Lately two exquisite pieces of music have come to my attention, harbingers of the future of music, but built on the history of music.
The first I'll mention is Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir performing his work Lux Arumque, a choir recruited, and taught over the Internet, and then recorded by their own webcams and edited into a performance. Stunning to look at, stunning to hear, and doesn't it sound like Allegri's Miserere? (I have provided the link a performance by the King's College Cambridge, who seem to own the bragging rights for their performance. If you look down the comments, someone has provided the [awesome] text in Latin.) Props to the Beethoven Lives Upstairs series. I first heard Allegri's music on my kids' Mozart's Magnificent Voyage disc, and I fell in love with it immediately. I even bought it from itunes to have on my iphone. I often get a chance to recommend this series and I do so by saying any music lover of any age or expertise can learn something they didn't know about the music or the composer by paying attention to these stories.
And then there are Felix's Machines, by a young guy called Felix Thorn, who cannibalizes his family's piano, adds some household objects, and drives the resulting instruments by his computer. He says in Wired UK "I look at the advantages of what machines can do. People must realize you can extract emotion from them, and enjoy the music they produce." The music is delightful. Yes - and emotional.
Meanwhile, I had a chance to be a guest with some friends at a fundraiser for a project that also mixes past and future: Paola Marino is a video director using the medium to interpret opera arias in a trilogy of short videos. While the videos are pretty cool, but what is really exciting is standing in a small room while an opera singer sings. The power is enough to raise the hair on the back of your neck, and that is the level of musical thrill that I am always hoping for. I am guessing that Paola's goal roughly fits in what with I am always on about in having opera work in the 21st century: Use what is universal about opera, in this case choosing as a theme for her series "Desire". Integrate it with modern technology, in this case video (manga works too - see my tags). Add a dash of Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies: "Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify", and you have cool 21st century opera. (See Fun, Cool, Funny on my sidebar to use an Oblique Strategy to problem-solve for yourself.)
The young opera singer who features in this trilogy can also be seen in another version of Carmen, a performance she did at a benefit to attract young people to the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. Watch Lauren Seagal exploiting her gifts.
But there's more: digital video and YouTube are providing a brave new world of interesting music experiences.
I heard about this one at the music school I attend. By this I mean listening whenever I can to the CBC Radio 2 program Shift, with my radio-hero, host Tom Allen. He has a twitter feed - the first one on planet earth that almost interests me - and a blog where this clip is also featured, although I can't figure out quite where. He also happens to be a trombonist. This is a little homemade video by a Russian bass-trombonist FEATURING the trombone part of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto, quite possibly the best-known piece of classical music written in the 20th century, and that's exactly what makes it effective. Music you can hum along to, with just one instrument pulled out. I don't play in an orchestra, and probably neither do you. OK, well I know some of you do, but...how else would I ever get this perspective? And it sounds great! Only in a world where a guy can set up his camera (or phone?) in an orchestra pit, and then post it to YouTube could this ever be possible. I LOVE the future of music.
Then, of course, I had to show my kids the video and tell them my favourite Rachmaninoff story - that although he wrote and performed this music, at a certain point he decided that the new young guys could play it BETTER THAN HIM and he stopped performing it. So, we looked up Rachmaninoff on YouTube, and he is there. Sadly it seems he was too early for there even to be film-to-video performance clips, but there was an audio recording of him performing his 2nd piano concerto from 1929 by RCA Victor with his favorite orchestra: the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting, and what do you know - the part he pulled out of the music sounded very much like the trombone pattern! Unbelievable, and would we have even really noticed that if he we hadn't watched the trombone part first? Incidentally, there are video clips of Van Cliburn playing this concerto, and his is the performance I grew up listening to and loving, plus performances by Kissin and Lugansky, two current Russian pianists filling these big emotional shoes. Love them, too.
Then...glancing at the other suggestions on YouTube, we noticed a video labelled Rachmaninoff had big hands. Just watch it.