2009's Best (Mostly) 'New Music,' From Q2

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In classical-music terms, "New Music" is always complicated to define. Yes, it's the current manifestation of the classical tradition, but these days, the edges of so-called New Music tend to bleed into the realms of ambient music, indie rock, jazz and even folk. Criteria for determining what constitutes newness in classical music are similarly slippery.

Christopher Tignor art i i
Christopher Tignor art

Therefore, in creating a list of the top new classical-music releases of 2009, I've decided that egregious cheating regarding style and time period is allowed; let’s leave it at that. Simply put, these are the records from the past year that I cannot stop playing.

Nadia Sirota is a violist, as well as a blogger and Artist in Residence for Q2 in New York. Click here for more entries in our Best Music of 2009 series.

2009's Best (Mostly) 'New Music,' From Q2

Jack Quartet art

1. The JACK Quartet/Iannis Xenakis

  • Album: String Quartets: Jack Quartet
  • Song: Tetras

The JACK Quartet provides the first complete compilation of these stochastically composed works. They’re witty, eccentric, challenging and worth it.

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  • "Tetras"
  • Album: String Quartets: Jack Quartet
  • Artist: Iannis Xenakis
  • Label: Mode Records
  • Released: 2009
 
David Lang art

2. David Lang

  • Album: David Lang: The Little Match Girl Passion
  • Song: For Love Is Strong, for chorus

David Lang's Pulitzer Prize-winning work is flanked by several additional choral contributions; a standout is "For Love Is Strong," his modification and adaptation of the Song of Songs.

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  • "For Love Is Strong, for chorus"
  • Album: David Lang: The Little Match Girl Passion
  • Artist: Paul Hillier
  • Label: Harmonia Mundi
  • Released: 2009
 
Christopher Tignor art

3. Christopher Tignor

  • Album: Core Memory Unwound
  • Song: Last Nights on Eagle Street

The first solo album by composer and Slow Six bandleader Christopher Tignor, Core Memory Unwound features beautiful, at times fragile tracks for acoustic instruments and electronics.

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  • "Last Nights on Eagle Street"
  • Album: Core Memory Unwound
  • Artist: Chris Tignor
  • Label: Western Vinyl Records
  • Released: 2009
 
Cover for Sacrificium [Deluxe Edition]

4. Cecilia Bartoli

  • Album: Sacrificium [Deluxe Edition]
  • Song: Come nave in mezzo all'onde

I'll admit that there's literally no way to justify this record's status as New Music, but it's too good not to bring up. Sacrificium is vibrantly performed and sung, with a truly eccentric premise: Cecilia Bartoli performs works originally composed for castrati. The album art is intensely bizarre -- a sort of draw in itself. The record truly shines, though, in its vital performances.

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  • "Come nave in mezzo all'onde"
  • Album: Sacrificium [Deluxe Edition]
  • Artist: Cecilia Bartoli
  • Label: Decca
  • Released: 2009
 
Cover for John the Revelator

5. Phil Kline

  • Artist: Phil Kline
  • Album: John the Revelator
  • Song: John the Revelator, a mass for 6 voices, string quartet & organ [The Man Who Knows Misery]

A moving and appealing take on a Latin mass setting that's been injected with Phil Kline's surprising selection of bonus texts. The piece and performance (including the string quartet known as Ethel and the vocal group Lionheart) navigate a wide emotional range successfully and satisfyingly.

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  • "John the Revelator, a mass for 6 voices, string quartet & organ [The Man Who Knows Misery]"
  • Album: John the Revelator
  • Artist: Phil Kline
  • Label: Cantaloupe / Cantalou
  • Released: 2008
 
Cover for John Luther Adams: The place we began

6. John Luther Adams

  • Album: John Luther Adams: The place we began
  • Song: At the still point, soundscape

John Luther Adams creates sound environments based on his own readdressed 1970s-era electronic compositions, evoking almost visual landscapes in a meditative and dark album. The textures are stunningly restrained.

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  • "At the still point, soundscape"
  • Album: John Luther Adams: The place we began
  • Artist: John Luther Adams
  • Label: Cold Blue Music
  • Released: 2009
 
Cover for Alfred Schnittke: Symphony No. 9; Alexander Raskatov: Nunc dimittis

7. Dresdner Philharmonie & Dennis Russell Davies

  • Album: Alfred Schnittke: Symphony No. 9; Alexander Raskatov: Nunc dimittis
  • Song: Symphony No. 9 (unfinished) [[Andante]]

Alfred Schnittke died in 1998, leaving behind three completed movements of his 9th Symphony, scrawled by his left hand (the right was then paralyzed). This work was lovingly and fascinatingly realized by Schnittke protégé Alexander Rastakov, who also provides an accompanying work on this beautiful and powerful record.

