Written by Ramona Curmi
These classical wunderkinds prove that contemporary music isn’t always spiky, melody-lite and inaccessible to the average music lover.
Hailing from the country that has more musicians per capita than any place in the world, Jóhann Jóhannsson is an Icelandic composer and electronic producer. His work draws influence from minimalism and baroque, and uses classical orchestration with electronics to build ambience. His elegant sound swells with emotion, haunting the soul and evoking feelings of melancholia.
Composer and pianist Max Richter has an immense portfolio. He’s composed countless film scores, collaborated on albums with 90s drum and bass legend Roni Size, written an opera, composed albums of his own heady blend of post-ambient soundscapes and electronic atmosphere, and most recently has Recomposed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Winter III is his favourite movement from the album, and we agree – have a listen.
Nils Frahm’s musical influences are diverse. He was trained in piano by the last scholar of Tchaikovsky, and grew up listening neo-classical and jazz legends like Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt and Chick Corea but was also heavily influenced by the trance sound of the 90s. Frahm’s curiosity for creating new sounds led him to apply delays and analogue synthesizers to his solo piano works, to layer and blend a unique brand of classically-infused lush, emotional soundscapes.
A multidisciplinary artist, Mira Calix’s work moves from ambient electronica and sound+art installations to classical instrumentation for small orchestras. Having released music on the Warp label since 1998, her early music tends towards electronica. Recent years have seen Mira incorporate classical orchestration into her work for installation pieces, film soundtracks, theatre and opera.
Oliver Coates plays the cello and produces electronic music. He’s collaborated with contemporary artists, bands and ensembles like London Sinfonietta, Mira Calix and Boards of Canada, Johnny Greenwood, Goldie, Massive Attack and Sigur Rós as well as more traditional composers such as Thomas Ades. His music can move from drone-like industrial sounds, toward ambient treatments of classical instrumentation, peppered with micro electronics.
Eluvium, aka Matthew Cooper, is a man of many monikers – each incarnation of his musical self renders an intricately different sound. His symphonic guitar pieces have been compared to the work of Brian Eno, with twinges of Aphex Twin-esque electronics. Working an experimentally, minimal vibe, Eluvium’s music infuses wailing guitars, emotive pianos and classical instrumentation to create ambient washes that send shivers up your spine.
Hauschka is a German experimental pianist and electronic producer who specialises in the art of the ‘prepared piano’, that is, treating the hammers and strings in order to produce a desired sound. His compositions are reminiscent of composers Erik Satie or Philip Glass, taking classical techniques and seamlessly blending them with pop and electronic sensibilities. Check out this beautifully produced video of a prepared piano in action.
Another multi-talented composing wunderkind, Nico Muhly spent six years working with Philip Glass and has collaborated with myriad popular artists from Bjork, Grizzly Bear and Antony and the Johnsons to Sufjan Stevens and, believe it or not, Usher. He’s written for a number of films and just recently composed a full opera. He commonly blends traditionally composed classical for small ensembles with electronics.
Ólafur Arnalds is a multi-instrumentalist and producer from Iceland who composes music primarily for strings and piano, mixing them with loops and beats. Often cited alongside contemporary Nils Frahm, Arnalds music is as sweeping and emotive, but he came to the neoclassical genre in a slightly more roundabout way. He was commissioned to write for strings and piano when fellow rock musicians heard his solo demo…and the rest is history. Arnalds has been writing and producing solo albums since 2008, has written for film and recently collaborated with the above-mentioned Frahms.
An American chamber music group, Rachel’s is heavily influenced by the sound of 20th century classical composition including, most notably, the work of British composer and film scorer, Michael Nyman. The result is a dark fusion of classical and experimental sounds. Sadly, Rachel’s founding member, Jason Noble, passed away in 2012 of a rare form of cancer.