Modern Classical "Essentials" and Me
I really don't think in these "best-of" terms, but Terry has asked me to sort of give my primer of must-have discs for modern classical. I suppose this gets into the issue of "what's modern?" I don't have an answer, so I'll just say that anything between the Second Viennese School and 2007 counts. Frankly, I should say anything between Tristan and the rise of minimalism is modern, but that's just not how it works. We'll see. If you love, hate, or otherwise feel feelings about this list, let me know.
György Ligeti: Études pour piano, books I and II (Aimard '96, Sony Classical)
: Atmosphères (Abbado/WP '88, DGG)
: Lux aeterna (Franz '68, DGG)
Pierre Boulez: Le Marteau sans maître (Boulez '02, DGG)
: Pli selon pli (Boulez '69, Sony Classical)
: ...explosante-fixe... (Boulez '05, DGG)
: Notations (Aimard '05, DGG)
John Adams: Shaker Loops (De Waart '83, Philips)
Arvo Pärt: Tabula Rasa (Kremer et al., 1984)
Philip Glass: The Fog of War [soundtrack] (2005)
Igor Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms (Boulez '99, DGG)
Steve Reich: Variations for Winds, Strings, and Keyboards (De Waart '83, Philips)
Louis Andriessen: De Staat (De Leeuw '06, DGG iTunes exclusive)
Karlheinz Stockhausen: Mantra (Mikhashoff et al. '88, New Albion)
Obviously, I'm not on the cutting edge of the avant-garde, if that's even possible anymore. However, this list of music will likely give you a solid-enough grammar of modern music to feel comfortable exploring the milieu. Obviously, I'm ignoring the central clique in post-Webernian serialism (the Darmstadt School, other than Boulez and Ligeti), preferring to concentrate on the primary force in music in the last third of the 20th century: the minimalists, or (in the case of Andriessen) post-serialists. Even Ligeti was his own composer, getting out of the Boulez-Darmstadt clique and finding new solutions to the problems of modern music. I suppose I could include Berio, Maderna, and Xenakis, but it doesn't seem worth the effort.
My problem with Terry's request is that, frankly, I've spent more time obsessing over Pierre Boulez' music and its implications than most other composers of the modern era. Boulez fascinates me not only because of his musical grammar, but because of the snaky, barely-restrained menace that lurks beneath the surface. His music is so controlled, so planned, that it gives the impression that it's entirely ready to snap and release a cacophonous rage quite out of Lovecraft. Ligeti is another one that I simply adore, as his music is so unique and so unabashedly experimental. Who else could write Lontano and Selbsportrait mit Reich und Riley? The minimalists are fascinating, but they're not as engaging (except, perhaps, Andriessen, who pushes the boundaries of politics and music - especially in De Staat) as some of the more experimental or simply "interesting" composers.
However, as in many things, I'm at least twenty years behind, so I have no idea what modern - i.e., contemporary - music is doing these days. Something with computers, I'm sure.