What music most appropriately captures the zeitgeist of 2002? Steve Reich’s Daniel Variations (created in response to the shocking February 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal’s South Asia Bureau Chief Daniel Pearl) was not composed until 2006, but another Reich work, his apocalyptic Three Tales (created in collaboration with Beryl Korot) immediately stands out in my mind.
Two pianists who recently caught my attention with new releases devoted exclusively to American music composed within the last quarter century are Nicholas Phillips and Mary Kathleen Ernst. All in all, 17 composers are represented on these discs, showing that the instrument that once was a mainstay in households all across the land still has a home in the 21st century.
Before his 18th birthday, Aaron Parks had released four CDs. After a five-year stint with Terence Blanchard and now 30, he participates in a wide array of musical endeavors, from his own polyglot material to guesting on an indie-rock album and collaborating with Korean-born vocalist Yeahwon Shin. In everything he does, he is fully present.
Become Ocean by John Luther Adams has been awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Music. The work, premiered on June 20, 2013 by the Seattle Symphony, was described in the citation as “a haunting orchestral work that suggests a relentless tidal surge, evoking thoughts of melting polar ice and rising sea levels.”
Juan Orrego-Salas (b. 1919) is the last surviving member of a major group of mid-20th century American composers. He was a protégé of Aaron Copland, Randall Thompson, and Luigi Dallapiccola, and a personal friend of Irving Fine, Lukas Foss, and Pablo Neruda, among others. He also founded the Latin American Music Center. His is an important story in the annals of American music.