21 for ’21: Composers and performers who sound like tomorrow

By Michael Andor Brodeur, Washington Post Classical Music Critic


Music critics often get mistaken for interior decorators of the intangible, or sommeliers of sound — able to set the scene or select the perfect accompaniment for any occasion. And sure, there is no doubt, it’s a thing we do.

But there is really no playlist to match this unstable, uncertain moment. And, honestly, right now I’m less interested in rummaging through the past for reference points. I’m just trying to find my way forward.

In that spirit — and since we’re feeling all inaugural — please find below the first-ever class of 21 for ’21.

Some of these composers and performers are just launching their careers; others are well along in their work. But each has found some sort of special resonance in the right-now (i.e. my headphones), and I’ll be following their lead in the year to come.


These 21 (as well as the many composers and performers linked throughout this list) represent an array of approaches, identities, experiences and, most of all, exciting ways of imagining what our future together sounds like.


Christopher Cerrone

Cerrone, 36, struck back at the pandemic with percussive wit: “Don’t Look Down,” composed for pianist Conor Hanick and Sandbox Percussion, was partly inspired by Wile E. Coyote. But he also reached for poetry: “The Pieces That Fall to Earth” enlisted soprano Lindsay Kesselman and L.A. ensemble Wild Up for luminous settings of poems by Kay Ryan, James Wright and Bill Knott. This month, Hub New Music premiered “New Addresses,” Cerrone’s setting of poems by New York School underdog Kenneth Koch. And “Beaufort Scales” — a forthcoming collaboration with Lorelei Ensemble — incorporates lines from Melville, Teju Cole and Anne Carson. christophercerrone.com.


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