Alex Ross in the New Yorker, writes about his recent sojurn listening to the music of young student composers. In a play on the famous 1958 Milton Babbit "who cares if you listen" headline, Ross writes:
They care if you listen.
Most promising for Ross was Nico Muhly, a twenty-two year old Julliard student. About Muhly's symphonic Go to Speak:
It is based on Thomas Tallis’s Pentecost anthem “Loquebantur Variis Linguis”; those spastic woodwinds are speaking in tongues. The music spins away into a kind of gritty ecstasy. This and other Muhly pieces achieve a cool balance between ancient and modern modes, between the life of the mind and the noise of the street.
One of the ways in which Tallis imitates this sort of chaos is by having all these crazy lines of counterpoint going at once, up and down and intersecting. It's a fabulous thing and something I always adored." The composer then used fragments from the Tallis work, wrote his own countermelody, created harmonies, and "put the thing together."
Ross comments on the diverse musical variety available to Muhly; Ladytron, Björk, Wagner, John Adams etc. I've listened to the work (available as an MP3 of the Muhly web site) three or four times now. I don't hear the pop or older classical influence as much as contemporary American symphonic music: Michael Daugherty maybe, some melody and percussion a la John Adams' El Dorado, the colorful rigor of John Corigliano. For me, the music was not particularly noisy or chaotic. By the way, the fact I can make my own judgment so easily via the composer's own website strikes me as a healthy thing for all concerned.
For history's sake, here is a quote from the Babbitt article:
The unprecedented divergence between contemporary serious music and its listeners, on the one hand, and traditional music and its following, on the other, is not accidental and- most probably- not transitory. Rather, it is a result of a half-century of revolution in musical thought, a revolution whose nature and consequences can be compared only with, and in many respects are closely analogous to, those of the mid-nineteenth-century evolution in theoretical physics The immediate and profound effect has been the necessity of the informed musician to reexamine and probe the very foundations of his art. He has been obliged to recognize the possibility, and actuality, of alternatives to what were once regarded as musical absolutes. He lives no longer in a unitary musical universe of "common practice," but in a variety of universes of diverse practice.
And in a recent rebuttal from Christopher Palestrant:
Twelve-tonalists, atonalists, serialists and multiserialists have treated their audience most contemptuously, assuming that any disfavor is a shortcoming. They cry out for music that moves them, surprises them, connects to their own passions. We must return to them: they are our partners. We have lived far too long in the void.
Update: The Randolph, Vermont Herald
summarizes the New Yorker mention of Nico Muhly.