Move Over, Bach - There's a Lot of New Classical Music to Hear

Mar 1, 2013

At some point, all music is new. Bach was new in his day as was Beethoven. However, their “new” seems old and traditional to us. Throughout the 20th Century, classical music took a different turn; composers began writing atonal music and began using nontraditional instruments, such as wine glasses and radios. American-Israeli composer and performer, Yehuda Yannay, was well into his career in the late 20th Century, making him a contemporary of John Cage and Phillip Glass.

Yehuda Yannay, former composition professor from UWM
Credit Vimeo

“Unfortunate that many, many musical organizations—well, big ones including the symphony—are way, way, way behind of what’s happening in this world.”— Yehuda Yannay

Yannay, also a former professor of theory and composition at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, created a concert series in 1971 called “Music from Almost Yesterday.” He says what we think of as “new music” is simply music that has been created at this time. Yannay believes that new music is no longer new once it is written down on paper or recorded or performed, but it doesn’t necessarily make it old either, therefore coining the philosophical name of the concert series.

 “What I think is very interesting is that we are working in a certain tradition. Nobody invented music, but we are regenerating it and the best composers are inventing it, and this is our life, and it’s a wonderful life," he says.

New "classical" music, or as Yannay calls it "serious music," tends to scare people away because it is nontraditional and out of the ordinary. This type of music is not meant for everybody, and Yannay acknowledges that. However, for those who want something different, such as different instrumentation or dissonance, these concerts would be the place to hear them. Yannay says there are people who want to be challenged, which is why this music is a good match.

But how does Yannay get people into new music and attract an audience? He says the music draws in the audience by allowing it to discover a world that it hasn’t been acquainted with yet. The concerts are a chance to come with an open mind and listen to what modern composers have to say. Yannay says people who come to new music concerts like these get two things: a live performance and a theatrical experience that they have never had before.

And he offers some advice for how to experience these concerts: Once the audience understands that they should focus on the emotions and reflections of the music more than the intellectual, then the concert will be more enjoyable.

“We all—or composers and artists—live through the things we leave behind, which is their music. So therefore, it is all alive and it is the continuation of our work. ” -Yehuda Yannay

Many times the composers are at the concerts where their music is performed, giving them a chance to connect with the audience and to explain what their works are about before they are performed. This helps take away the idea of classical music as an aural museum where a person is there to simply observe and listen. Interaction with the composer and the audience brings music alive and helps with comprehension of this new form of music.

Yannay is representing what is going on in this world in contemporary music. He says there is a growing audience for this music - and desire to perform it. He says many of the performers he works with want to play new things rather than the standard orchestral repertoire.

As he travels around Europe and America, he says he finds that the bigger cities are where new music thrives. Yannay wants to make Milwaukee one of those big cities for new music.

“Milwaukee deserves to be a center of new thinking, a center of innovation, a center where you can do music and concerts that are happening all over," Yannay says.

This upcoming concert is somewhat of a memorial to Yannay's lifelong friend, Burt J. Levy, who passes away two years ago. Levy had a similar history as Yannay, writing similar music, working in Wisconsin and corresponding and collaborating with each other. The concert will provide excerpts from their collaborated CD that they released with an addition of a couple new pieces of Yannay’s.