My grand theory on classical music nowadays is that it’s hiding in plain sight. Instead of penning symphonies that academics break down over the course of centuries, composers are whipping up a stream of classical content in stealthy forms.
To illustrate, I present the group 2 Steps From Hell. Well, to say they’re a group isn’t quite right. They’re two gents — Thomas Bergersen and Nick Phoenix — whose combined powers are brought to bear in movie trailers, TV series and video games. Their album “Skyworld” rests at #20 on the Billboard top 25 this week, where it’s resided (at varying positions, on and off) for 50 weeks strong.
Not only do Bergersen and Phoenix whip up made-to-order classical offerings, they also have a very particular of presenting that music.
The album design (that’s a pdf) on the project comes from longtime collaborator Steven R. Gilmore, with super-futuristic illustrations by Sergey Vorontsov. Whatever your feelings about the visuals, they straight-up bury non-efforts like this.
So, have classical music’s giants — Beethoven, Brahms, all the players in the club — morphed into modern-day writing duos, a la Rodgers & Hammerstein? Do smart composers combine like the Mega Powers to multiply their success? Or are Bergersen & Phoenix destined to be remembered as history’s greatest monsters?
Listen, the proof’s in your earbuds: here’s Heart of Courage, Archangel, and Orion by 2 Steps From Hell. (That’s some decision-time, Battle-of-Helm’s-Deep music right there.) You can’t tell the difference between one composer and a whole gaggle of them. The composer-collective cranks out hits at a high rate, plus keeps everybody from getting all lonely and sullen in their composer shacks. (Here’s Mahler’s.) No person is an island unto herself, and musicians and composers shouldn’t be, either. You need the vision — the driving force behind the soaring melodies, the intricate layers of counterpoint, the hair-raising finales — but you need flawless execution, too.
Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei are both known for keeping workshops where many hands produce the work — sometimes with only a drunken nod of assent from the Official Artist. What if clusters of composers tendered new pieces with tailor-made artwork, phone apps, Youtube visuals, and sweet-ass liner notes, all done in-house? I think stock in these classical factories would rise precipitously.
We used to leave all the extra-musical details to record labels and handlers. (Whoops.) Naxos, Sony & Deutsche-Grammophon blew their chance. Is it time to seize the means of production? Are we talking about a radically different approach here? Can I avoid speaking in revolutionary metaphors? (Yes, maybe, and obviously not.)