No doubt, you’ve heard some new music in rotation lately on KXPR — music that seemingly stands a bit outside of what you are used to hearing on the classical station.
There’s no question that the standard European repertory that we’ve come to associate with classical music is important. The music is beautiful, powerful, and well, classic. But there’s a whole world of amazing and unique classical music either rarely presented or being created right now across the globe.
On KXPR, we want to bring you examples of the diverse face of classical music today. These are just a few examples of the broad reach of the classical music we’re spinning, from Manhattan (New York OR Kansas) to Mumbai.
Caroline Shaw — “And So” — Performed by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Anne Sophie von Otter
I just love how this song begins: A harpsichord and a voice, that’s all. The way that something so simple can command your attention is a testament to how great a composer Caroline Shaw is.
She utilizes the rest of the orchestra very carefully as they pluck their way through the second verse, all the while momentum builds in the stunning mezzo-soprano voice of opera star Anne Sophie von Otter. Caroline Shaw is an expert at writing gorgeous melodies that weave through unique textures in the ensemble. “And So” is part of a larger song cycle called “Is A Rose” that juxtaposes 18th and 21st-century poetry and music.
Shelley Washington — “Middleground” — Performed by PubliQUARTET
Shelley Washington’s composition “Middleground” is reminiscent of her growing up in Kansas. Dreaming of the heartland, Washington muses in the program notes of “the years spent in cars, scooping handfuls of wheat, racing out into amber fields, cycling together, water wheel ice cream, fireworks, and apples.”
The quartet opens the work with a driving groove, and they continue to accompany a nostalgic melody with bursts of Americana. The strings take several detours into unknown territory as the material develops and eventually returns to the central theme, proving that no matter where we end up, there really is no place like home.
Jean Michel Blais — “Nostos” — Performed by La Pieta
Jean Michel Blais draws inspiration from a lot of composers, but is probably most akin to minimalists like Philip Glass and Steve Reich. “Nostos” was improvised initially on the piano in the composer’s bedroom in Montreal and recorded on a Zoom microphone, a style of collaboration all too familiar to many of us these days.
On the album “Pulsations,” the work is arranged for string orchestra and the cinematic qualities of the piece are very apparent. “Nostos” is chock-full of emotional, sweeping melodies and lush textures. The title in Greek refers to an epic journey by sea like the one found in Homer’s “Odyssey,” and the piece sounds as though it could easily be the accompaniment to a hero’s return to his loved ones from battle.
Amjad Ali Khan — “Love Avalanche” — Performed by Sharon Isbin
Guitarist Sharon Isbin has been incredibly busy of late. One of her three albums released within the last year is called “String for Peace.”
The record is Isbin’s first foray into the intriguing sounds of Indian classical music. It’s not always easy to separate classical music from its traditional European roots. But when I listen to the music of Amjad Ali Khan, I am reminded that there is so much more out there.
Isbin and Ali Khan have been working on making this collaboration happen for nearly a decade. Isbin’s guitar is paired with traditional Indian instruments including the sarod, played by Amjad and sons, and the tabla. Ali Khan says of the collaboration, “The idea is to achieve a cross-fertilization at both the cellular and cosmic levels of two classical music traditions, which are often held to be radically different.”
You can hear more about the recording on a recent episode of New Classical Tracks from Minnesota Public Radio.
Francis Johnson — “Princeton Grand March” — Performed by the Symphony Orchestra of the Americas
Composer, conductor, teacher, and multi-instrumentalist Francis “Frank” Johnson was a rarity among composers and musicians in the 19th century. Born in Philadelphia in 1792, he was one of very few Americans to have a full-time career in music. In addition, he was a Black man who lived during the heightened racial strife of the pre-Civil War era.
Still, he is considered the first bandleader in American history, as well as the first Black American to have his music published (and by the way, he composed over 300 works). The “Princeton Grand March” is a joyously uplifting, fairly straightforward fanfare that is sure to inspire you at any time of day.
Jessie Montgomery — “Coincident Dances” — Performed by the Chicago Sinfonietta
Native New Yorker Jessie Montgomery says her hometown serves as the basis for this piece.
She explains in her program notes, “‘Coincident Dances’ is inspired by the sounds found in New York’s various cultures… The work is a fusion of several different sound-worlds: English consort, samba, mbira dance music from Zimbabwe, swing, and techno.”
I am not sure I can explain it better than that. Montgomery does offer an example of coincidence in the music as hearing Latin Jazz coming from a parked car while she has R&B playing in her headphones. “Coincident Dances” is at times busy and chaotic, but nevertheless, it is a well-conceived potpourri of so many different soundscapes and the variety one can encounter by merely walking out their door.
Want more music selections from CapRadio? Follow us on Spotify, and listen to our Classical Favorites playlist below.