Changing the Mold of Contemporary Classical Music

Caroline Shaw, a 36 year old Pulitzer Prize winner, has taken the classical music world by storm. Shaw is a vocalist, violinist and composer whose music reflects the past, Western art classical tradition, while keeping up with the expectations and trends of today. Most importantly, one does not need “to have a PhD in Ligeti to understand her language.”[1] Shaw strives for simplicity and beauty above all, creating aurally pleasing music the audience can relate to. What enhances this connection between Shaw and the audience are her collaborations with notable indie-rock and hip hop artists, such as Arcade Fire and Kanye West.[2] These projects have put her in the spotlight of the music scene, pushing her away from the idea of genre labeling and towards the image of a well-rounded, diverse artist she truly is. Shaw’s success lies in her “complete disinterest in musical boundaries”,[3] as well as the aura of approachability and familiarity she transcends, whether through her music or personality. People tend to naturally gravitate towards what is pleasant and enjoyable. Shaw is fulfilling those familiar desires by stepping away from the expectations of what contemporary classical music should be and creating music that the “common man” can enjoy.

In the modern world, there is a constant push for progress and the creation of a completely original product, resulting in ever-increasing complexity. In music however, these values do not always apply. People have a tendency to be drawn toward the aesthetic: the beautiful, the pleasing, the consonant, creating the theory that “a preference for simple tonality is wired into the human brain.”[4] Even though Shaw does occasionally provide short snippets of the “avant-garde”, she does so gracefully. For the most part, her writing style reflects the Classical era of music with its simple form, phrasing and an incredibly transparent texture. By employing a “Mozart-like” sense of craft and melodic line[5], Shaw fulfills this desire for lyricism and comprehension, resulting in an enjoyable atmosphere for the common listener to connect to. By stepping away from the somewhat frequent ambiguity that captures a majority of the contemporary classical music world, Shaw is gaining popularity and serves as proof that one does not need to compose incredibly complex works in order to be acknowledged and recognized.

Much of Shaw’s success lies not only in how well she incorporates different eras of classical music in her writing, but also in how brilliantly she merges the worlds of popular music, whether folk, indie rock or hip hop, with her classically trained background. Shaw states “that she writes for performers who share her love of music, not to satisfy scholastic norms.”[6] With this complete push away from genre labeling, she utilizes the freedom to experiment with artists who have different attitudes toward music, doing away with the misconception of what 21st century classical music should be. With these collaborations, Shaw is creating music that is accessible to all, and is serving as a protagonist of what the future might hold for classical music.

In order for classical music to stay relevant, it needs to become “ordinary and accessible to everyone.”[7], whether through composing in a similar fashion to the “Greats” and reiterating the already familiar ideas to the audience, or by merging classical music with other popular genres. Caroline Shaw is leading this charge by removing the elitism and complexity tied to the conception of classical music, proving that one does not need to produce the most perplexing, intricate works to be successful. Sometimes, simplicity is the key. With a focus on this, Caroline Shaw is helping to redefine classical music by creating pleasant and indiscriminate works to be enjoyed by all.

Ivana Biliskov


Anderson, Stacey. “Is Caroline Shaw Really the Future of Music?” The Guardian. June 09, 2016.

Accessed April 30, 2019.

Greene, Jayson. “Meet Composer Caroline Shaw, Kanye West’s New Pulitzer

Prize-Winning Collaborator.” Pitchfork. October 20, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2019.

Hambrick, Jennifer. “A Conversation with Pulitzer Prize-Winning Composer Caroline Shaw, Part

2.” WOSU Radio. March 29, 2018. Accessed April 30, 2019.

Ross, Alex. “Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music? | Alex Ross.” The Guardian. November

28, 2010. Accessed April 30, 2019.

Schiavo, Paul. “Caroline Shaw: A Pulitzer Prize Is Just the Beginning.” Seattle Symphony.

January 28, 2019. Accessed April 30, 2019.

Wang, Juan. “Classical Music: A Norm of “Common” Culture Embedded in Cultural

Consumption and Cultural Diversity.” International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 47, no. 2 (2016): 195-205.

[1] Stacey Anderson, “Is Caroline Shaw Really the Future of Music?” The Guardian, June 09, 2016, Accessed April 30, 2019,  

[2] Jayson Greene,  “Meet Composer Caroline Shaw, Kanye West’s New Pulitzer Prize-Winning Collaborator,” Pitchfork, October 20, 2015, Accessed April 30, 2019,

[3] Paul Schiavo, “Caroline Shaw: A Pulitzer Prize Is Just the Beginning,” Seattle Symphony,

January 28, 2019,  Accessed April 30, 2019,

[4] Alex Ross, “Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music? | Alex Ross,” The Guardian, November 28, 2010,  Accessed April 30, 2019,

[5] Jennifer Hambrick,  “A Conversation with Pulitzer Prize-Winning Composer Caroline Shaw, Part 2,” WOSU Radio, March 29, 2018, Accessed April 30, 2019,

[6] Schiavo, “Caroline Shaw: A Pulitzer Prize Is Just the Beginning,”.

