Schnittke offers twist on classical

By Michael Eilers

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Classical music has little or no listening audience among the younger generation, largely because it is not considered a "contemporary" style of music. Yet, with the recent popularity of the album Chant (featuring Gregorian monks), and various ambient/techno musicians who sample chants and choruses, it seems the human voice may be a bridge between the past and the present.

Russian composer Alfred Schnittke's "Choir Concerto" features the Russian State Symphonic Capella singing a four part symphony with classical roots, that has a tone as contemporary as the war in Bosnia. Hundreds of voices combine, and conflict, in a piece that blends moments of stunning beauty with the disruption and discord Schnittke is known for.

Using Romantic and Baroque styles of music as well as Russian chants, Schnittke creates ethereal pieces that reflect the fragmentation and chaos of contemporary life. Classical themes emerge in the music, only to shatter into a storm of wailing voices and then reappear in an entirely new form. While listening it is easy to imagine a dark, smoke-filled stage upon which costumed characters and sets appear and then fade into the darkness, providing glimpses of both past and present.

Human voices are the only instruments in this piece, and the incredible range and skill of the Capella leaves no room for violins or cellos.

To a Western ear, much of Schnittke's music may sound chaotic and strained, but the result is a symphony of breathtaking beauty.

The Schnittke: Choir Concerto featuring the Russian State Symphonic Capella is available on Chandos records.

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