Over the past two years in cities throughout the U.S., groups of people have been gathering, digital music players in hand and headphones in place, to watch the sun rise or set. It must be an odd sight for anyone stumbling across these scenes—25 to 50 people all “plugged in,” intently facing in the direction of the sun. They are all listening to the same music by composer Nat Evans.
Glenn Branca has had a deep and lasting impact on several music scenes, but he was never really a part of any of them. With Theoretical Girls, he created a new kind of punk rock music that came to be known as No Wave. Later on, he redefined what a symphony could be. Making music that was more visceral and louder than anything in the new music scene, he even frightened John Cage. Thirty years later, he’s still making waves.
While Joseph C. Phillips Jr.’s music sometimes incorporates improvisation and his ensemble features several prominent jazz musicians, he does not consider himself a jazz composer. An adept multitasker who balances creating music for film, dance, symphonic bands, and his own 25-piece ensemble with teaching music to kindergartners, Phillips creates very clearly 21st-century music—incorporating a broad range of styles while being ultimately beholden to none.
While the myriad details that are crammed into Sebastian Currier’s scores are reminiscent of the elaborate layers found in the Romantic music of the 19th century, and his detailed conceptualizations for pieces seem as thoroughly plotted as those of a post-War total serialist, Currier writes music that very much belongs to our own less certain times.
When Lembit Beecher was named composer-in-residence with the Opera Company of Philadelphia (in collaboration with Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group of New York) in 2011, he didn’t bring a large portfolio of operatic work with him to the brand new three-year program. An instinct and affection for storytelling, however, already infused his compositions.
A wide spectrum of guitarists have responded to the siren call of the $100 Guitar Project. No curatorial bar was set, no stylistic walls erected. It has been a community exercise, each musician encouraged to come to the project without preconceived ideas and to simply explore whatever the guitar suggests to them.
Many ingredients go into Judith Shatin’s music. While it is informed by a deep sense of musical history, it is just as much a by-product of her profound desire to search for new sounds. It is also deeply inspired by history itself, but not as an artifact. Rather it is something that is malleable and very much alive, something that we in the present can continue to engage with to better understand ourselves.