Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Bachtrack Top Ten Contemporary Pieces: a Review

Here is the list from Bachtrack of the Top 10 contemporary works. Since some of these I have never heard, I thought it might be interesting to give them a listen.
Top 10 contemporary works
1=Nunc dimittis (Arvo Pärt)
1=Film music from Star Wars (John Williams)
3.The Deer’s Cry (Arvo Pärt)
4.Danzón no.2 (Arturo Márquez)
5.Scheherazade.2, (John Adams)
6=Fratres, (Arvo Pärt)
6=Short Ride in a Fast Machine, (John Adams)
8=Con brio (Jörg Widmann) 
8=Orawa (Wojciech Kilar)
10.Other film music (John Williams)

Arvo Pärt I know fairly well, of course, but Nunc dimittis is not on the CD collection I have of his music, though I may have heard it on YouTube. Here is performance by the Elora Festival singers.

This is an a cappella work and as such does not have the interesting timbres we find in Pärt's instrumental music. It is a very nice piece, of course, as one would expect. Very meditative and peaceful, which is probably why it is popular. The most liked classical music these days seems often to be the stuff that is the most relaxing. We lead tense lives, it seems.

I don't think we need to say much about the music for Star Wars. Very appropriate and excellent film music.

Then another piece by Arvo Pärt that I don't know, The Deer's Cry. This is another a cappella work somewhat similar to Nunc dimittis, but with a different kind of texture, less sustained, more pointillist. The performers are the Erebus Ensemble:

I do know the Danzón no. 2 by Arturo Márquez, a Mexican composer. This is the kind of infectious Latin American music that we guitarists have a lot of. There are lovely syncopated dance pieces from Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, all over. This is not what I usually think of when I think of contemporary music, but hey. The performers are Gustavo Dudamel, and, I think, the Bolivar Youth Orchestra:

Next we have Scheherazade.2 by John Adams, as Wikipedia says, a "dramatic symphony" for violin and orchestra. This is a lengthy work and is in four clips on YouTube. The performers are Leila Josefowitz (for whom Salonen's Violin Concerto was also written) and the St. Louis Symphony conducted by David Robertson. Blogger will not embed, so here are the links:

Now that is quite interesting. I am wondering how BachTrack comes up with these statistics as there doesn't seem to be any information on the site. Anyone have an idea? Is this piece really this popular? How is it measured? Are the numbers just for the US? Anyway, let's stop here for now, halfway through the list.


Steven said...

There are also further statistics for 2016 in Bachtracks PDF here: It includes all composers -- not just contemporary -- and conductors, cellists, violinists and pianists. They do these lists every year, and you can easily search their site for more. The data is taken from Bachtrack's 'What's On' listings, I believe, which are definitely not complete. I often find certain chamber music concerts and more local -- provincial?
-- performances aren't included (UK). Perhaps someone can speak to the site's comprehensiveness in other countries?

I don't think Arvo Part is peaceful or relaxing (not that you said exactly that). Somewhere it was commented that while Part may be relaxing to listen to, he's not relaxing to play! Don't know if this is true, but I imagine a lot of his pieces are so slow and sustained that counting beats, at least, could be stressful. All three of those pieces sound pretty intense to me.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Steven, for the link. I did say he was "meditative and peaceful" which is probably how he is often heard. But I very much get your point. If you listen more closely his music is quite intense.

Craig said...

Very interesting! I guess I'm not surprised to see Part in the top 10, but I am a little surprised to see 3 of his pieces there, and surprised also at those 3. But, as a long-time Part admirer, I'm basically really pleased to see that his music is so popular.

The Nunc Dimittis is fittingly "meditative and peaceful"; it is, after all, a Vespers hymn about a man who prepares to "fall asleep". 'New lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, having seen thy salvation...'

I've not heard of Marquez before.

Marc Puckett said...

I listened to the Scheherazade.2 last September when JA conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in its premiere there (they call it a violin concerto). And once since. In my head I reduced all his programmatic rhetoric (the work 'doesn't tell a specific story' but only alludes to one etc etc) to 'a clever and valiant woman triumphs over an arrogant violence-prone man' (like in Handel's Esther: 'Flatt'ring tongue, no more I hear thee!/
Vain are all thy cruel wiles!/ Bloody wretch, no more I fear thee,/ Vain thy frowns and vain thy smiles./ Tyrant, when of power possess'd,/ Now thou tremblest, when distress'd') and rather enjoy the piece, the violin part of which is splendid-- Leila Josefowicz is a great performer.

Imagine how difficult the Pärt Tabula rasa must be! gosh.