The classical music industry may currently be grappling with the issues of ageing audiences, declining attendance and biting funding cuts, but on the fringes, things are flourishing. "Neo-classical" is a vibrant, burgeoning movement of composers, labels, and promoters who are bringing classical tropes to a new audience.
Centring on independent labels such as Erased Tapes, New Amsterdam Records and 13071, neo-classical's musicians are often young (figureheads Nils Frahm, Nico Muhly, Peter Broderick and Olafur Arnalds were all born after 1981) and approach the music with the same creative drive you'd expect from a generation who grew up with MTV, clubbing and an internet connection. Elements of indie rock, ambient, hip-hop and dance crop up in their songs. Frahm flits between delicate piano compositions and solo synth outings that highlight his background as an electronic producer, while Arnalds works skittering beats into his gentle, stirring piano and string pieces, and used to play drums in the hardcore band Fighting Shit.
Venue choice is crucial to the success of neo-classical, and artists seem as comfortable performing in bars and nightclubs as they do in concert halls. East London promoters Nonclassical present their showcases as if they were rock gigs, hosting a monthly club night at The Macbeth, where punters watch virtuosic musicians through a pub PA, pint in hand. It's not unusual for a warehouse such as Bethnal Green's Oval Space to host the London Contemporary Orchestra, while A Winged Victory For The Sullen recently previewed their score to Wayne McGregor's ballet Atomos on a tour of UK clubs. The Southbank Centre's 20th-century music festival The Rest Is Noise, meanwhile, sold over three times as many tickets in 2013 as it did last year.
Reading this on mobile? Click here to view
Like any prosperous scene, neo-classical attracts criticism, much focusing on its name – NPR and Pitchfork labelled the music "indie classical", a term seemingly designed to satisfy fans of neither. Given that artists are always trying to tear down genre binaries, it's no surprise there's resistance to the tag. "I did a show in London that I thought was great, and then online it was all indie-classical this and indie-classical that," Muhly blogged last year. "Nothing is gained by that description." Conversely, this sort of definition might be exactly what such a broad movement needs. Without a coherent mission statement, neo-classical is a lot of nice music with nothing provoking forward motion. Perhaps the focus should be less about defining its relationship to the old, more about celebrating the new.
Nonclassical's Pioneers Of Percussion festival is at The Macbeth, N1, Wed to 22 Nov