Hi Eugene! I’ve done mostly classical percussion for most of my musical career, but I’m really interested in branching out to more contemporary work and working with composers. I’m not sure how to approach the leap, though. Do you have any suggestions of things I could work on, or what I should be listening to?
Yes! Here are a few approaches and ideas that should help:
Firstly, if your training and experience is well rooted within the classical tradition then it can be very useful to work through recent additions & masterworks in the repertoire. Even though this process will not involve a composer-performer interaction it will still help to bridge the gap between traditional repertoire and work being made today.
Some possible composers to consider: Gyorgy Ligeti, Helmut Lachenman, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Liza Lim, Brian Ferneyhough, Mark Applebaum, Gerard Grisey, Pierre Luigi Billone, Rick Burkhardt, Michael Pisaro.
All of these composers have orchestral works but also a range of chamber music (including some solo percussion pieces). If you can get your hands on their scores & recordings then even without performing them you can study the parts & apply them to your practice etc. Your listening can branch out from here, depending on your taste & preferences.
One of the most important things about working with composers is you sharing your expertise and having something to offer. Hopefully, this will involve a detailed understanding of percussion instruments, performance techniques, creative/innovative approaches to percussion performance, notational preferences (how do you like to see musical ideas expressed on the page), and an understanding of other contemporary repertoire.
Working with composers: It always helps to work with friends or people you know, this way you can be yourself, speak openly and enjoy yourself. After all, your friends and colleagues are your 'contemporaries' and this for me is actually what contemporary music is, music made with, by and for your contemporaries. Make sure you let people (especially composers) know that you want to work with them, you may have lot's of opportunities waiting to be had but all they need is a leading conversation to kick them off.
I hope this helps and I'd be happy to take any follow-up questions if you have them.