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The New Guard: A Playlist for 2017
I tend to get into ruts when it comes to music. I will find an artist, composer, or work that I enjoy and simply push repeat for weeks and, sometimes, months. However, this keeps me from experiencing a universe of new and exciting music. In order to avoid this happening to you, I have created a short list of my favorite young artists to add to your list of musical New Year’s resolutions. With the loss of so many great musicians in 2016, it is good to know that the future of music is still in good hands.
The Chopin Project by Ólafur Arnalds
The 30-year-old Icelandic composer and multi-instrumentalist, Ólafur Arnalds, has recently gained fame for his BAFTA award-winning score for the British television drama, Broadchurch. He began his career as a drummer for several metal and hardcore bands before shifting his focus to composing and producing.
The Chopin Project is the first work I encountered by Arnalds, and I was initially very skeptical of what I viewed as some metal-head from Iceland trying to deface the great name of Chopin by butchering his masterworks. I couldn’t have been more wrong. After listening to the track, “Reminiscense,” I was completely sold. This album is like listening to Chopin from someone else’s perspective or hearing through their ears. It is a very personal and deeply moving experience.
“My last moment with my grandmother was on her deathbed, she was just lying there, old and sick, but very happy and proud. And I sat with her and we listened to a Chopin sonata. Then I kissed her goodbye and left. She passed away a few hours later. At that point I was already studying classical composition and experimenting, releasing and touring with all kinds of classically inspired music. But Chopin always kept this special place in my heart and I wanted to express that by making his music the center of this project. By looking at his music in a different way, through the prism of recording technique in its different facets and through my own compositions, I didn't intend to question the integrity of Chopin's music. I wanted to find my very personal interpretation, like so many other great musicians have done before me.” - Ólafur Arnalds
Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 15 by Vasily Petrenko
When Vasily Petrenko became the principal conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 2004 he was 28 years old and the youngest person to ever hold that post. He was an instant success and quickly revitalized what had been a great orchestra. In 2013 he became the conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic and continues his role as Chief Conductor at RLO.
His recordings of the Russian Masters have received worldwide acclaim, and his recordings of Shostakovich are considered some of the greatest ever made. He recently completed the entire cycle of symphonies by the great Soviet composer.
“I think that classical culture—not only music but in the broader sense of arts and literature—is something which is very important for the world. People often don’t realize this, but it enshrines some eternal values which will remain forever, and which ultimately gives people the hope that however difficult their lives, however great their strife, a bright future is still possible.” - Vasily Petrenko
If You Could Read My Mind by Cameron Carpenter
Cameron Carpenter is full of himself. I remember watching a promo video that Sony Classical put out and wanting to puke. In it he is basically described as the new Messiah of classical music while he slowly takes off his shirt. He then goes on to explain how he has accomplished things with the organ no one has ever even imagined in the history of music. I hated this self-aggrandizement so much that I never actually listened to his music, and this was a huge mistake.
Messiah or no, Carpenter is truly a great virtuoso organist. His concerts are full of the most difficult music in the repertoire, which he seemingly plays with ease (albeit in a tank top and sporting bedazzled shoes). He also was the brain behind the International Touring Organ, which is an immense digital organ which produces samples of what he found to be the best parts of the best organs in the world.
I began thinking of famous virtuosi of the past and the sort of theater their concerts could be. Paganini also wore dramatic costumes, carried an air of mystery around him, and portrayed himself as the greatest violinist in the world. Maybe Carpenter’s personality, as grotesque as it may be, simply places him in a long line of titanic virtuosi.
"The irascibility of the organ is such that, in order to be able to do anything at all with it, you have to have an incredible — I would say it's somehow beyond dedication. It amounts to a kind of obsession, at least for me, with this machine that attracts me as much as an object of pure mathematics as a musical instrument. It is one of the few things that is both." – Cameron Carpenter
Render by Roomful of Teeth
There are several a cappella groups on the market today, but none are anything like the Massachusettes-based Roomful of Teeth. If you ask Brad Wells about his young group he would probably first explain that they are a band and not a choir. The ensemble explores the many wonders of the human voice and the styles performed range from yodeling to bluegrass to plainchant to throat singing to traditional choral sounds. This group was founded in 2009 and has already received a Grammy Award for “Best Classical Album.”
"In a choral setting typically you have at the very least three or four altos, three or four tenors, and you're going for a rich, clean blend in each section. And this group is about not single colors or single unifying blends, but almost the opposite: juxtaposing the individual colors of the voices in the group." - Brad Wells, artistic director of Roomful of Teeth.
Blackbird: The Beatles Album by Miloš Karadaglić
At 33 the Montenegro-born Miloš Karadaglić has already established himself as one of the greatest classical guitarists performing today and has just released his fourth album. The songs of the Beatles are well known to just about everyone, but Karadaglić his own take on these immortal sounds. This album also offers wonderful collaborations. My favorite was “Let it Be” with the Navarra String Quartet and the soulful sounds of Gregory Porter singing the ever more poignant words of Paul McCartney.
“After three albums of the core classical guitar rep, with which I inevitably needed to introduce myself to the audience, I knew that this fourth release was a chance to begin a new artistic chapter and try something different - The Beatles seemed a perfect choice. Their songs have been around for the last 50 years, they are stunning, they’ve stood the test of time and they are today loved as much as they were on Day One. I was very, very excited by that... Also, the guitar as an instrument sits very comfortably between the worlds of classical and mainstream, and that, like the music of The Beatles proves the point that music is music regardless of the genre.” - Miloš Karadaglić
In 27 Pieces: The Hillary Hahn Encores by Hilary Hahn
Hilary Hahn needs no introduction. She has been playing in all the great halls since her debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the age of eleven. She also has sixteen albums under her belt and has won numerous international awards.
One would think that an accomplished musician like Hahn would rest on her laurels and just keep churning out the same stuff that fills seats and sells albums. But what makes Hahn so exceptional is that she is restless. She was on a mission to find new pieces for the violin to record and perform at concerts. One night she decided to just start cold-calling the handful of composers she really wanted to work with. Twenty-six composers agreed to write something for her. She then created a contest for unknown composers to write a new piece for her. The winner was selected and the result was In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores.
"There's an idea of the encore being a virtuosic showpiece. I found that a lot of composers in this project wanted to redefine the term 'encore.' They wanted to create a different kind of virtuosity, or they wanted to create a lyricism or a thoughtfulness that they had missed in certain kind of encores in the past." – Hillary Hahn