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  • "Symphony No. 9 (unfinished) [[Andante]]"
  • Album: Alfred Schnittke: Symphony No. 9; Alexander Raskatov: Nunc dimittis
  • Artist: Dennis Russell Davies
  • Label: ECM Records
  • Released: 2009
 
Meredith Monk

8. Meredith Monk

  • Album: Meredith Monk: Beginnings
  • Song: Greensleeves

Beginnings features exciting archival recordings of Meredith Monk's early days, dated from 1966 to 1980. The album kicks off with a surprising 1966 recording of "Greensleeves," with Monk accompanying herself on guitar. What follows is a fascinating depiction of an artistic voice in development.

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  • "Greensleeves"
  • Album: Meredith Monk: Beginnings
  • Artist: Meredith Monk
  • Label: Tzadik Records
  • Released: 2009
 
Cover for a/rythmia

9. Alarm Will Sound

  • Album: a/rythmia
  • Song: Camouflage Des Agrements

Alarm Will Sound's latest album explores rhythmic complexity -- particularly in the form of stratified pulses -- from the 14th century up to now. The idea sounds complex, but the group makes its crystal-clear point joyfully through engaging programming and performances. (Full disclosure: I've had the pleasure of performing with Alarm Will Sound in the past.)

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  • "Camouflage Des Agrements"
  • Album: a/rythmia
  • Artist: Alarm Will Sound
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2009
 
Cover for Schumann: String Quartet, Op. 41/3; Piano Quintet, Op. 44

10. Takacs Quartet with Marc-Andre Hamelin

  • Album: Schumann: String Quartet, Op. 41/3; Piano Quintet, Op. 44
  • Song: String Quartet No. 3 in A major, Op. 41/3 [Assai agitato - Un poco adagio - Tempo risoluto]

Here's another album that doesn't belong in this category, but that I can't resist mentioning. This record features a stylish reading of some immensely appealing chamber works. The Takacs Quartet projects real depth and scope without overplaying. I have a huge crush on this group.

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  • "String Quartet No. 3 in A major, Op. 41/3 [Assai agitato - Un poco adagio - Tempo risoluto]"
  • Album: Schumann: String Quartet, Op. 41/3; Piano Quintet, Op. 44
  • Artist: Takács String Quartet
  • Label: Hyperion
  • Released: 2009
 

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String Quartets: Jack Quartet

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  • Album: String Quartets: Jack Quartet
  • Artist: Iannis Xenakis
  • Label: Mode Records
  • Released: 2009
 

David Lang: The Little Match Girl Passion

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  • Album: David Lang: The Little Match Girl Passion
  • Artist: Paul Hillier
  • Label: Harmonia Mundi
  • Released: 2009
 

Sacrificium [Deluxe Edition]

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  • Album: Sacrificium [Deluxe Edition]
  • Artist: Cecilia Bartoli
  • Label: Decca
  • Released: 2009
 

John the Revelator

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  • Album: John the Revelator
  • Artist: Phil Kline
  • Label: Cantaloupe / Cantalou
  • Released: 2008
 

John Luther Adams: The place we began

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  • Album: John Luther Adams: The place we began
  • Artist: John Luther Adams
  • Label: Cold Blue Music
  • Released: 2009
 

Alfred Schnittke: Symphony No. 9; Alexander Raskatov: Nunc dimittis

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  • Album: Alfred Schnittke: Symphony No. 9; Alexander Raskatov: Nunc dimittis
  • Artist: Dennis Russell Davies
  • Label: ECM Records
  • Released: 2009
 

Meredith Monk: Beginnings

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  • Album: Meredith Monk: Beginnings
  • Artist: Meredith Monk
  • Label: Tzadik Records
  • Released: 2009
 

Schumann: String Quartet, Op. 41/3; Piano Quintet, Op. 44

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  • Album: Schumann: String Quartet, Op. 41/3; Piano Quintet, Op. 44
  • Artist: Takács String Quartet
  • Label: Hyperion
 

a/rythmia

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  • Album: a/rythmia
  • Artist: Alarm Will Sound
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2009
 

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