[7] Juan Wang, “Classical Music: A Norm of “Common” Culture Embedded in Cultural

Consumption and Cultural Diversity,” International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 47, no. 2 (2016): 203,


Caroline Shaw’s Entr’acte is a piece written for a string quartet, one of the most respected and commonly used genres in chamber music. One might expect this particular composition to be worlds away from the works historically written for this genre, as Entr’acte was composed by a 21st-century composer. However, upon listening to the piece, I was surprised to discover that Shaw does not conform to these expectations, but instead has created a work that incorporates many elements that can easily be tied back into the Western art classical tradition. With its homophonic texture, clear form and relatively stable tonality, there is little room left in the piece for ambiguity. Even so, Shaw uses every bit of space available to her with rapid meter changes and extended techniques, resulting in an incredibly well rounded piece that provides the listener with a taste of 21st-century compositional characteristics. Entr’acte is a masterfully written work that merges different eras of music, Classical and contemporary, in the most elegant, tasteful way, capturing and preserving the attention of the audience.

    Entr’acte is staged in a Minuet and Trio structure, a form that thrived in the 18th-century. The Minuet, set in the key of D minor, showcases a nostalgic, emotionally charged melody. With each subsequent return, this lyrical theme develops further, both dynamically and harmonically. The expressiveness is enhanced by the driven, ostinato rhythm, set in compound triple meter. In the Minuet, Shaw juxtaposes this poeticism with ambivalence in harmony, as well as voice-like, whispering effects, created by the musicians bowing the body of their instruments. Shaw then returns to the opening statement, creating a rounded binary form within the Minuet.

The Trio presents itself in the key of E-flat Major, unrelated to the initial D minor key of the Minuet. This change in key from major to minor provides contrast with a clear separation between the two sections, enticing the listener even more. The Trio, with its binary form, sets off on an emotional journey ranging from the resonant, consonant melodies in the A section, to the direct quotation of Arvo Pärt’s Fratres in the B section. In the opening section of the Trio, Shaw provides simple harmonies and phrasing, reminiscent of the Classical style of composing. While the violist and the second violinist are coloring the music and keeping the rhythm grounded with left hand pizzicatos, the first violinist and cellist are playfully imitating each other, resulting in an “echo” effect. The A section is then contrasted with the driven Fratres quote found in the viola part, the protagonist of the B section. Shaw puts the violist in charge of creating tension through harmony and dynamics in its heavily textured, arpeggiated line. The meter is emphasizing this culmination further, constantly shifting from duple to mixed, abandoning our predictions of the triple meter commonly used in Trio sections. Prior to the return of the Minuet, the piece slowly dissipates through false harmonics and downward glissandos, which creates a “falling down” effect. It appears as though Shaw intended to convey a different mood for the return of the opening theme, now making it dreary and weary. The very end features the cello alone, arpeggiating pizzicato chords, bringing the listener back to the familiar D minor key, and adding a sentimental longing for the past.

Caroline Shaw’s Entr’acte features a wide variety of styles, merging together the music from the Classical period, the 20th and the 21st-century. The quartet presents an ever-changing journey where the compositional ideas organically flow and melt into one another, all the while preserving the sense of familiarity through form, and nostalgia through harmony. Shaw created an attention grabbing piece whose elegance will leave no audience member unimpressed.

Ivana Biliskov

Recording used:

The Revival of Classical Music

Nico Muhly is one of the most prominent composers of the 21st century. This graduate of Juilliard boasts an incredible list of accomplishments, ranging from composing music for Oscar-winning movies such as “The Reader”, to becoming the “youngest composer”[1] to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Muhly’s success, however, extends beyond the recognition and respect he has earned in the classical music industry. Whether through the very current and trending topics he uses in his operas, the refusal to label his music and his openness to experimentation, or the relaxed and approachable image he presents of himself, Muhly is redefining the classical music scene. Essentially, Muhly is encouraging the revival of classical music by making it more approachable and relatable to the expectations and the norm of today’s society.

One of Muhly’s talents is his ability to compose operas with a “socio-political timeliness”[2] that prove their relevance to the important topics of today. His debut opera, Two Boys, explores the dangers created by modern technology on relationships and social interaction, and serves as a warning of the dark side of the Internet. This complex work holds its storyline on the frontier of technology and presents an allegory of “sexual yearning”[3], awakening and mysterious corners of the web. With such an intriguing and significant topic, Muhly attracts today’s generation, providing them with a narrative that is all too real and grim to be ignored. The best way to grab someone’s attention is to elicit strong emotions in them, and shock seems to be the most reliable way to achieve that. Using this tactic, Muhly incorporates yet another shocking and provocative theme in his opera, Dark Sisters. The opera features a discussion of polygamy in the “Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”[4], a much ignored, yet enthralling topic. By disclosing such gripping stories, Muhly is well underway to gaining a larger audience while at the same time expanding interest in classical music.

“Muhly considers his merging of the conservatory and pop to be more generational than personal. ‘I think that whatever I’m doing is pretty firmly outside the academy, but with definite roots there’.”[5] Muhly, like most 21st century composers, is keeping up with the trends of the modern times. Even though he does not like his music to be labeled as a specific genre, as he states that “genre does not matter anymore”[6], the experimentation with, as well as the cohesion between the traditional values of Western art classical tradition and popular music, is apparent in his writing. By combining styles of music that are on the opposite side of the spectrum, Muhly is building a bridge between lovers of classical music and lovers of popular music, merging them together into one unified group. This is Muhly’s way of keeping classical music significant-by cherishing its values, while, at the same time, creating an original voice that is appealing to the minds’ of younger generations.

