Traditionally, when people think of the phrase “classical music,” they associate it with the likes of old, boring, and antiquated music of the 18th and 19th centuries. I personally love classical music more than any other genre, except maybe EDM, so it comes with great pleasure to say that the landscape and conception behind classical music written today is consistently changing.
Today, choirs embrace the works of composers like Eric Whitacre, as opposed to trying to stay in the “norm” with more traditional choral works like Palestrina’s masses, the Brahms Requiem, etc. If you open up the New York Times, esteemed critics like Anthony Tommasini are consistently writing encouraging words about the very best up-and-coming 21st century composers. Record labels that release contemporary classical music, including FatCat (Max Richter, Dustin O’Halloran, etc.), Bedroom Community (Nico Muhly, Daniel Bjarnason), New Amsterdam Records (Judd Greenstein, Missy Mazzoli, etc.), and of course Cantaloupe Music, the label of Bang On a Can, have had an unprecedentedly large influence over the musical landscape of today, in and out of classical music.
So who are these famous, talented, quirky, and strange geniuses that are changing the musical landscape of today as we know it? We take a look at the ten most famous living classical music composers in the entire world.
10. Judd Greenstein
Known very well for his entrepreneurial musical activities, which include starting the New Amsterdam Records label as well as the Ecstatic Music Festival, Judd Greenstein represents a generation of composers who values the traditions of a variety of genres, seamlessly integrating the elements of music from past masters to contemporary minimalists into a sound that is both new and appealing. Although he is performed internationally, you can likely catch an event of his by stopping into New York City sometime.
9. John Corigliano
One of the most esteemed composers of both the 20th and 21st centuries, Corigliano has won three of the most distinguished a prizes a composer can hope to achieve in his lifetime, including the Pulitzer Prize, the Grawemeyer Prize, and the Academy Award for best film score, for the film The Red Violin. A long-time professor at Juilliard, John Corigliano writes in a style that is complex in technique yet accessible to modern ears. His Symphony No.1, as well as his score to The Red Violin, will likely be known in history as his most important achievements.
8. David Lang
One of the world’s most celebrated minimalists, David Lang is known the world over for starting, along with fellow composers Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe, the critically acclaimed ensemble Bang On a Can, who are so famous that they recently appeared in an episode of the television show Arthur. I have always been a huge fan of his music, particularly his Pulitzer Prize winning vocal drama The Little Match Girl Passion. In the last five years, his name has been consistently coming up in several of the top music publications, including Pitchfork music magazine as well as the New York Times.
7. Eric Whitacre
Perhaps the most popular living composer on Facebook, Eric Whitacre is one of the few artists, in any genre, who consistently sells records and CDs that top the billboard charts of his particular genre. Primarily known as a choral composer, just about Glee Club participant (aka CHOIR NERD) will thoroughly know the entire canon of his output.
I actually sang in a choir back in college (I know, you desperately need to hear me sing now, mmmmm) and had the pleasure to participate in his Lux Aurumque. He is also notable for having put together one of the most notable digital music projects of the 21st century, known as Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir, which takes thousands upon thousands of people and their singing and putting them into a single video. Hear them perform Lux Aurumque.
6. Max Richter
Less known by the “traditional” contemporary classical music crowd, Max Richter, a Berlin-based composer, is an emotionally resonating, compelling artist of “post-classical” music, as he describes it. Max Richter, who has worked with the likes of Vashti Bunyan and Future Sounds of London, as well as the new music ensemble Piano Circus, writes film scores and concert music works of dark, deceivingly simplistic depth. His music has been heard in Scorsese’s masterpiece film Shutter Island, and his album Infra is among the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard in any genre. His “recomposition” of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is among the most well-reviewed classical music albums on Amazon