2021 in Review: Modern & Post Classical

From the intimacy of a solitary piano to the harmony of an ensemble or the mysterious alchemy forged in the studio where the analog is fused with the electronic, here is a selection of some especially memorable journeys in modern & post classical music released during the past year.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen – Invisible Cities


As A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Adam Wiltzie & Dustin O’Halloran release an album version of the score they composed for Leo Warner’s theatrical adaptation of Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel, ‘Invisible Cities’. Even for one who has neither read the book nor seen the show, the music here is nothing short of stunning for both its dynamic range and moments of raw beauty, undoubtedly a soundtrack worthy of any expansive work of imagination.

Released on CD, cassette, and in two vinyl editions (black and clear) by Artificial Pinearch Manufacturing. Limited edition prints of the artwork by Davy Evans is also available at the AWFTS online shop.

Balmorhea – The Wind


The rewarding journey of this long running musical project from the duo of Rob Lowe and Michael A. Muller opens a new chapter on the Deutsche Grammaphon label with a beautifully orchestrated anthology of compositions inspired by meditations on the natural world and its fragility from an ancient tale of wind captured from the seaside and released into a parched French valley to climate activist Greta Thunberg crossing the Atlantic on the catamaran.

‘The Wind’ was a product of retreat. It was about leaving the city to work in a remote location and having access only to what we could create together. We tried to focus on the core of what the group was at the beginning, when we would make music together in a room…I think we were trying to recapture a certain simplicity and human interaction between the two of us.

Rob Lowe

Released digitally and on CD & vinyl LP by Deutsche Grammophon. A custom incense created for the album by SEILA is also available here.

Dustin O’Halloran – Silfur


An exquisite collection of piano and ensemble pieces from composer and pianist Dustin O’Halloran who spent his time during an extended lockdown period in Iceland re-recording works from his four solo albums as well as two brand new compositions. The album includes collaborations with American composer and multi-instrumentalist Bryan Senti, Icelandic cellist Gyða Valtýsdóttir and the Siggi String Quartet.

Silfur’ is an exploration of the music of my past and how it reflects back to me now in the present. Evoking images of different moments, places and periods of my life, and rediscovering the pieces that have stayed with me. Sometimes we can only understand ourselves by looking back, and hopefully, finding the thread of who we are and who we have always been.

Released digitally and on CD & vinyl LP by Deutsche Grammophon

Fletcher McDermott & Kyle Woodworth – I Am Bits and Pieces


One of the year’s more pleasant surprises was this new collaboration between American musicians Fletcher McDermott (aka Twincities) and Kyle Woodworth (aka Woodworkings) which blends organic textures and grainy warmth with string passages and layered vocals to create something quite beautiful with a touch of the eclectic.

Released for digital download and streaming directly by the artists

Frances Shelley – Songs of Possibility


A descendant of two famous Marys – Wollstonecraft and Shelley – Frances Shelley lived quite a colorful life herself from her years spent in London to traveling the world and though she has been playing the piano since childhood and released music independently, it was not until she reached her sixties that she seriously pursued her passion for making music. Songs Of Possibility is quite the apt title for her second release under Manners McDade, an inspired and inspiring album of heartfelt beauty that shows may only be getting started at the tender age of 71.

I want to bring into view the new sense of ‘what can be’ that many of us are experiencing post-pandemic. I also want to question the deeply held societal myth that reaching a certain age is the end of the line. I think Covid has forced many of us to wake up to the awareness of how things could be different.

Released for digital download and streaming by Manners McDade

From the Mouth of the Sun – Light Caught the Edges


Yet another superb outing from this transatlantic collaboration between Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist that builds on their uniquely recognizable sound while infusing it with bright new elements and even greater warmth. Martin’s elegiac cello lines carve ringing hollows out of cavernous space while Rosenqvist focuses on introducing a stronger sense of forward motion through the use of arpeggios and subtle percussive techniques. A compelling record that stands with the band’s best work while offering delightful and surprising new turns for even their most steadfast longtime listeners.

Released in a limited edition CD book edition and by Lost Tribe Sound as part of the label’s “Fearful Void” subscription series

Hammock – Elsewhere


Recorded apart and with minimal equipment by Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson at their respective homes, Elsewhere opens a new, yet comfortingly familiar chapter in the Hammock canon, their first full-length record of new music since the completion of a trilogy of albums which navigated the experience of grief and crushing loss. – Mysterium, Universalis, and Silencia. Such things can never be left behind and these songs still bear the weight of profound sorrow but from this place the duo are able to summon a heartfelt and ultimately uplifting opus that “calls listeners back to live their lives – not spend them longing to be something or somewhere else.”