Nico Muhly is a perfect representation of how to survive and succeed as a contemporary composer. “Respected business authors stress that the economy going forward will be more dependent than ever on entrepreneurs,”[7]. Muhly serves as a true entrepreneur, utilizing his undeniable charm to attract the audience. The seemingly nonchalant image he presents of himself is carefully chosen. By humanizing himself and being an “ardent user of Twitter”[8], a blog writer and a passionate cook and runner, Muhly is creating personal relationships with his audience and fan base, and fostering the image of a warm, relatable “everyday guy”. Most importantly, he is promoting the engagement and connection of the audience to his music, therefore securing the future and the vitality of classical music.


Kirk, Shana. “Random Access: Working Together To Prepare Music Students For 21st-century

Careers.” American Music Teacher 63, no. 5 (2014): 43-45. (accessed April 17, 2019).

Kraft, Tristan. “Instant Message.” OPERA NEWS – Instant Message. October 2013. Accessed

April 17, 2019.

Martin, Gale. “Opera Phila’s Dark Sisters Powerfully Illuminates Female Suffering.” By

Bachtrack for Classical Music, Opera, Ballet and Dance Event Reviews, Bachtrack Ltd, 12 Feb. 2013,

Sullivan, Paul. “Cool and Calmly Composed: Nico Muhly, Changing the Face of Classical

Music.” The National. September 03, 2010. Accessed April 17, 2019.

Tommasini, Anthony. “Nico Muhly’s Ambitious ‘Two Boys’ Makes Its American Debut at the

Met.” Nico Muhly RSS, New York Times, 22 Oct. 2013,’s-ambitious-‘two-boys’-makes-its-american-debut-at-the-met/.

Whittington, Lewis. “Nico Muhly Takes Opera in New Directions with ‘Dark Sisters’.” Nico

Muhly RSS. 2012. Accessed April 17, 2019.

[1]  Anthony Tommasini, “Nico Muhly’s Ambitious ‘Two Boys’ Makes Its American Debut at the Met,” Nico Muhly RSS, New York Times, 22 Oct. 2013,’s-ambitious-‘two-boys’-makes-its-american-debut-at-the-met/.

[2] Gale Martin, “Opera Phila’s Dark Sisters Powerfully Illuminates Female Suffering,” By Bachtrack for Classical Music, Opera, Ballet and Dance Event Reviews, Bachtrack Ltd, 12 Feb. 2013,

[3] Tommassini,  “Nico Muhly’s Ambitious ‘Two Boys’ Makes Its American Debut at the Met,”,’s-ambitious-‘two-boys’-makes-its-american-debut-at-the-met/.

[4] Lewis Whittington,  “Nico Muhly Takes Opera in New Directions with ‘Dark Sisters’,” Nico Muhly RSS, 2012, Accessed April 17, 2019,

[5] Paul Sullivan,  “Cool and Calmly Composed: Nico Muhly, Changing the Face of Classical Music,” The National, September 03, 2010, Accessed April 17, 2019,

[6] Tristan Kraft, “Instant Message,” OPERA NEWS – Instant Message, October 2013, Accessed April 17, 2019,

[7] Shana Kirk,  “Random Access: Working Together To Prepare Music Students For 21st-century Careers,” American Music Teacher 63, no. 5 (2014): 45,, accessed April 17, 2019.

[8] Paul Sullivan,  “Cool and Calmly Composed: Nico Muhly, Changing the Face of Classical Music,”

By Ivana Biliskov

Cello Concerto, Part One

Through the course of my research on Nico Muhly’s works, his cello concerto drew my attention immediately. This was not surprising since, after all, it was premiered by my professor, world renowned cellist, Zuill Bailey. Muhly incorporated a number of influences to create this piece. The concerto’s very first measure was a direct quote from Dutilleux’s Metaboles. There also seemed to be an homage to Stravinsky’s rhythms, Ravel’s impressionistic lyricism and Glass’s minimalism. And yet, the concerto was set in the traditional Classical style structure, a three movement fast-slow-fast piece. It is safe to say that even though Muhly’s writing did not always provide a feeling of tonal stability or an overall sense of cohesion between the orchestra and the soloist, it is, nevertheless, a piece that fits well in the traditional writing of the Western art classical tradition, combining the simplicity of the Classical era and the ambiguity of 20th-century works.

Muhly composed this cello concerto for solo cello accompanied by a small chamber orchestra. The first movement shies away from the traditional tempo-marking-based titles, and is referred to as “Part One”. Here, the cello and the orchestra seem to be in conflict with one another. While the cello is overflowing with lyricism, the orchestra is trying to distract it with the repetition of Stravinsky-like accents on the first beat of each measure. This interruption of the emotionally charged cadenza-resembling melody in the cello brings a level of stability to the piece, keeping the meter, which is constantly exchanging between triple and duple, grounded. Adding to the metric continuity, the harmonic textures in the orchestra are reiterated as well. Although the key is ambivalent due to the significant use of chromaticism, the repetition of intervals brings a sense of familiarity to the listener and provides a safe environment for the piece.

