V.com weekend vote: What is the most contemporary piece of music you have ever played?

December 19, 2021, 12:24 PM · Contemporary music a wonderful topic for reflection, and my recent interview with Andrea Dawson, author of 24 Etudes for the Modern Violinist, made me think about my own history with modern repertoire.

If you asked me in high school, the most contemporary pieces I had studied were "Hoedown" by Copland (1945) and the "Roumanian Folk Dances" by Bartok (1915). In college and graduate school, I was fortunate enough to perform orchestral works by Chen Yi, William Bolcom, Michael Torke, and a few other living composers.

modern violin music

Now, I'm happy to say that my music stand holds some pieces written in the last few years, just waiting for me to find some practice time and motivation: When The Violin by Reena Esmail, Sky by Michael Torke, a Courante by Andre Myers, and a new piece from a composer friend that is currently in progress! I'm hoping I'll have some time over my winter break to practice and enjoy these pieces.

When it comes to Dawson's new book of modern-music etudes, they give me the opportunity to brush up on my own 20th and 21st century theory while also offering a way to help me teach young students the musical languages that exist closer to them in history, and to equip them with the tools they need to understand, appreciate, and play this music.

So, what about you? What is the most recent piece of music you've played on your instrument? Was a solo piece, or something for orchestra or ensemble? Did you enjoy the experience? Who are your favorite composers of the last century?

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Replies

December 19, 2021 at 08:46 PM · depends whether you include music written by self

December 19, 2021 at 10:10 PM · New music is mostly in Orchestra play, 20th century can be more common than you might expect, all those little Kreisler set pieces for example, or Mahler, Vaughn Williams etc. I have had the opportunity with our community orchestra to premiere new music, plus our current music director loves to write new arrangements of Christmas Songs.

December 19, 2021 at 10:56 PM · Excluding a performance of the first movement of my own then-unfinished piano quartet, I've played 12 world premieres, all in orchestras. 11 of those were composed within a year before the concert, the other composed about 15 years earlier. I've also played four more pieces, all in orchestras, that were not world premieres but were composed within one year before the concert.

Both of the orchestras I currently play in (a semipro orchestra and a university orchestra) have living composers on 75% or more of their concert programs. Each played a very new piece in its most recent concert: the semipro orchestra premiered a new work commissioned from Pittsburgh-based Laura Schwartz, and the university orchestra played the US premiere of a 2019 piece by Dutch composer Mathilde Wantenaar.

December 19, 2021 at 11:20 PM · Ned Rorem's Lions comes to mind. I played this piece in orchestra during my degree program. Didn't much enjoy the experience. I can listen to this kind of music now and then, but I'd rather not play it. My musical ear is decidedly Baroque through early 20th Century.

My own unaccompanied improvisations are the most recent items, 2015-2020, about 30 minutes of bits and pieces I came up with during daily warm-ups. I know them note for note, although I have yet to write any of them out. They don't sound anything like what most of us would consider modern music. Among my main influencers, not necessarily in this order: Verdi, Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini, Mazas.

Can't really name a favorite composer of the last century, because I like different composers for different qualities. A couple of names come readily to mind, though, because I enjoy listening to and playing their music: Sibelius, who died in 1957, and Richard Strauss, who died in 1949.

December 20, 2021 at 12:41 AM · Most of my modern-music playing has been as a member of the orchestra - most recently “Banner” by Jesse Montgomery in the Pasadena Symphony. But I would like to explore more modern solo pieces!

December 20, 2021 at 01:48 AM · I became aware of composer Scott Wheeler when Gil Shaham's performance of "Isolation Rag" was featured on v.com. Ever since, I've been obsessed with Wheeler's songs and have been studying them in hopes of getting to the point where I might sing them in public. They are truly beautiful.