Currently available only as digital release from Hammock Music

Hania Rani & Dobrawa Czocher – Inner Symphonies


Hania Rani is a pianist and composer with two widely acclaimed solo albums and a collection of songs written for screen and stage to her name while Dobrawa Czocher became a solo cellist with the Szczecin Philharmonicare. Together they form the youngest female composer duo signed thus far to the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label and it only takes a few minutes listening to what they have created to understand how they have earned that distinction. A stunning opus that hums with the spirit of adventure while not shy of looking inwards or exploring darker shades of emotion.

Released digitally, on CD and in two vinyl 2xLP editions (red and black) by Deutsche Grammophon

Jacob David -Mursejler


A delightfully intimate set of felted solo piano pieces from the Danish composer with just a touch of strings and electronics which is beautifully recorded and mastered to allow the finest details to softly resonate. A slow, deep breath and tender personal reflection in musical form.

Released digitally and on limited edition vinyl LP by Moderna Records featuring artwork by Jon Beacham

Jakob Lindhagen & Dag Rosenqvist – Stadsbiler


The first album between Swedish musicians Jakob Lindhagen and Dag Rosenqvist who are each well established in the modern & post classical and experimental music scenes both as solo artists and sought-after collaborators. They paint the musical cityscapes of Stadsbilder (“city images”) from a rich sonic palette that includes acoustic & electric pianos, vintage synthesizers, found sounds, harmonium, banjo, and saxophone along with discrete cello parts performed by Sebastian Selke. The album takes on yet another dimension with the elaborate bespoke packaging designed by Time Released Sound which juxtaposes landscapes of the American Southwest with art deco interiors and steampunk aesthetics to create surreal images that are both bright and oddly soothing.

Released digitally and in two vinyl LP editions (regular and deluxe) by Time Released Sound

Mike Lazarev – Out of Time

Link: https://mikelazarev.bandcamp.com/album/out-of-time

Like many of you, I first came to know Mike Lazarev simply as “HC”, the anonymous editor-in-chief of Headphone Commute, an online resource that has been both a direct inspiration and mentor for much of what I have much more clumsily tried to do here in this very blog. This album however reveals a part of his backstory that may not be so well known including the fact that he studied classical music as young person in Ukraine before his family moved to the USA to escape persecution. More recently having moved to London, Mike has re-immersed himself in classical music on his own terms and expand on the piano-centric reductionist minimalism of his nascent releases to deliver a beautifully conceived “soundtrack to an imaginary film” in grand style.

Released digitally and on limited edition ‘vinyl-look’ CD by Injazero Records

Olivia Belli – Sol Novo

Link: https://oliviabelli.fanlink.to/SolNovo

Living with her family in an old, remote farmhouse in the rural Marche region of Eastern Italy, nestled in between the Appenine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea, Olivia Belli takes inspiration from the natural world and the people surrounding her. The title of this delightful album which sees her debut on the XXIM imprint is lifted from Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Translated as ‘new sun’ or ‘new day’ it serves as a reference to the many types of light that can be seen every day in Marche region which permeates the album as a metaphor for renewal.

In this album the reference is the light of the place where I live: of my seas, my mountains, meadows, wheat fields and the old villages.

Released digitally and on CD by XXIM Records

Peter Gregson – Patina


It is no hyperbole to call Peter Gregson one of the most sought-after cellists in the world. When he records an album of his own, one can be sure he will explore an interesting theme or new angle of the instrument he has mastered, and so it is on Patina where his objective is to bring the listener up close to the instrument to experience it as it is played while at the same time exploring the concept of “the presence of absence” by emphasizing silence and counter-melody.

It’s very easy to fill up space, keep adding more and more until the bubble bursts, but to have confidence in the moments of silence gives us room to hear the music.

Released digitally and CD and vinyl LP by Deutsche Grammophon

Philip G Anderson – Figment

Link: https://philipganderson.bandcamp.com/album/figment

The Atlanta based composer & multi-instrumentalist calls Figment “a personal reflection on struggle, growth, and evolution”. It is also an album that marks a tonal shift in his approach away from ambient atmospherics and toward a sharp focus on story, composition, and individual performance which is lifted even further by contributions from frequent collaborator Laura Masotto as well Dutch cellists Alistair Sung & Ardie Son. A bracing listen with sharp, resonant sonorities that create the sense of being right in the room where the music being performed. Additional kudos to Philip for his own excellent production and design for the album.