Muhly sets the first movement in a ternary form, A B A, a form commonly heard and used in the Classical period. The return to the A section serves as yet another technique through which Muhly very successfully balances out the movement and facilitates with ease the connection of the audience to the piece, as he provides them a sense of home, a return to a familiar place, at the very end. Muhly contrasts the expressiveness in the A section with the virtuosic B section, both dynamically and technically. The B section musically and rhythmically unites the orchestra and the soloist, creating an ominous, frantic feeling. This distress is achieved through the solo cello’s virtuosic, driven line, the repeated fast passages in the strings, muted entrances in the brass that are rarely aligned and persistently varied in rhythm, as well as the off-beat accents in the percussion that seem to resemble Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. With the conclusion of the B section and the returning A section, the movement proceeds attacca into Part Two, the second movement.

Nico Muhly composed a piece that could, without a doubt, be categorized as a modern, 21st-century work. It is an emotionally soaring work with great variety of style, ranging from impressionism and expressionism to minimalism, with the hint of the beloved Classical style. However, Muhly’s greatness is not only heard in how well he is able to infuse different styles to create an original work. His true genius is recognized through knowing his audience and providing them with a revolutionary, attention grabbing piece that they can identify with, appreciate, and most importantly, enjoy.

Ivana Biliskov

Recording used:

The Time Has Come

The world of classical music is male-dominated. Based on a survey conducted in 2014-2015, “only 1.8 percent of the total pieces performed by the 22 largest American orchestras were composed by women.”[1] Furthermore, throughout the history of the classical Western art tradition, all of the “great composers” that still remain relevant and popular today are male. This staggering attitude towards women in classical music is slowly changing due to established female composers and entrepreneurs of the 21st-century, such as Missy Mazzoli. Mazzoli is a composer-in-residence with Chicago Symphony Orchestra and is one of the first two women to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera.[2] Mazzoli is eager to break the boundaries between genders by creating a welcoming environment that prospers growth for young female composers. Although she is but one voice in the struggle for gender equality, through her success and the success she promotes in women, Mazzoli is helping female composers and artists find their voice and blaze new trails in the classical music world.

“Victoire” is an all-female band founded by Mazzoli, who is also the band’s keyboardist and composer. Their album, Cathedral City has been ranked among the ten best albums of 2010 by NPR.[3] Her style of composing is groundbreaking and refuses to be labeled, as it is a fusion between indie rock and classical music. This unique style of composing, as well as the purely female performers, provide an accessible pathway for younger generations, especially women, to find their inspiration. Mazzoli emphasizes the fact that, by choosing to work with exclusively women, the dynamic of the group is improved, and there is a great deal of mutual understanding in the process.[4] The band members are all recognized, female artists who promote women entering into and achieving greatness in the arts.

Throughout Mazzoli’s extensive education at universities such as Yale and Boston, she has never had a female teacher.[5] This prompted her to establish a female mentorship program, called “Luna Composition Lab”, for girls ages 13-19, in which she hopes to foster their musical development by providing them an atmosphere conducive to learning and thriving. Through teaching, Mazzoli not only passes on her knowledge to a younger female generation, but also sends a powerful message that a woman’s role can extend as far as her desire and motivation will take her.

Mazzoli’s profound motivation led her to take upon herself the challenge of the opera realm. When thinking about opera, the “big players” that dominate the scene are Wagner, Verdi and Puccini.[6] Mazzoli transcends the typical expectation of opera beyond the imaginable. This is seen in her adaptation of Lars Von Trier’s movie, Breaking the Waves. The opera deals with the explicit topic of sexual awakening in a woman while trying to nurse her paralyzed husband back to health.[7] This work serves as an ode to women’s struggles in being powerless, all the while summoning the strength to provide “compassion and understanding”[8] along the way. In another one of her works, her first opera, Songs from the Uproar, Mazzoli reflects on the life of Isabelle Eberhardt, a female adventurer from the turn of the 20th-century.[9] By telling the story of such an independent female figure, Mazzoli showcases the possibilities available to women and simultaneously voices her dissatisfaction with the current situation regarding equality.

Missy Mazzoli’s journey in music has fostered gender equality as its primary focus. Her entrepreneurial spirit is tailored towards bringing a new era of classical music, with female artists at the forefront. The progressiveness of the 21st-century has helped to facilitate that change and today “men and women share equally in the production and study of music,”[10]. The future of music shines brightly on women, now more than ever, and composers such as Mazzoli are serving as the catalysts to bring about this revolution.


By Ivana Biliskov


Duddleston, Meridee. “Q&A with Composer Missy Mazzoli-On the Importance of Mentoring Young Women Composers.” WRTI. July 06, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019.

Huizenga, Tom. “Top 10 Classical Albums Of 2010.” NPR. December 01, 2010. Accessed March 28, 2019.

Lunden, Jeff. “‘It’s Familiar To All The Women In My Family:’ Adapting Von Trier For The Opera.” NPR. September 24, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2019.

McClary, Susan. “Women and Music on the Verge of the New Millennium.” Signs 25, no. 4 (2000): 1283-286.

