Contemporary Classical. Modern Classical. Neoclassical. You can call it whatever you want, but the fact is that this genre, which is as close to standard classical music as it is to the most popular alternative one, is more and more successful every year.
The most defining characteristics of Modern Classical are: a piano often used as the main instrument, minimalist afflatus, strings as accompaniment and an electronic touch, usually created by synths or distorters. It’s a complex and elaborate kind of music but, at the same time, it’s easily enjoyable either in the background or for careful listening. Its success is growing increasingly across young people (or young adults) between 20 and 35 years of age, and media are struggling between pigeonholing it in pop and classical music. If you are a voracious reader of Sonofmarketing you most likely know what we are talking about, but the popularity of this genre has been rising rapidly in the last decade among the mainstream public too.
As an example, at the Primavera Sound Festival of this year experimental piano composer Nils Frahm will play at the Primavera/Apple Music Stage together with artists such as Sparks or Unknown Mortal Orchestra. And that’s not all. As everybody probably knows, Icelandic soundtrack composer Jóhann Jóhannsson was also part of the Festival’s line up. His tragic death, possibly one of the saddest events of the year music-wise, has rendered that impossible. Notwithstanding, American pianist and composer Dustin O’Halloran, together with Echo Collective, will perform a memorial concert to honour their fellow composer and friend, and the whole event will take place during the Festival in the adjacent Auditori Rockdeluxe. Finally, Swedish composer and organist Anna Von Hausswolff will be playing on Thursday at the Adidas Stage, presenting her latest album, Dead Magic, released in March by City Slang.
The Primavera Sound line up this year shows once more how much the long standing cultural wall which used to divide popular and classical music has been breached in recent years, even though many differences in musical approach still exist between the two genres.
But the Festival is not the only manifestation of these classical vibes in the Catalan capital. On January 31st this year, the lamented Jóhannsson played in Barcelona’s Auditori, one of the temples of classical music in the city. The concert was co-organised by the institution itself and the Primavera Sound team. Needless to say, it was encouraging to find such different audiences meeting at the same event. On one side, the young adults as fond of the Icelandic artist as of indie pop, post rock, dream pop and many other different genres. On the other, the elderly lovers of Mozart, Bach and company, with yearly subscriptions to the symphonic season in their pockets.
Again, on May 2017 famous violinist Daniel Hope performed, in the same framework, Max Richter‘s version of Antonio Vivaldi‘s Four Seasons: Vivaldi Recomposed. Richter is a German composer, also part of the neoclassical trend, famous for his minimalist works and his experimental attitude. One of his latest albums, Sleep, is eight and a half hours long and it’s meant to be listened to while lying in bed. We were there the day his Venetian work was performed in Barcelona and once again the audience was exquisitely heterogeneous.
Even so, I believe that some distinctions are still alive when it comes to the approach of these two different kinds of music. And the main difference is probably the role of the composer.
Clearly, you would hardly attend a Radiohead concert performed by an ensemble of unknown musicians and not by Thom Yorke and his fellows. On the other hand, it would not be weird to go to a concert with music by Arvo Pärt or Nico Muhly played and directed by professional performers. For pop music the identification between composer and performer is still a very important factor, while the same fact for obvious reasons does not affect the classical music environment. A listener may attend an exhibition or buy an album both for fondness of the composer’s work or the fame of the musician.
Apart from this distinction, the new generation of classical/pop composers is apparently succeeding in the hard quest of bringing together the audiences of both genres and putting people from different backgrounds in contact. Both kinds of listeners are surely ending up enriched by such contamination, and Primavera Sound line up of 2018 shows one more time how this convergence between genres is growing and expanding every year.