Can a truly religious music be written in our times? And if so, what would be its nature? My esteemed British collegue David Matthews wrote a very interesting article about this theme on his website:
I agree with most of it, but I don't have problems with Arvo Pärt 'ignoring' the modern world. As its inhabitant, he withdrew into an inner sanctuary and shows that it is possible to reach such place even in our time. Given the noise of today's world, it is obvious that writing truly meaningful music, and certainly music which touches something of spiritual meaning - whatever that may mean - requires taking distance from the world. Although that may be more difficult nowadays than in former periods, it should still be possible; it will be more dependent upon the money question, since also composers have to pay their bills and it has become more difficult to survive on a very basic minimum - you are either in or out of the economic/social system and surviving through begging in the streets is not the best context for writing music. The pressures of modern life work against any inner concentration, more so than - say - in the 17th century, and the idea of religion was in those times organically part of the culture and did not require a strong effort to exclude 'the world'- the world itself included religious overtones. Today religion, or better said: spirituality, has to be explored as an individual emotional trajectory, far removed from the loud distractions and obligations screaming in our ears.
David Matthews is the 'Grand Old Man of British music', and not Harrison Birtwistle, as it is generally considered in the 'modern scene'. His highly inventive and especially, youthful music, awash with almost eastern-European colours, is contemporary but its dynamics are traditional, thereby creating a bridge to an euphonious past. I am particularly fond of his 'Concerto in Azzurro', here as the premiere by Steven Isserlis and the BBC Welsh Orchestra:
A better sounding performance is available on Chandos: CHAN 10487, by Guy Johnston and the BBC Philharmonic under Rumon Gamba.