What I’m Listening To #1

Playlist: Rihm | JL Adams | Gordon


Music has a way of solidifying blocks of time in our memory — repeat listens to albums or songs “remind us of the time when…” and so, from time to time, I will post some of the contemporary (classical) music that’s shaped and given context to my week.

For most people, this will be a truly new musical experience, with unheard-of performers, composers and even sounds; with the help of YouTube and Spotify, “New Music” has emerged as its own vibrant genre and, I hope you will agree, one well worth exploring.

This week I’ve been listening to music that encourages recollection: the well-crafted and beautiful six-song cycle Das Rot for soprano and piano by Wolfgang Rihm, the contemplative three-movement string quartet The Wind In High Places by John Luther Adams, and the glorious three-movment Rushes for seven bassoons by Michael Gordon.

Below the playlist you’ll find brief listening notes for each piece.

Wolfgang Rihm | Das Rot

Soprano and Piano | 1995 | 19 minutes

The six-movement cycle is based on poems by Karoline von Günderrode (1780–1806). I love this song cycle. Hochroth begs to be transcribed for cello because of its simply but powerful expressivety — it would do well alongside Faure’s Après un Rêve or Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise; the sparsness of Des Knaben Morgengruss contrasts so effectively with Des Knaben Abendgruss; and the effectiveness of the text-setting throughout is remarkable. This is a piece to listen to over the speakers on a comfy couch.

Rihm (b. 1952, Germany) is ultra-prolific and won the Grawemeyer Award in 2015. For more, check out The Guardian’s 2014 article on him.

What to hear next by Rihm:

String Quartet #3

Styx und Lethe forSolo Cello & Orchestra

7 Passion-Texte for Choir

The performers, Clare & David Lesser, both teach at NYU — Abu Dhabi.

John Luther Adams | The Wind in High Places

String Quartet | 2014 | 19 minutes

I love this quartet because of its evocative gestures. The colorful use of harmonic overtones against simple harmonies paints a landscape that reminds me of magical times spent in nature that I hadn’t thought of in years. This is a piece to listen to over headphones taking in the view during a hike.

JL Adams (b. 1953, Mississippi) — not to be confused with the other contemporary composer John Adams — writes music inspired by Alaska, where he lived for most of his career. He won the Pulitzer in 2014 for his orchestral work Become Ocean. For more, check out The Guardian’s article about him. You can also read Q2’s review of the album.

What to hear next by John Luther Adams:

Become Ocean for Orchestra

Canticles of the Sky for 48 Cellos

Inuksuit for 98 (outdoor) Percussionists

The JACK Quartet is a major ensemble in the contemporary classical scene — they’ve worked with, premiereed works by, and recorded many of the leading composers of the time.

Michael Gordon | Rushes

Seven Bassoons | 2012 | 56 minutes

I love Rushes because of its incredible textures and the interest it maintains while inviting the listener into a meditative trance. Waves of overlapping crossrhythms fade in and out, creating an incredible wash of harmony. Though you won’t remember any specific moment from the hour spent listening to this piece, it is an hour well-spent. This is a piece to listen to while walking through a city.

Gordon (b. 1956, Florida) is a composer who co-founded the Bang on a Can Ensemble in New York. His wife, Julia Wolfe, won the Pulitzer for Music in 2015. For more, check out his website.

What to hear next by Michael Gordon:

XY for Solo Percussion

Industry for Cello & Electronics

Gene Takes a Drink for Chamber Ensemble

The Rushes Ensemble features accomplished bassoonists from across the country who came together to premiere, perform and record this piece.


Follow Eric on Medium for more installments. Enjoy!