“The world of classical is dead.”...Or so some believe! We personally thing that this statement could not be farther from the truth.
Whilst many consider the golden age of classical music to be that of the Baroque or perhaps Romantic era, today we are casting our eyes to the beautifully exciting and ever expanding world of modern classical music. To the pianists and composers who are accelerating the art forwards and adding their own rich, unique flair to the tapestry of what constitutes high quality, classical composition.
Also becoming known at the ‘Contemporaries’, these incredible composers are not only mostly still alive to this day, but remain some of the best pianists and composers to ever walk the planet. Next time you hear someone say that classical is no longer relevant, show them this list!
John Adams - 1947- Present
Kicking off our list we have the kind of minimalism and expressive excitement that is John Adams. Combining the works of influences such as Wagner and Mahler with a minimal soundscape, Adam’s works are filled with emotion and shattering climaxes while still maintaining a sense of forward thinking progression with every note. His work is often dubbed controversial as it can send the mind to some rather disturbing places!
We would highly recommend exploring his works in the likes of both piano and operatics with Phyrgian Gates (piano solo) and Harmonielehre (orchestral operatic).
Steve Reich - 1936 - Present
Perhaps one of the most celebrated ‘Minimalist’ composers of all time, American composer Steve Reich is almost an entire genre of his own. A true expressionist in every musical instrument he touches, Reich’s control over nuance, melody and motif each create these sensational pieces that sound truly euphoric.
Our personal favourites are that of his Piano Phase works, that have two pianos playing the same phrases, with one eventually speeding up to the point where it moves one note ahead, creating a truly hypnotic or even eerie tone that affects the ear in the most bizarre manner.
Arvo Pärt - 1935 - Present
Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is perhaps one of the most unique compositions out there. His work is highly varied and draws influence from as far back as the Gregorian Chant era, however like the works of Reich and Adams, also features a particularly unique sense of minimalistic expressionism.
We personally love the fact that it was actually a broken piano that Pärt began enjoy his lust for experimentation as he was forced to play on the top and bottom notes of the family's piano as the middle register was damaged.
His works such as the Fratres for piano and cello see the two instruments engage in a sensational battle for domination. His works have featured in a number of films and he has been widely regarded as one of the greatest composers to ever live.
George Crumb - 1929 -Present
Yet another for introducing the beauty, yet also harrowing effects of unorthodox playing techniques, George Crumb is a sensational master of timbre and jerking dynamics. Works such as his ‘Black Angels’ for string quartets and piano works truly make the skin crawl. For those lovers of horror or investigating...the bizarre, Crumb is definitely a name to consider! Be warned however, his work is not for the faint of heart!
György Ligeti - 1923 - 2006
Although he did not directly compose any film scores, the Hungrian-Austrian composer is perhaps best known for his works in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ligeti was one of the most unique composers of the modern composition era. His works are almost ‘aura’ like in stature and fantasise the bizarre and psychedelic. A master of the estranged and electric, Ligeti’s works are not one to merely overlook as perhaps best exemplified by Yuja Wang’s rendition of Études pour piano Livre 1 - "Fanfares"
Errollyn Wallen (1958 - Present)
A role model in every sense of the word for the young classical fanatic, Errollyn’s works are admired by all and draw on a sensational selection of influence from the likes of avant-garde classic and traditional ‘popular’ songwriting. Growing up on the likes of jazz and blues yet then exposed to the classical world during ballet classes, Wallen’s sound is a fantastic blend of both the modern and the traditional, making it highly accessible and appreciated by audiences both old and young.
Lera Auerbach (1973-Present)
The soviet-born American composer and concert pianist is an expert in the arts of creating multisensory compositions that inject emotion and feeling into every note. Few can match her identity, depth and playing skill.
Many consider Lera to be one of the most exciting names within the classical genre thanks to her sensational level of expression in many forms of art, such as paint, sculpture and poetry. This artist expression and influence no doubt leaks into her piano playing and other aspects of her being to create some positively mesmerising performances for all those who see her perform live.
Unsuk Chin - 1961 - Present
A self taught piano player from an incredibly young age, Chin’s work focuses on the brilliantly unusual and extraordinary. For fans of the likes of Alice and Wonderland, Chin’s compositions and playing is an exquisite rabbit hole of possibility.
Her use of incredibly unique changes in musical texture create this incredibly structured, yet complex nuance within her play, leaving the impression of “was it all a dream?”. This reference is so prevalent in fact that she even wrote an opera called Alice in 2007. Fantastical but incredibly ludic, Chin has a wonderful understanding of the beauty of subtlety and dexterity.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this list of just a tiny handful of our favourite modern pianists keeping the beautiful art of classical alive. Did we miss your favourite? Or did you learn something new? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch with us on social media and share your skills!