Composer hotties

"Looks don’t concern me, maestro," says the character Katerina Cavalieri in the film Amadeus. "Only talent interests a woman of taste."

Perhaps. But looks certainly put the proverbial foot in the door.

I never heard of Michael Hersch till I was browsing the Naxos website one day, and when I saw his photo, I thought, "Oh! Nerdy hot!" Huang Ruo was referred to me through a circuitous series of events when I explored this topic of classical music hotties previously. And Ned Rorem? The guy turned 85, and he’s still described as "boy-ish".

Yes, I’d listen to music of someone I think is hot, but I have different expectations from Hersch than I would, say, Nick Lachey. And ultimately, taste would trump looks and talent any day.

Huang Ruo, Chamber Concerto Cycle (International Contemporary Ensemble)

Huang isn’t afraid to coax timbres out of instruments that they weren’t designed to make, which essentially makes him a creative descendant of George Crumb. But the incorporation of Asian music in a contemporary Western context also puts him in league with Yamashiro Shouji, composer of the frightening score to the groundbreaking anime Akira. As a matter of personal taste, I actually find the taut texture of a chamber ensemble far more appealing than a full orchestra. In Huang’s case, the intensity of the pieces feels far more direct and adventurous.

Michael Hersch, Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 / Fracta / Arraché (Marin Alsop, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra)

Hersch came to composition relatively late in life, not discovering classical music till he was in his late-teens but catching up fairly quickly. He knows his way around an orchestra, and these works take full advantage of the orchestra’s colors. There were moments where I thought I was listening to Joan Tower, but Hersch’s harmonic sense is much more expressionistic. I’m not sure I found anything in these works that I couldn’t find in Arnold Schoenberg. Then again, I already have a stated bias against orchestral works. I’ll need to find some of his chamber music instead.

Ned Rorem, Eleven Studies for Eleven Players / Piano Concerto in Six Movements (Louisville Orchestra)

I keep encountering Ned Rorem in passing — a stray chamber work here, a piano piece there — but I had yet to hear an entire album of his works. Rorem is generally described as a tonal composer, but that doesn’t mean he’s a Romantic-era holdover. Some of the Eleven Studies for Eleven Players reminded me of early Stravinsky in the more genial moments. The Piano Concerto in Six Movements showed a lot more bite. Rorem is coy about whether the opening theme in the first two measures of the concerto is developed serially — he was a lot less dogmatic about serial composition than his contemporaries at the time. I still need to hear more of his art songs, though.