (Rare and unreleased pieces 1998-2010).  The collection has worn extremely well, and will be seeing its first (and long overdue) vinyl release on Fatcat’s 130701 imprint on January 17.  In like manner, we’ll be enjoying a welcome retrospective of American cellist Charles Curtis as Charles Curtis: Performances & Recordings 1998-2018 is released on January 24.  Many know the artist through his renditions of compositions from Éliane Radigue, Tashi Wada and others, but his own works are included in this collection as well (Saltern).  This looks to be a good season for cello, as it also includes the debut album from Martina Bertoni, composed during a period of “emotional exhaustion.”  All the Ghosts Are Gone presents the cello in contrast to itself, sometimes distorted and others clear.  The result is an intense exploration of withdrawal and rejoining, basking in waves of drone (FALK, January 8).  In contrast, avant cellist Raphael Weinrote-Browne is described as “having the intensity of a full metal band.”  Amplifying his instrument with reverb and effects, he produces Worlds Within, a single work divided into ten movements (January 24).  And Esmerine’s cellist Rebecca Foon discards her famous Saltland moniker for a collection of gentle pieces, graced by her dulcet voice; Waxing Moon is released on Constellation February 21.


Logan Nelson has worked with Hans Zimmer, so it’s no surprise his debut EP is upbeat and pleasantly dramatic.  The music (for string quartet and more) is so catchy that any of the six tracks on Lavender Echoes could serve as singles; in fact, two have already been introduced to the airwaves (Logan Nelson Music, January 31).  Ross Goldstein makes Mellotron music with synth orchestra; Timoka sounds like the score to a forgotten VHS movie, and fools the ear into imagining the organic (January 31).


A trio of disparate works are presented on OutsideIn, from composer Alex Hills.  The first is written for violin and small ensemble, the second for operatic vocal and the third for solo percussion.  This statement of range is inspired by a work of science fiction and represents a similar expansion of boundaries (Carrier, January 31). The Chinese celebrate the new year on January 25, and 2020 is the unbecoming Year of the Rat, although specifically it’s the Year of the Metal Rat, which sounds a lot cooler.  To celebrate the occasion, Cedille Records will be releasing Civitas Ensemble‘s Jin Yin the day before, featuring world premiere recordings from Chinese instrumentalists.  Sadly, no heavy metal!

Richard Allen

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