Peter Gregson is a cellist and composer "working at the forefront of the new music scene" (The New Yorker). He has premiered works by composers including Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Joby Talbot, Gabriel Prokofiev, and Steve Reich; he also collaborates with many leading film composers, including Lorne Balfe, Alex Heffes, Michael Price, as well as many others. His score for Alan Rickman's 'A Little Chaos' was nominated for the Public Choice Award at the 2015 World Soundtrack Awards, and was Vanity Fair's score of the year.
Cellist and composer Peter Gregson is a man obsessed with sonic frontiers: "The job of the musician is to create stuff that's relevant to his time," he says. "You can get it wrong if all you do is stubbornly stick to your guns. I want to be able to adapt to changing landscapes." In Bach Recomposed, Gregson translates a landmark of the cello repertoire into his own unique musical language. The album is the latest addition to DG's lauded series that includes Max Richter's Vivaldi Recomposed.
Defining ‘contemporary classical' music is fraught with complications: should we include film music, for example, and what about music that uses amplification? From Adès to Zimmer, the canon is thrillingly diverse, and features various nooks and crannies within which exciting sounds emerge. It's a soundworld that listeners are just as likely to encounter via curated streaming platforms as in major venues, on the small and silver screen, and in clubs as well as concert halls.
Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons (2012) is a key example of this collision of classical-electro-ambient music, a strange juxtaposition of old and new, high versus so-called ‘low' art. It is akin to listening to a Cubist version of the Vivaldi classic, with fragmented melodies that are looped and overlaid, shared between laptop and strings. Richter is one of a new school of composers who combine multiple stylistic ideals.
Various names have been given to this particular branch of contemporary music: alternative classical, neo-classical, post-classical. In a digital world, life becomes easier if we can define a searchable genre. But when a style is in its infancy, this can be restrictive.
Critics of this soundworld claim that many of the pieces are unimaginative pastiche. Writing in The Wire, Philip Clark asked ‘how you would feel if visiting Tate Modern you found the Rothkos, Matisses and Picassos had been replaced by Athena poster art', in the context of Deutsche Grammophon's decision to include the likes of Richter, Karl Jenkins and Ludovico Einaudi alongside its starry back catalogue of 20th-century composers.
DG continues its commitment to this music with the recent re-release of Richter's 2004 The Blue Notebooks, with words adapted from Kafka's Blue Octavo Notebooks, and the upcoming release of Recomposed by Peter Gregson: Bach – The Cello Suites, which follows in Richter's footsteps.
Post-classical music attracts a broad audience, in part because the music is becoming so widely accessible. Composers such as Ólafur Arnalds, whose atmospheric solo albums sit alongside his screen writing (such as the soundtrack to TV series Broadchurch) are attracting an increasing listenership. The late Jóhann Jóhannsson found popularity with his soundtrack to The Theory of Everything and his disc Orphée (DG, 2016), as well as gaining fans for his more experimental music, including a suite for string orchestra and a retro IBM computer.
Another example is Dustin O'Halloran, who scored Amazon show Transparent, for which he won an Emmy Award. O'Halloran is also one half of duo A Winged Victory for the Sullen who performed at a BBC Prom co-curated with BBC Radio 6 Music in 2015 – another indication that boundaries are shifting.
While historically post-classical music was the preserve of smaller, independent labels – such as FatCat and Erased Tapes – the last few years has seen greater interest from larger-scale organisations. In the spring, Sony Classical announced that it had signed German pianist-composer Volker Bertelmann – known to fans under the moniker Hauschka – with a collection of solo piano works in the pipeline. Hauschka is part of a group of performers who are re-energising interest in prepared piano, adding modern-day extras – ping-pong balls and pegs – to change timbres and bringing newcomers to the world of John Cage.
In 2017, Decca Records launched Mercury KX, an imprint for post-classical music. ‘I felt that a new label, with no specific ties to any one genre, was the best way to achieve the best possible environment for these artists to thrive and to speak to their specific audience,' says Alex Buhr, Mercury KX founder.
The freedom encourages experimentation with technology in ways that artists may not have been able to with more traditional routes. Mercury KX artist Arnalds has just started working with his Stratus Pianos: two self-playing, semi-generative player pianos that are triggered by a central piano played by Arnalds himself, using custom-built software created by the composer and audio developer Halldór Eldjárn.
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