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< 2008: The Year of Lang Lang | Main | John Williams' new piece for the Inauguration >

21st century music

Posted at 6:17 PM on January 8, 2009 by Fred Child (15 Comments)

I know, I know, we're about seven years late getting going with this...

But at long last, Friday's show will mark the beginning of a new weekly feature on Performance Today: 21st century music. To me, this feels like a no-brainer: the world of classical music (or whatever we choose to call it) is constantly evolving, and today's composers are drawing on a huge range of traditions to create some remarkable new sounds. Think this is worthy of a weekly feature on PT? Or would you rather not hear new music? Post a comment below, send an email to mail@performancetoday.org, or call the PT listener comment line: (866) 943-4450.

The 21st century music we're hearing this week was written in the summer of 2008 by Karim Al-Zand, a 38 year-old Canadian-American composer who lives in Houston, and teaches composition at Rice University. Al-Zand wrote "Visions from Another World" for the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra in Houston. We've got the world premiere performance on today's broadcast, and interview with the composer.

Each of the three movements was inspired by an illustration by J.J. Grandville, the 19th century French caricaturist and cartoonist. Al-Zand thinks you might like checking out the illustrations while listening to the music, so...here you go. Click on the pics for slightly larger images.

1st movement: Ronde Fantastique.
Second movement: Funeral Cort├Ęge of the Silkworm.
Third movement: The Spinning Ballerina.



Comments ( 15 )

It's funny that Karim Al-Zand refers to Visions from Another World as his "bug Bolero" -

I thought the piece really had a lot in common with the the likes of Ravel and Poulenc. It was kind of cheeky and very programatic. (maybe that's only or mostly because of the illustrations?)

As a 21st century composer, he seems like he's completely ignoring the second half of the 20th century and just picking up where the first half left off!

Posted by Alex Coppock | January 9, 2009 9:50 AM

Great idea to feature 21st century music - much as I enjoy hearing the old stand-bys, adding newer music to the mix makes for a more interesting and challenging listening experience.
Al-Zand's piece was cool - a good start.

Posted by Tony Anthony | January 9, 2009 10:16 AM

Great way to herald the 21st C! All for it. Excellent "inaugural" program. Can hardly wait for these next 91 years of great music! Thanks, Fred.
Art L.

Posted by Art Litowitz | January 9, 2009 12:29 PM

Definitely worthy of a weekly feature -- at least!

I wish I could figure out a way to incorporate this "bug music" into a Girl Scout camporee I'm planning for May -- all about insects.

Posted by Laura Bakken | January 9, 2009 1:40 PM

I very much enjoyed Al-Zand's work that you played today, and I think that it is a great idea to feature 21st century music. After all, if you don't play it, Fred, who will? Over the past few summers I have heard some wonderful 21st century music at the Santa Fe Opera and look forward to hearing more new pieces on your program. Thanks so much, Fred!

Posted by Michael Hayes | January 9, 2009 5:12 PM

Thanks for featuring "new" music. I particularly enjoy listening to new music for uncommon instrument/vocal combos from around the world.

Posted by Bradley Phillips | January 9, 2009 7:31 PM

Thank you for the Al-Zand. I found it appealing and thoughtful. I appreciate the opportunity to be stretched musically in this way with PF Today, so please continue to bring the "new" music.

Posted by Michael Barton | January 9, 2009 7:42 PM

I am so happy to hear that you are going to feature 21st Century music this year. My disappointment is that it will be only once per week.

I was fortunate to live in Grand Rapids Michigan when Catherine Comet came to town to serve as Musical Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony. She is a fantastic conductor and a great contrast to the previous conductor, whose name I don't know how to spell - Symyn Bischkoff, who played almost 100% romantics and classics.

Ms. Comet was fond of modern American music, and featured it in every concert. She believed her duties included educating the audience, and she saved the romantics for the second half of the program so that we would be almost compelled to sit through the more difficult contemporary music. I was in heaven at those concerts and was a faithful attendee until I moved away from Grand Rapids.

Posted by Mair Buddug | January 10, 2009 3:04 PM

This is a welcome addition, Fred. I am looking forward to hearing what you and the crew choose.

Posted by Will | January 12, 2009 11:17 AM

Fred, Fantastic idea to feature 21st Century music. I agree with other posters: why only once a week? Perhaps you could play more than one composer per week?

I thoroughly enjoyed Al-Zand's piece, and look forward to hearing more. Thanks for featuring our 'modern' composers. They need every bit of exposure they can get.

Keep up the excellent program. I listen all the time!

Posted by Keith | January 12, 2009 8:31 PM

It may or may not be a good idea to feature 21st century music on Fridays. It all depends on what you play. If it's just dissonant crap, I won't be interested. If the music you choose has true emotional impact and sensibility in taste I will be interested. The challange for you will be to find music that is pleasing, not painful. Music that is genuinely interesting, and music that can withstand the test of time. Exposing us to horrible composition just because it's "modern" isn't going to fly.

Posted by Joe Linux | January 13, 2009 10:14 PM

What about also playing more of the neglected 20th century, even including some of the "dissonant crap" (to use Joe Unix-Clone's pithy term)?

Asking that you choose "music that can withstand the test of time" is really asking too much; no one's crystal ball is that good. Bach quickly fell out of favor when the neo-Classical aesthetic took hold, and only returned to popularity after Mendelssohn rediscovered him. Beethoven's 9th Symphony, when premiered, was almost as vehemently disliked as Stravinsky's Sacre; yet both were later recognized as masterpieces.

In a way, it is unfair to compare newer music to old classics that have, indeed, withstood "the test of time." Most newer music, like most music throughout history, is is destined for oblivion. Only 3 composers account for 90% the Baroque music still heard today, and 3 other composers account for 90% of the neo-Classical era music that is still performed.

Broadcasting and performing newer music gives us, the listeners, the opportunity to make our own judgments—provided we give the music a fair chance.

Posted by Finell | January 14, 2009 5:59 PM

Unending dissonance without harmonic resolution is a great way to lose the audience. I'm confident that Fred will make the proper choices. If only 3% of the composers account for most of the music of the Baroque Era, than about the same ratio must hold for the 21st century. Please don't play bad baroque.

Posted by Joe Linux | January 14, 2009 7:10 PM

I like 20th century music (Stravinsky, Copland, Shostakovich, etc.) and wish you'd play more from that era. I welcome the opportunity to hear music from the 21st century - I will make an extra effort to tune in on Fridays. I even have a suggestion. Last fall Lexington, Kentucky was the site for the world premiere of Daniel Thomas Davis' "Book of Songs and Visions for Piano Quintet." The piece was not "dissonant crap." On first hearing it seemed "pleasing, not painful," with "true emotional impact" (as per Joe Linux). I listen to "Performance Today" on WEKU.

Posted by Roger Chesser | January 19, 2009 10:14 AM

Finally, finally. It's not so much whether this music will still be played 100 years from now, but whether it will be heard at all. I live at least 100 miles from either of 2 universities in Michigan but I make the trip just to hear this type of music. I so glad someone (other than the BBC) is dedicating a block of time to the newer music.

Posted by Dennis Bierlein | January 19, 2009 3:45 PM

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