Beth Morrison, “The New Classical”
Posted By: Emily Stevens
Whenever I go to hear a classical music concert (which is pretty often) I’m usually the youngest person alone in the room by at least forty years and the oldest person in the room is always the composer, who has been dead for at least fifty years. This worries me immensely. Because of these particular worries, I was especially looking forward to opera producer Beth Morrison‘s chat on, “The New Classical,” which–according to my handy TBA catalog– promised to unveil a ” creative renaissance rooted in classical music.” Morrison is a champion for new operas, and has presented successful projects all over the world, featuring composers who are living, breathing and under the age of fifty. After hearing her presentation it was clear why she is so incredibly successful. She isn’t simply producing works, she’s part of a musical revolution!

“Indie-classical” or “new-classical” are the terms Morrison uses to describe what may be the first genuine movement in 21st century classical music. This movement gets its unique and refreshing sound from a synthesis of 20th century genres and an outright embrace of popular music, resulting in musical flavors that are weird, but good (think salty french fries and a nice thick chocolate shake for your ears). Take Missy Mazzoli’s, Songs from the Uproar, a strange concoction of Steve Reich-brand minimalism and tangy rock progressions. Even zestier is David T. Little‘s Soldier Songs, which features a musical theater-esque vocal line over a churning underbelly of metal.
In the “new-classical” movement, the performance, production and consumption of music is changing just as much as its compositional style. Composers are creating their own ensembles to play their works instead of waiting for an established group to program them. These ensembles, in turn, promote the works of other, similar minded composers. Performances are becoming cozier, with chamber operas premiering in tiny downtown clubs like New York’s experimental performance space “The Kitchen,” and works are increasingly influenced by contemporary mediums like film. When performed in an intimate space, with a modern production, and a score infused with popular music, a work like Ted Herne‘s oratorio Katrina Ballads is incredibly effective. Katrina Ballads was by far my favorite snippet Morison played during her chat. With literal text from the sufferers, survivors and surveyors of Hurricane Katrina and a hearty and jazz influenced score, Herne’s piece is truly tragic, expressive and ironic.
This talk gave me a considerable amount of hope for the next generation of classical music, my only concern now is, when is the new-classical movement coming to Portland?