December 20, 2021 at 10:48 AM · With our casual community orchestra we've performed a couple of orchestra pieces by Robert W. Smith. His music is very suitable for school orchestras and amateurs and is well-composed! Next year (hopefully) we'll perform "In a gentle rain" with euphonium solo. Interesting is that the strings simulate a gentle rain by lightly snapping their strings.

December 20, 2021 at 04:19 PM · George Crumb's Black Angels kicked my butt!

December 20, 2021 at 07:38 PM · My freshman college year was at the new music dept. of UC San Diego. The focus of everything was on the Avant-garde and electronics. Faculty composers in residence were Harry Partch and Pauline Oliveros. Repertoire started with Webern. I remember doing the premiere video recording of Klaus von Wrochem's String Quartet for Six, (quartet + 2 "page turners!), which used every possible non-conventional way producing sound from a string instrument. After a year I had enough of that stuff and transferred to a more normal UC music dept.

December 21, 2021 at 02:34 AM · I suspect this thread is mostly a question of music that we would describe as "serious" or "classical" in the broadest sense of the latter term, not modern jazz tunes or perhaps not even movie music.

Following up on Laurie Niles and Andrew Sords, I too would be willing to consider studying something recently written for the violin -- something that is modern and yet would still be considered "part of the serious repertoire," but does it have to be technically impossible? Seems like every composer wants to outdo the last one in terms of the technical difficulty of their violin concertos. I believe Arnold Schoenberg even commented that he "contributed yet another impossible violin concerto" or words to that effect. Can the beauty of the violin be showcased without the notes being too hard for ordinary mortals? Kudos to Bartok, Frank Bridge, and a few others for writing stuff that students can play.

December 21, 2021 at 07:44 AM · Several excellent points, Paul! Can you convey this to today's composers? Some seem to understand it, others,not at all.

December 21, 2021 at 10:46 AM · "Spiegel im Spiegel" by Arvo Pärt has "easy" notes, but you still need to be a terrific violinist to make it sound good.

December 21, 2021 at 06:13 PM · Paul, you make such a great point. Andrea and I were talking about this too! The composer Reena Esmail mentioned it at ASTA, too. Her pieces "Unlikely Stories" were written exactly as this: an accessible entry point to her music for young players. I also like some of the pieces by Grazyna Bacewicz - her Concertino is something I introduce around Suzuki Book 4-5 and her Polish Capriccio has some more doublestops and a higher range. The Torke concerto I mentioned in the post above, Sky, is also very accessible note-wise. I'm having some trouble with the fiddle style and adapting to the bowing/rhythm patterns, but there's nothing really impossible in it. It's super doable and also really fun and satisfying!

December 21, 2021 at 08:20 PM · I voted 1980-1989, because I improvised in at least one hymn tune that was composed after 1980 (L K Berry's "Ocean Depth" - My own formal instrumental compositions all date from before 1980).

December 21, 2021 at 09:54 PM · Claire -- great!!! I appreciate the suggestions. LOL now I wonder if I order one of those things from Shar, will it be $45 for three pages of music?

Also following up on Joel's comment, "every possible non-conventional way producing sound from a string instrument" doesn't interest me at all. Go ahead; call me closed-minded.

December 22, 2021 at 12:51 AM · Funny you should mention Bartók's Romanian Folk Dances - our orchestra performed it on Saturday night. We also played an even more recent piece: excerpts from the Delina ballet suite, written by Albanian composer Çesk Zadeja in 1964. Being Christmas, we also included Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson. Not cutting-edge modern, but not exactly ancient either.

We had already arranged to live-stream the concert, so those concerned about COVID could watch it from home. With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, we made a last-minute decision to not have a live audience at all. This was disappointing, but less risky.

December 22, 2021 at 07:59 PM · Joel and Paul, I've toyed with the idea of transcribing John Cage's 4'33? for violin or viola, but the transcription would require to be performed by a very fast luthier (Incidentally, I'm not sure whether Cage meant us to hear the piano lid dropping in the first two movements of Bill Marx's performance of this work). Also composing Variations on a Theme by Cage.

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