Composer Phil Kline: Classical Music Is Alive and Well

Composer Phil Kline and Close Encounters artistic director Yehuda Hanani

Composer Phil Kline and Close Encounters artistic director Yehuda Hanani

by Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, Mass.) – Classical music is in good hands and its future is bright, according to composer Phil Kline, who spoke at the Mount on Sunday as part of Close Encounters With Music’s “Conversations With…” series.

In an engaging, hourlong survey of the contemporary scene, peppered with recorded snippets of music by a dozen mostly young composers, Kline – who in addition to himself being in the vanguard of contemporary composers, hosts a daily radio program devoted to new music on Q2, classical radio station WQXR’s online broadcasting arm – dismissed the notion that classical music is dead or dying.

Instead, the takeaway of Kline’s talk is that composed music continues to be created by some astonishing geniuses, many of whom are still in their 20s, are well-schooled in their modern predecessors while drawing from a host of influences, be they Bach, Schumann, Stravinsky, Copland, Raymond Scott, Bulgarian folk choirs, Louis Andriessen, and Terry Riley.

Kline said Yale University in particular is a hotbed of compositional talent, in a program overseen by new-music composer Martin Bresnick.

Berkshire audiences in particular are well-served by some of the best creative works of recent years, primarily at Bang on a Can’s Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA. At this point, the renegade musical collective is almost the classical music establishment, with two out of three of Bang on a Can’s founders having received Pulitzer Prizes for music in recent years.

In addition, the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, led by Brad Wells of Williams College, is in the vanguard of choral music, and boasts the compositional talent of Caroline Shaw, another Pulitzer winner.

The healthy audience that turned out for Kline’s talk on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, offering spectacular views from Edith Wharton’s front porch, heard music by composers including Shaw, Bang’s David Lang, Andrew Norman, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Kaija Saariaho, and Magnus Lindberg, among others.

A highlight of Kline’s skillful presentation, in which he contextualized each piece both musically and socially, was a listen to Timo Andres’s contemporary reboot of Mozart’s Concerto in D “Coronation,” with which the pianist seemed to have some very Mozartian fun, adding some very jazzy left hand to the piece which Mozart left unwritten.

While Kline is most knowledgeable about his subject, his commentary was as accessible as it was enlightening. He was also modest to a fault in not sharing any of his own music, which ranks with the best of what we heard on Sunday afternoon.

It’s a tribute to Close Encounters With Music that this well-established, important chamber music series would sponsor such a program, but it’s not a surprise, either, as CEWM itself commissions new work on an annual basis.

All we can say in closing is “Encore!”

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