Released digitally directly by the artist

Poppy Ackroyd – Pause

Link: https://poppy.bandcamp.com/album/pause

There is a subtle irony in the title of this album by Poppy Ackroyd. It refers to the feeling of normal life being temporarily put on hold and was written during the convergence of two major events that would have unavoidable impact on creative process of this talented multi-instrumentalist & composer – the pandemic and the birth of her first child. The irony becomes apparent as one listens to the vibrant music she produced and realize that while life as it was before may have been disrupted, inspiration and creativity will find new ways to flow. Pause is not an album that conveys any hesitancy. Rather it moves with expressive fluidity that is borne of invention and intense focus, leaving little doubt that Ackroyd can do more with a single piano than some can with a whole ensemble.

Released by One Little Independent Records digitally, on CD, and in a recycled vinyl edition which is also available in a special bundle with a signed & numbered reproduction of the album art originally created from an aquatint etching (limited to 100 copies)

Rose Riebl – Do Not Move Stones

Link: https://innimusic.bandcamp.com/album/do-not-move-stones

A classically trained professional concert pianist who studied in both Sydney and Vienna and who has performed at some of Asia’s leading concert halls, Rose Riebl chose the road less traveled by going down the path of DIY recording for the first time to create a free-flowing and immersive piano-driven reminiscence of landscapes real and imagined. A remarkable and affecting solo debut.

When I write I imagine films that haven’t been made yet, stories that haven’t been told, wide open landscapes and the northern lights, which I once went looking for in Iceland.

Available digitally and on limited edition CD & cassette tape by INNI

Rutger Hoedemaekers – The Age of Oddities

Link: https://rutgerhoedemaekers.bandcamp.com/album/the-age-of-oddities

A triumphant solo debut for Dutch composer Rutger Hoedemaekers that marks the culmination of a decade spent in the studio environment he co-founded in Berlin where he worked closely alongside the late Jóhann Jóhannsson for four years as well as hosting such artists as Hildur Guðnadóttir and Dustin O’Halloran. He has fashioned a striking and unique sound here from scores performed by the Budapest Art Orchestra’s 23-piece string ensemble conducted and co-orchestrated by Viktor Orri Árnason imaginatively blended with textural electronics and processed vocals. The title draws from a line lifted from Lord Byron’s Don Juan (“This is the age of oddities let loose.”). An album of strange and exhilarating beauty.

Available digitally and on vinyl LP fearuring artwork by on Fatcat Records

Simon Goff – Vale

Link: https://simongoff.bandcamp.com/album/vale

Simon Goff is also an artist whose solo debut follows a period of collaboration with some of the same post-classical luminaries previously mentioned such as Jóhann Jóhannsson, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Dustin O’Halloran and Yair Elazar Glotman. Vale is his “exploration of the interface between violin and technology”. It is also an album rooted in a sense of place as the British violinist and composer now based in Germany evokes the panoramic landscapes he remembers from a youth spent in the hills of Yorkshire. The process of creating the album is one Goff calls “massively cathartic” and that catharsis is evident in the way these bold and vibrant compositions transport the listener.

Available digitally and on limited edition CD by 7K!

Sophie Hutchings – Echoes In the Valley

Link: https://www.mercurykx.com/release/echoes-in-the-valley/

It is no secret that pianist & composer Sophie Hutchings is a lover of nature and the outdoors and she has often made that a part of her creative process which she does again to sublime effect with this album recorded in the self-imposed isolation of a rustic timber studio and with no accompaniment other than her piano and the solitude of her natural surroundings. It is a mellifluous collection of expressive pieces framed in a stillness that allows “the natural world to speak louder than humanity” and it is a very easy ask of us to slow down for a few precious moments and take the time to listen.

I’m always hearing melodies in my head, so it’s very tempting to add layers. I was so tempted to put another instrument on it, but had to tell myself, ‘No’ … These pieces come from a very honest place. I hope by handing them over to you, the listener, you receive as much as I have from this experience.

Available digitally and on limited edition grey cassette by Mercury KX

Vargkvint – Hav Reimagined

Link: https://vargkvint.bandcamp.com/album/hav-reimagined

Having grown up in a small coastal city in Sweden, Sofia Nystrand aka Vargkvint drew on a strong personal bond with the ocean when she created her album Hav (2019, piano and coffee records). In 2021, she and the label gathered some of her favorite artists to “reimagine” the songs with new interpretations that preserve their original essence while taking them in boldly creative new directions. Hav Reimagined follows the same seven song arc as the original album, but it really does feel like a completely new journey.

Released digitally and on limited edition CD by Piano and Coffee Records