McPhee, Ryan. “Metropolitan Opera to Present New Works by Jeanine Tesori and Missy Mazzoli.” Playbill. September 23, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019.

Moreland, Quinn. “Evening the Score: How Composer Missy Mazzoli Is Diversifying Opera.”The National. December 03, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019.

Staff, NPR. “Missy Mazzoli: A New Opera And New Attitude For Classical Music.” NPR. November 20, 2012. Accessed March 28, 2019.

Zeilinger, Julie. “An Interview with Groundbreaking Composer Missy Mazzoli.” Women’s Media Center. September 10, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019.

[1] Julie Zeilinger, “An Interview with Groundbreaking Composer Missy Mazzoli,” Women’s Media Center, September 10, 2018, Accessed March 28, 2019,

[2] Ryan McPhee,  “Metropolitan Opera to Present New Works by Jeanine Tesori and Missy Mazzoli,” Playbill, September 23, 2018, Accessed March 28, 2019,

[3] Tom Huizenga,  “Top 10 Classical Albums Of 2010,” NPR, December 01, 2010, Accessed March 28, 2019,

[4] Zeilinger, “An Interview with Groundbreaking Composer Missy Mazzoli,”

[5] Meridee Duddleston, “Q&A with Composer Missy Mazzoli-On the Importance of Mentoring Young Women Composers,” WRTI, July 06, 2018, Accessed March 28, 2019,

[6] NPR Staff, “Missy Mazzoli: A New Opera And New Attitude For Classical Music,” NPR, November 20, 2012, Accessed March 28, 2019,

[7] Jeff Lunden,”‘It’s Familiar To All The Women In My Family:’ Adapting Von Trier For The Opera,” NPR, September 24, 2016, Accessed March 28, 2019,

[8] Ibid.

[9] Quinn Moreland,  “Evening the Score: How Composer Missy Mazzoli Is Diversifying Opera,” The National, December 03, 2018, Accessed March 28, 2019,

[10] Susan McClary, “Women and Music on the Verge of the New Millennium,” Signs 25, no. 4 (2000): 1283-286,

Dissolve, O My Heart

While researching through the wide range of works written by the 21st-century composer, Missy Mazzoli, I was immediately drawn to her virtuosic, solo piece for the violin, Dissolve, O My Heart. Through recent personal interest and research conducted on contemporary music, I have discovered the tendency of modern music to fit into the mold of the Western Art Classical tradition. To no surprise, this piece was no different. Dissolve, O My Heart blends styles of the Baroque era and 20th-century music, with an added folk flavor. The ambiguity in meter, mode mixture, and the ambivalence of form are paired with simple, clear phrases, lack of extended techniques, and most importantly, the ode to the Baroque Era, a quotation from the J.S.Bach’s Violin Partita in D Minor. Mazzoli composed a thoroughly enjoyable piece that showcases her abilities as a Classically trained musician, captivates the audience, and transcends the barriers of the Baroque era and 20th-century music.

The piece captured my attention from the first chord, as I was taken aback that the opening D Minor chord seemed to be no other than the same one found in the last movement of Bach’s Partita in D Minor. Most significantly, the piece kept coming back to it, confirming its importance and forming a semblance to rondo form in the shape of ABACA. The return of the main theme rounded out the piece extremely well. It also provided a brilliant contrast to the virtuosic, dynamically driven B and C sections and brought the listener back to a common and familiar ground.

Mazzoli put her own perspective into play by providing the majority of the piece with an uncertain meter. The result is that the entire piece feels like a playful, but technically challenging cadenza. Therefore, the piece provides a lot of room for the performer’s interpretation of rhythm and phrasing. The main theme, serving as the pillar of the piece, did, however, provide an indication of duple meter, again delivering to the listener a connection to the Western Art Classical tradition.

Even though, at times, it was hard to grasp the key of the piece, Mazzoli seemed to center the tonal on D, due to the quotation used in the beginning. The piece is made more atmospheric and mysterious by the ever present play of mode mixture. However, with her use of droning D and A notes with each return of the main theme, Mazzoli creates a relatively stable environment for the piece. The overall harmonies in the piece are perceived as generally tonal. As it is a solo violin piece, one could expect the texture to be purely monophonic. However, Mazzoli shies away from that expectation and inflicts a sense of homophony through skillfully written chord progressions. This style of composing seems to be also reminiscent of the Baroque era, as J.S.Bach was no stranger to indicating complex harmonies in his solo works, most notably, the Six Cello Suites.

Missy Mazzoli accomplished an attention grabbing storyline in Dissolve, O My Heart. Through the muted main theme, the virtuosic passages, and the frequent use of glissandos, creating a folk music atmosphere, Mazzoli designed images ranging from home to heartbreak to a finale of whispering nostalgia. By utilizing only the traditional Classical style of composing, this piece managed to bring together different worlds, opposing eras of music, all the while capturing the heart of the listener.

Ivana Biliskov

Recording used:

For Amos

When looking through a wide library of David T. Little’s works, I was immediately drawn to his piano trio for amos written in 2004. Piano trios have historically been one of the most popular genres to compose for and thus have an incredible amount of quality repertoire published for them. I became curious about what David T. Little, a 21st-century composer, had in store for this behemoth of a genre. Upon listening to the piece, I found that his style of writing does not shy away from the traditional Classical style of composing. In fact, many of his writing techniques such as the tonality,  meter, lyricism, and the generally rare use of extended techniques, serve as evidence that in this particular piece, for amos, David T. Little provided the audience with an accessible, attention-grabbing work that could without question be tied back to the Western Art Classical tradition.

