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  • Writer's pictureSarah Berger

Introduction to Contemporary Classical Music: Learning to Love the Crunch

Growing up, I listened to zero contemporary classical music. I had prejudiced views toward it, believing that atonal music was unpleasant to listen to and that modern music as a whole wasn’t as elevated as the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. I was closed-minded toward any music written after Stravinsky’s 1910 Firebird. This all changed when members of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble came to my high school to perform and teach us about modern classical music. 

I unfortunately don’t recall what pieces A.C.M.E. played for us, but I remember thinking it was some of the most beautiful, captivating, engaging, and exciting music I had ever heard. Below are some pieces that make me feel how I felt that day.

Arvo Pärt - Spiegel im Spiegel (1978)

I think the simplicity of this piece is what makes it so beautiful. It’s just repeated arpeggios in the piano with ascending and descending scales in the violin. The way they fit together feels quite meditative.

Max Richter - The New Four Seasons -Vivaldi Recomposed (2012)

I love how this piece blends the old with the new. We hear fragments of Vivaldi’s Spring filled out by synthesizer and looped by string players performing with both baroque and modern bows.

Gabriella Smith - “Carrot Revolution” (2015) 

This piece is so fun and put simply, cool. The string instruments use extended techniques to create percussive noises juxtaposed with bluegrass harmonies. Rock and roll meets classical music 3 minutes in. The violinists continue this bluegrass figure while the viola and cello quote The Who’s Baba O'Riley. 

Sara Bareilles with Ben Folds and Caroline Shaw - “Once Upon Another Time” (2018)

Though not originally written for classical instruments, I love how this performance blends pop and classical idioms. It also features contemporary music-mogul, Caroline Shaw and our very own National Symphony Orchestra!

I hope these videos show you how fun, heart wrenching, and interesting contemporary classical music can be, and inspire you to venture down a modern music “youtube rabbit hole.”

Happy listening!

With joy,

Sarah Berger and the StringTime Family

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