2021 Winter Music Preview ~ Modern Composition

What does winter sound like?  From solo piano to orchestra, the artists in our Modern Composition category turn color into music and vice versa.  The natural heirs to Satie, Debussy, Beethoven and more, these contemporary composers are always seeking new ways to touch the heart and move the spirit

In recent years, many of the artists we’ve covered have moved into film work, a natural transition; but it’s always nice to hear them come home again.  Both ends of the spectrum are represented below.

Our cover image is taken from the new children’s book Ten Ways to Hear Snow, written by Cathy Camper, illustrations by Kenard Pak, available everywhere!

Rich’s Pick:  Rutger Hoedemaekers, The Age of Oddities (FatCat/130701, March 5)
We’re super-stoked about the debut album from frequent Jóhann Jóhannsson co-composer Rutger Hoedemaekers.  The Age of Oddities is part eulogy, part declarative statement.  Collaborating with a host of artists from Kira Kira to the Budapest Art Orchestra, Hoedemaekers has compiled a huge variety of timbres from the organic to the electronic.  The LP is drenched in emotion, recalling the artist’s film work, but it’s also a commentary on the modern era.


Based on the video below, Hauschka‘s Upstream may be an early contender for our Best Winter Music feature.  The album holds the original score to Robert MacFarlane and Rob Petit’s short film, which follows the passage of Scotland’s River Dee.  Cello and spoken word combine to evoke deep emotion on this soft, reflective set (Sonic Pieces, February 5).

In similar fashion, Elori Saxl‘s The Blue of Distance is split equally between summer and winter, with the color blue as its connecting theme.  Like Hauschka’s release, the album incorporates field recordings of flowing water.  The settings range from Lake Superior to the Adirondack Mountains (Western Vinyl, January 22).  A Winged Victory for the Sullen returns with the highly anticipated Invisible Cities, the score to an elaborate theatre production based on the book by Italo Calvino.  Forlorn yet enveloping, this album seems a perfect match for the yearnings of a world in long lockdown (Artificial Pinearch Manufacturing, February 26). Henrik Meierkord addresses grief and loss through a spiritual lens, combining the modern and the medieval.  His cello is ever mournful, yet resolute.  Kval is out January 8 on Ambientologist.


One of the sweetest sets of the season comes from Adam Holmes & Desdemona, who offer music specifically composed to accompany lockdown.  Music for a Small Shelter sounds like empathy, colored with crayons of strings and hammered dulcimer (slashsound, February 5). Then Rachika Nayar makes her debut with Our Hands Against the Dusk, combining organic instrumentation with electronics.  The first single is “The Trembling of Glass,” but the most powerful moment arrives at album’s end as the electronics fall silent, ceding space to solo piano (NNA Tapes, March 5).  Those who miss the ocean will receive Kumi Takahara‘s See-Through as a gift, its ocean-inspired tracks accompanied by strings, piano and the sound of waves (flau, February 24).


Many of our readers know Daniel Bjarnason for his solo works, but the composer is also the conductor of Iceland Symphony Orchestra.  Bjarnason’s own “Violin Concerto” makes a powerful first impression, but the other four composers hold their own on what is certainly one of the new season’s best orchestral offerings.  Occurrence is out January 22 on Sono Luminus.  On the same day, the label will also release the brief but lovely choral EP Kom Vinur, recorded by amiina’s María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir.  Mark John Mcencroe must be excited to hear his orchestral work scored for concert band.  The Sydney Scoring Orchestra turns his Fanfare Suite into the widescreen opus it was always intended to be (Navona, January 22).  Lost Tribe Sound returns with William Ryan Fritch‘s original score to Freeland, an indie film about illegal cannabis growers who are forced to confront the realities of legalization (February).  The label’s Fearful Void series also includes upcoming albums from Gallowglas, Mt Went, Sailcloth and From the Mouth of the Sun, all of which can be previewed on the series sampler.

The “hot angel bird” on the cover of Prima Kanta‘s single Xiao Xu makes an instant impression; the Laurent Rochelle-led sextet’s album 7 Variations sur le TAO is due January 15 on Les disques linoleum.  With a title like Maelstrom, one would expect the music of Soheil Shirangi / Shervin Abbasi to be dramatic, and it is.  From solo piano to accordion and two cellos to clarinet and string quartet, the music morphs into occasionally dissonant shapes, like lava (Arpaviva, January 15).  Mark Feldmann returns with Sounding Point, his first solo violin album in 26 years, sounding none the worse for wear; yet “Maniac” is not, as one might suspect, a Flashdance cover (Intakt, February 5).


A week at a time, Bigo & Twigetti has been revealing its 10 Waltzes, each one from a different composer, leading up to the full release on January 22.  Artists include Madeleine Cocolas and Leah Kardos, but the most encouraging track title is Ben Crosland’s “Life After Lockdown.”  Marcello Liverani‘s lo-fi piano EP Shapes is set for release on January 29, preceded by “Tangles” ~ a quiet, contemplative piece that bodes well for the set.  Neil Cowley‘s Hall of Mirrors debut album begins with piano, then adds light electronics and other ambient flavors to create lush soundscapes (Mote, March 5).  As it incorporates video game beeps into ivory sounds, Panoram‘s Pianosquenza Vol. 1 could just as easily fit into our Experimental category, but its accessibility helps it to land here (Union Editions, February 5).

Richard Allen

One comment

  1. Pingback: 2021 Winter Music Preview – Modern Composition – Avant Music News

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