While the form of the piece is ambivalent, there is some semblance to binary form solely in the sense that it can be divided into two parts. This ambivalence is quite common in the Classical tradition of the 20th-century. The “A” part presents an ominous theme throughout. Each time the statement of the theme returns, it becomes heavier. However, it is always paired with a lyrical statement, thus creating a juxtaposition of darkness and light. Little supports this juxtaposition with dynamics, creating tension and release when needed. The conversation between darkness and light, or “good” and “evil”, finally reaches resolution and peace in the “B” part, a lyrical section with a lighter texture. Even though the effects Little creates present a storm of mixed emotions, the tonality is what preserves the “sanity” and provides stability throughout the piece, as the entire composition has a tonal center of C. Adding onto the tonal uniformity, Little carefully uses dissonance to create tension and gloominess, but never to the point where it becomes overwhelming to the listener. Another feature that brings a sense of familiarity to the listener and adds calmness to the piece’s charged emotions is the never-changing duple meter. Little uses these techniques to provide a “safe haven” amidst the vortex of feelings. His skillfulness is realized with the creation of a musical work that the audience can relate to, as it has the same quality and traits seen in the Classical tradition.

For amos is mostly homophonic, a commonly found texture in the typical piano trio setting. However, Little highlights the importance of each of the instruments by allowing all of them to take charge with a  “leading” role. This is seen both through the main theme circling around instruments, as well as the exchange of the lyrical melodies. The lyricism resembles the music of the late 19th-century and results in an incredibly well narrated piece, as what feels like a stormy day is then interrupted by the sun finally coming out. At the very end, there are even sounds of the chirping of birds, heard through sul ponticello false harmonics in the strings, indicating the long awaited calm.

David T. Little does very little to indicate that this piece was written in the 21st-century. There is only one instance where he uses an extended technique, adding electronic sound to the cello and violin. This electronic sound was created using a technique called “scratch tone”, made by applying extreme pressure to the bow, causing a grating sound. However, this technique was already in use in the 20th-century. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that Little created a piece that belongs in the historical narrative of traditional Classical music. Most importantly, he created a piece that captures the listener’s attention and tells an intriguing story.

Ivana Biliskov


Little, David T. “Works.” Accessed March 07, 2019.

The Power of Music

Kevin Puts is a Pulitzer winning composer-in-residence at the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, as well as a composition professor at the Peabody Institute of Music. Puts has written numerous pieces, all with the same idea in mind, the idea of using music to narrate a story to the audience. This storytelling trait was especially notable in his first opera, Silent Night, a compelling work centered around the Christmas of 1914 and the temporary truce between Scottish, French, and German soldiers.[1] Puts composed several other pieces in a similar manner, such as Symphony No. 2 and The City. These pieces not only tell a story, but reflect on real life, impactful events that have shaken people to their core. Music can have an enormous power and Puts utilizes that power to break politically established boundaries, create comfort for his audience, as well as to pour his own deepest thoughts and emotions in his music.

Silent Night’s storyline is one that remains relevant today. It is a story about unification under the least expected circumstances: in the midst of a war. Today, a different war, one of ideas, is being waged in the United States, as there is “no question we live in divisive times”.[2] If we took a cue from Silent Night and put our opinions aside to all come together, then we could see that every “soldier” in today’s war has fundamental similarities: family, loved ones, and a desire to live a peaceful and fulfilling life. Therefore, it’s clear how this opera’s relevancy extends beyond its time and into the world we currently live in. Librettist, Mark Campbell, claims “that war is not sustainable once you know your enemy as another human being. If you know that that person you are going to shoot has a daughter or a wife at home, the war machine will not work.”[3] Drawing on that notion, Puts used this foundation as a means to create a timeless piece that serves as proof that all human beings are fundamentally the same and should be treated equally.

Puts composes not only for the purpose of creating important messages of equality and humanization, but also in order to express his own pain and emotions caused by real life events. This is seen through his “Symphony No. 2” composed shortly after the September 11th attacks. Composing a symphony was the best way for him to express his pain, as through symphony “we get a sense of the journey, where we’ve been, how far we’ve come.”.[4] Therefore, after the horrendous events of 9/11, he felt the need to provide the audience and “comfort”[5] through his music. “Symphony No. 2” was Puts’ way of coping with the event that shocked the nation. A similar occurrence happened when he was commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to compose a piece about Baltimore, which he aptly named The City. What was initially supposed to be a multi-media work to serve as a “tour guide”[6] of Baltimore, quickly turned into something completely different following the death of Freddie Gray and the turmoil in the city that resulted. Puts thus composed a piece that does not ignore these events, but instead provides “a potential of healing and of mutual understanding”[7], a composition to help unite the city and foster peace.

