Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Max Richter, Poppy Ackroyd, Peter Broderick, Joana Gama... In recent years, these popular names have all been grouped under the vast and imprecise label “neoclassical”. In truth, this “scene” looks more like a motley crew of curious artists who mix classical instruments with electronic production. Drawing influence from American minimalism, these musicians tantalise the senses and expand horizons on both sides of the musical spectrum.

The spread of computer music software has had an unexpected social impact by freeing hundreds of classical music students from the Conservatory’s straightjacket. Having grown tired of interpreting the works of great white men, over the past twenty years many of them have searched for their own style, using computers and machines to aid their creative output. Before, these people used to smuggle their music into smoky free-jazz clubs; now, they are free to express themselves however they see fit. Many people decide to return to their training after a few years of making synthetic beats and bass lines. This was the case for the German producer David August - after releasing a few EPs for clubs on the label Diynamic (owned by Solomun, the boss of European tech-house), August returned to the piano. This can be heard on his latest album D’ANGELO. He even treated himself to a collaboration with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra for a Boiler Room session in 2016. The same goes for the Boston-based South Korean musician MMPH; having trained as a cellist at Berklee College of Music, he released an electronically produced album in 2018 entitled Dear God. The record was conceived as “a collection of deconstructed Wagnerian suites in miniature”. It just goes to show; the leopard can’t change its spots...

Over the past few years, many individuals have experimented with the border between electronics and acoustics. These artists include Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Francesco Tristano, Max Richter, Luca D’Alberto, Poppy Ackroyd, Peter Broderick, Joana Gama (who electrified Erik Satie in 2016 on the album Harmonies), Max Cooper, not to mention their elders Chilly Gonzales and Johann Johannsson. They constitute a wave of migrants who have fled the conservatories to take refuge in a free area where no one instructs them on how to make music. They’ve been tagged with various labels - neoclassical, post-minimalist, contemporary classical or even non-classical - but the truth is that they’re unclassifiable. They each have their own individual methods of working, borrowing techniques from classical, contemporary, concrete and electronic music.

Christian Badzura, the New Music Director at Deutsche Grammophon (which signed Ólafur Arnalds and Max Richter among others) thinks that "terminology is becoming less and less important: There are many terms that you could use - neoclassical, alternative classical, post-classical, or classical indie. But it’s not so necessary anymore to strictly categorize various genres, especially in a time when few people go leafing through records in record stores." And to rule out any rumours about a musical revolution: "For Deutsche Grammophon, this musical direction is not exactly new, if we take into account records by Steve Reich, Stockhausen and Philip Glass that our label released in the ‘60s and ‘70s." Badzura adds that something that these artists all have in common with each other is a similar approach towards composition. "It seems that more and more composers are less afraid to write tonal music. And since most of them write and work in their studios, it’s natural for them to combine classical scores with electronic production. In some cases, there’s a link with minimalism, which is also very close to minimal techno and electronic music in general. There are also influences from krautrock and early ambient music. If you look back even further, you can find roots in baroque music, which seems timeless with composers like Satie, Liszt, Ravel and Debussy. Adding layers of instruments is very easy today, but it was much more complicated to use loops of magnetic tape as Steve Reich did back then."

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