Classical Music, as most
people know it, is everything from Bach to about John Adams. This is not to be confused with the Classical Period/Era, which technically only
includes music written between 1750 and 1820. Think of the
Classical we all know, as the mother genre, for a group of sub-genres
that were popular during different periods, or eras. Chronologically,
they would be baroque, classical, romantic, impressionist, and 20th
Contemporary/New Classical then, by definition, must include
21st century music. But, is there really any classical music being
written today? That probably depends largely on instrumentation.
However, not every modern arrangement that includes orchestral
instruments can be considered in the classical style. If Lady
Gaga’s arrangers add a string section to one of her songs, does that
make it classical? A summer Pops concert employs a full orchestra
to perform pop, rock and jazz tunes. Is that classical? You
hear a remix of Beethoven’s Fifth set to a dance beat. Is that
Perhaps we should look at history, as well as
orchestration. If a new(er) piece harkens back to the sounds of
that Bach-to-Adams genre, that may be one clue. If the style
doesn’t derive from some other established genre, like jazz, rock,
dance or ethnic music, that may be clue #2. If it adds something
new, or different… advancing those classical sounds, then you may have found New Classical.
Think of the evolution of classical music as a progression, like making your way across monkey bars. Each rung is a different “great master,” who added something new to the advances of the predecessor. From Bach to Mozart, to Beethoven, to Brahms, to Tchaikovsky, to Debussy, to Stravinsky, to Copland, to Adams. Each of them reached for something new, while using the previous rung for support.
More than a decade into the 21st century, we may be, arguably, stuck on a rung, waiting for the next great master. While many fine recent composers have experimented in countless ways with orchestration, open tonalities, serialism and other styles, a new recognizable “genre” of classical music has not really caught on. Not one recent composer has either solidified a modern style, or matched the popularity of predecessors. Even though, all these compositions to date are loosely referred to as “contemporary classical,” for lack of a more descriptive, unifying classification, they often have little in common. Young people coming of age today, could well make the case that Beatles music could be considered new classical, adding a new genre to the “classical” category.
As experimentation continues, and audiences approve or disapprove, eventually classical music will evolve, redefine itself, and grow as it always has. It’s not over yet! Classical music has no end date.