Kevin Puts is only one of many composers who has expressed politics, nationalism and personal life experiences through music. The most notable may be Dmitri Shostakovich who suffered under the oppression of the Soviet Regime. It is often said that “his music, more than most, has to be contextualized in terms of the harrowing narrative of his life.”[8] Another repressed composer, Olivier Messiaen, wrote his Quartet for the End of Time when he was a prisoner of a war camp in Germany. Even Beethoven put his own political attitudes into his music when he removed the initial dedication to Napoleon Bonaparte in his Symphony No. 3. What all of these composers have in common is that they interwove their attitudes and feelings into their music to create compelling, relevant pieces the audience can relate to. In this we see the beauty and the power that music has. Music provides a statement without words that everyone can understand. The genius of Puts is seen through exactly this- the uncompromising, honest voice he provides in his compositions.

By Ivana Biliskov


Harris, Kyle. “Composer Kevin Puts on 9/11, the “Tragedy” of Trump, and Beethoven Envy.” Interview by Kyle Harris. Westword, November 08, 2017. Accessed March 04, 2019.

Huizenga, Tom. “Hear The Opera That Just Won The Pulitzer.” NPR. April 23, 2012. Accessed March 04, 2019.

Mooney, Tom. “”Silent Night” at Wexford: How Opera Woke Up to the Great War.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 104, no. 414 (2015): 185-93.

Puts, Kevin. “A Pulitzer Winner Asks: Why Write Symphonies?” NPR. August 05, 2013. Accessed March 04, 2019.

Puts, Kevin. “Kevin Puts talks about “The City”.” YouTube video, 4:54. April 22, 2016.

Rabinowitz, Peter J. “The Rhetoric of Reference; Or, Shostakovich’s Ghost Quartet.” Narrative 15, no. 2 (2007): 239-56.

Tischler, Gary. “Kevin Puts on His Pulitzer-Winning Opera: ‘Silent Night’.” The Georgetowner. November 10, 2018. Accessed March 04, 2019.

[1] Tom Huizenga, “Hear The Opera That Just Won The Pulitzer,” NPR, April 23, 2012, Accessed March 04, 2019,

[2] Gary Tischler, “Kevin Puts on His Pulitzer-Winning Opera: ‘Silent Night’,” The Georgetowner, November 10, 2018, Accessed March 04, 2019,

[3] Tom Mooney, “”Silent Night” at Wexford: How Opera Woke Up to the Great War,” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 104, no. 414 (2015): 192,

[4] Kevin Puts, “A Pulitzer Winner Asks: Why Write Symphonies?,” NPR, August 05, 2013, Accessed March 04, 2019,

[5] Kyle Harris, “Composer Kevin Puts on 9/11, the “Tragedy” of Trump, and Beethoven Envy,” Interview by Kyle Harris, Westword, November 08, 2017, Accessed March 04, 2019,

[6] Kevin Puts, “Kevin Puts talks about “The City”,” YouTube video, 4:54, April 22, 2016,

[7] Ibid.

[8] Peter J. Rabinowitz, “The Rhetoric of Reference; Or, Shostakovich’s Ghost Quartet,” Narrative 15, no. 2 (2007): 241,

“Air No. 2 for Cello and Piano”

As a lover of traditional Classical music written up to the second half of the 20th-century, I am always skeptical when venturing out and exploring works written by 21st-century composers, as these modern pieces tend to sound unorthodox when compared to the standard classical repertoire I am familiar with. However, my skepticism turned to surprise as I was taken aback by the lyricism and colors used in “Air No. 2 for Cello and Piano” written by Kevin Puts. This piece is truly an “Air” in its homophonic texture and “aria-like” luscious melodies in cello that continue developing until the very end of the piece. “Air No. 2” is reminiscent of the Shostakovich and Walton Cello Concertos in its airy texture and use of a powerful statement in the form of a Cadenza. The biggest deviation from the standard classical repertoire is found in the ambiguity of form. However, this feature is a common occurrence in the 20th-century music. Therefore, it is safe to say that without knowing who the composer was, I would place this composition in the first half of the 20th-century, alongside the previously mentioned great classical composers.

    Besides its primarily homophonic texture, as well as heavy use of triple meter, the prevalent feature of the piece that shows a connection to the classical Western art tradition is the play on tonality. The tonality is somewhat ambivalent, yet in all the major high points of the piece, the keys are clearly set with their structure following the circle of fifths. This sort of behavior provides us listeners with a form of release, as the tension building up in between the keys in the form of whole tone scales eventually breaks and the piece finds its way back to the familiar keys of the long cherished Western tradition.

“Air No. 2” has an unstoppable flow to the music and provides no indication that it intends to fit into any sort of a traditional form. The piece has an organic form constructed on the ideas of tension and release. Throughout the piece, the cello and piano are working cohesively toward building that tension dynamically and harmonically, as well as by using a texture change from homophony to polyphony. The solo cello cadenza serves as yet another tactic to emphasize the intensity. The rise in tension finally reaches resolution to an expected release, harmonious agreements between the instruments through a greater stability in key, as well as voluptuous melodies. Puts is gradually shifting our attention to the larger picture and narrative of his work through these techniques, as well as continually making reference to the previously played material. The chordal texture of pulse seen at the beginning in piano, as well as the descending melody first heard in the cello, come back differently each time, strong and bold as an indication of climax, or slowly dissipating into silence at the very end of the piece. This constant reflection on the past through the repetition of material evokes an image of the ever-changing journey through life. Each time the statements return, they are familiar but never the same.

