In yesterday’s Musical Herstory class, I was asked about a resource for finding living composers, and I felt I gave a very unsatisfactory answer. So while I took to watching Sue Perkins help rescue animals along the Mekong River, my subconscious mind starting working on a better answer.
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not a quick one with a one-liner or a link to an article or website with the perfect answer. With living composers, some research and time is going to be needed.
One thing I think I take for granted is the fact that as a composer I am already plugged into a few niche resources on composers because I am constantly looking for competition opportunities and articles about composing in the 21st century. This exposes me to lots of organizations and names in the game that not everyone is going to be aware of. Additionally, I used to work at the Fine Arts Branch (now defunct - sad face. angry face.) of the Saskatoon Public Library so I was exposed to lots of CDs with works by living composers. Seriously – working in Fine Arts was the best job ever!
So for those without that background knowledge, this leads to the most difficult question in the inquiry – where do you even start looking? Oddly, there’s no history books written about living composers (that’s a really bad, dry joke for any who didn’t catch it), and taking to the internet and searching for “living composers” is going to give you an overwhelming amount of answers to comb through.
So my first suggestion is to see who your local symphony or philharmonic society is programming, and who they’ve programmed in the past (particularly looking to past programs right now will be helpful as I know a lot of music organizations have had to cancel their seasons this year. Stupid COVID. Wear your masks, social distance, and wash your hands). If they are only programming the dead, white canon, definitely look elsewhere. However, if they are programming living composers, follow them on social media and attend their concerts – digitally or physically (when finally possible). This will give you a great exposure to living artists.
(Oh, and shameless plug for the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra – they are excellent at programming works by living artists. Tomorrow is a concert of music by composers from the prairies!!! Visit their website)
In addition to the big orchestras, there are also lots of ensembles out there that are devoted to the promotion and creation of new music. Two right off the top of my head are the American organization, Kaleidoscope (here), and the Kronos Quartet’s Fifty for the Future project (here). They are dedicated to regularly commissioning and performing new works all across the demographic spectrum.
As this is in conjunction with a class promoting music by female composers, it would remiss of me not to mention these two fantastic Canadian ensembles that are championing new works by female composers:
Montreal’s Musique 3 Femmes (here), and Toronto’s Women on the Verge (here).
Now if this intense of research does not seem overly exciting to you, there are some amazing individuals out there who have already done the work and created podcasts to introduce you to the music and stories of women composers. I would highly suggest Listening to Ladies (here), and Getting the Song Out (here).
Well, I hope that this is helpful for those wanting to delve more into living composers. If you aren’t already in the Musical Herstory class through the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, please do register for the class. We just finished our first of three classes on living composers – i.e., two more to go! And who knows, maybe if I were to get some more funding and time, I could definitely create a regular blog series towards living composers. Just saying.