The Kids are Alright (Keyboard Music from Composers Under 40)

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For the last several weeks, our programming has examined various niches within the contemporary keyboard repertoire either based on technical aspects, musical concepts, or aesthetic inspiration. This week, we turn our attention to a categorization that is in some ways more simplistic, but in others is a rich area for listening – piano music by composers under the age of forty.

A major characteristic of the younger generation of composers is its diversity. Both in terms of their personal identities (gender, ethnicity, background, etc.) and in terms of affiliation with a particular style or "school" of composition, the identifications that were sometimes a hallmark of earlier eras are trampled by today's young composers. The result is a richly varied output that pushes forward on multiple boundaries simultaneously.

Happily, many of these composers are writing piano music. Some are working through traditional forms to bring their contemporary vocabulary to the instrument (Judd Greenstein's First Ballade or Ryan Francis's Piano Concerto, for instance). Others are spinning new programmatic works out of experiences or soundscapes familiar to contemporary life (Judy Bozone, Christopher Cerrone). And others still are experimenting with technology to find new ways of writing piano music (Conrad Tao) or jettisoning the instrument entirely in favor of purely electronic keyboard forces (Lorna Krier).

While bemoaning the death of classical music is a perennially popular topic in certain circles, one only need listen to the diverse and relevant piano music coming out of the pens (or, rather, laptops) of the younger generation to hear the vitality of new music today. It may not always fit neatly into the boxes constructed by prior eras of what "classical music" should be, but that is what contemporary art is about – pushing forward. In short, the kids are alright!