“Air No. 2’s” tonality, relationship between cello and piano, as well as the meter and texture demonstrate that Puts values the classical Western art tradition and did not want to abandon or forsake it. It almost feels as though Puts created a homage to Western tradition with “Air No. 2”. Furthermore, the piece sympathizes with the general audience’s mindset, emphasizing familiarity through tonality and rejecting the overuse of dissonances. Therefore, when discussing “Air No. 2’s” “excellence”, it is important to note that even though it may fit the criteria of early 20th-century music, the discussion of the sort comes down to a matter of taste. Personally, the piece was extremely pleasurable to listen to, creating feelings of nostalgia and a sense of sentimental longing. The piano and cello have a strong relationship and there is a natural flow in the piece that is never interrupted. Kevin Puts proves he is a masterful composer, capable of creating strong effects throughout the piece. As a cellist, I cannot wait to perform his composition.

Ivana Biliskov

Performing Rights: Then and Now

William Velez, a former employee of BMI and ASCAP, touches on the subject of the future of licensing public performance rights in music in the article “Performing-Rights Collectives: Dinosaurs of the New Millennium?”. Velez gives a brief summary of the development of music rights organizations and paints a picture of what the future and the 21st-century might hold for performers. Since this article was written 19 years ago, there has been a shift in the mindset among music users and artists. However, some of Velez’s predictions have proven to be insightful and true.

With the development of SESAC, a for-profit licensing organization, Velez emphasizes the arrival of those who resisted such a system. This resistance has especially been apparent in the New Millennium due to the eruption of the Internet. Studies have shown that, since the late 1990s, piracy and illegal downloading activities have reached mind boggling levels, with as much as 95 percent of music being downloaded illegally each year.[1] Even though there are numerous streaming services available to consumers today, the illegal activities are still active due to the human want for lack of cost and convenience.

Velez senses an emerging and imminent threat to the music licensing industry and to artists. This is the threat of convergence of companies to boost profits and realize new economies, which results in reduced profits for artists and a further monopolization of the industry. Velez predicts the effects of this convergence when he states that “home-television monitors may end up serving as appliances for delivering a range of services or functions such as entertainment “on demand”, telephone access, personal computer and internet access, and so on.”[2] This merge within technology is precisely what has occurred in the New Millennium with the creation of streaming services of all types such as Netflix, Pandora, Spotify and many more, all conveniently available on personal devices and televisions.

Spotify has grown to be the “fastest-growing and most popular,”[3] streaming service available. It was created in order to serve as the “middle-ground” between the illegal but free piracy the consumers abused, and the antiquated record label business mindset. Spotify serves as a music library with an enormous and all-encompassing inventory. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that from 2012 to 2017 the number of subscribers has grown from five million to more than 60 million.[4] As a “high-tech service” with “low transactional cost” and “no frills”[5], Spotify fits into the vision Velez holds for the future of a good performing-rights business model.

Velez states that the performing-rights companies have it in their greatest interest to support profitable, “bankable” artists.[6] If true, this mindset could hurt Contemporary Classical music, as throughout recent history such music has not been recognized as highly profitable. However, platforms like Spotify provide an equal opportunity for all music genres to be heard and acknowledged. It is up to the consumers to choose the genre that speaks to them. Therefore, it is safe to say that the available platforms do not disengage Classical music from their inventory. In fact, they support and cherish it fully.

            Velez’s thoughts and predictions in “Performing-Rights Collectives: Dinosaurs of the New Millennium?” accurately portray the current state of the Performing-Rights industry today, an impressive accomplishment given that Velez believed that “a ten-year gap in today’s digital environment represents an eternity.”[7] In another ten years, what will this industry look like, how will it evolve, and will it even be recognizable? The world is moving and advancing technologically at an unprecedented rate, and what was new and popular five years ago is no longer necessarily relevant today. Therefore, my belief is that such a fate awaits the streaming services and performing-rights organizations currently available. What will come in its wake are better, more user friendly streaming platforms that evolve around the premise of convenience and speed.

                  Ivana Biliskov


  1. Kirk, Shana. “Random Access: The 21st Century Audio Library—Dusty Shelves Be Gone!” American Music Teacher 62, no. 5 (2013): 60-63.
  2. Pelly, Liz. “The Problem with Muzak: Spotify’s Bid to Remodel an Industry.” The Baffler, no. 37 (2017): 86-95.
  4. Velez, William. “Performing-Rights Collectives: Dinosaurs of the New Millenium?.” Pendagon Press no. 16 (2000): 365-373.


[2] William Velez, “Performing-Rights Collectives: Dinosaurs of the New Millenium?,” Pendagon Press no. 16 (2000): 371.

[3]  Shana Kirk, “Random Access: The 21st Century Audio Library—Dusty Shelves Be Gone!,” American Music Teacher 62, no. 5 (2013): 61.

[4] Liz Pelly, “The Problem with Muzak: Spotify’s Bid to Remodel an Industry,” The Baffler, no. 37 (2017): 89.

[5] Velez, 373.

[6] Velez, 369.

[7] Velez, 369.

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