Knowing about contemporary musical ensembles is a great way to get started with contemporary music. All of the ensembles listed have recordings available. Still, going to a concert is the best way to discover new and exciting music. The reason is simple – that’s when you can expect to hear unfamiliar and super-fresh music. It’s also when the listener gets a chance to hear music that’s not available on recording or streaming services. The majority of contemporary music will never be recorded, unfortunately. You can read about one of the main reasons here.
And now, let’s list some of the most prominent contemporary music ensembles and a few with famous composers at the helm.
Composers with their own musical ensembles
- Steve Reich – Steve Reich and Musicians (Steve Reich Ensemble). Varying numbers of musicians but usually 2-18. Founded in 1966 and based in the US.
- Philip Glass – Philip Glass Ensemble. Various settings but usually amplified. Founded in 1968 and based in the US.
- Michael Nyman – Michael Nyman Band. Amplified ensemble with varying settings, but usually 15 musicians. Formerly known as the Campiello Band. Founded in 1976 and based in England.
- Gavin Bryars – Gavin Bryars Ensemble. 6-12 musicians. Founded in the 1970s and based in Great Britain.
- Arvo Pärt – Tallinn Chamber Orchestra. Typically 17 strings. Founded by Tõnu Kaljuste in 1993. Not really Arvo Pärt’s own orchestra, but they are performing a lot of his music on a regular basis, as well as a lot of other contemporary music. Also, he can use them for trying out new ideas and pieces. I know this first hand since my wife is actually a violinist in this very orchestra. Based in Estonia.
- Eric Whitacre – The Whitacre Singers. Mixed choir of approximately 30-40 singers. Unclear when it was founded, but composer Eric Whitacre gathered some of the world’s best choral singers to form this ensemble. Based in England.
Ensembles named after composers
- Xenakis Ensemble – varying size, depending on the piece being performed. Founded in 1980. Named after the Greek/French composer Iannis Xenakis and dedicated to his music. Around 40 works in their repertoire, but also playing other composers’ music.
- Corigliano Quartet – string quartet founded in 1996. Named after the composer John Corigliano, a professor at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. Playing his music, as well as music of many other composers.
New music ensembles you should know about
- Kronos Quartet – string quartet founded in 1973 and based in the US.
- Arditti Quartet – string quartet founded in 1974 and based in England.
- Ensemble Intercontemporain – 31 musicians. Founded in 1976 by Pierre Boulez and based in France.
- Stockholm Saxophone Quartet – founded in 1976. Having premiered over 700 new works by contemporary composers, it’s a truly outstanding ensemble in its own right.
- Kroumata (1978 – 2015) – 4 musicians. Premiered over 200 new works during their active time. Based in Sweden.
- Ensemble Modern – 20 musicians. Founded in 1980 and based in Germany with international musicians.
- Kammarensemblen – varying size, depending on the piece being performed, but not larger than a chamber orchestra. Founded in 1984. Chamber ensemble dedicated to contemporary music. Based in Sweden.
- Ensemble Recherche – 9 musicians. Founded in 1985 and based in Germany.
- Klangforum Wien – chamber orchestra of varying size depending on the piece being performed. Founded in 1985 and based in Austria.
- Balanescu Quartet – string quartet founded in 1987 and based in England. Borderland between art music and pop music.
- Bang on a Can Allstars – ensemble consisting of 6 musicians belonging to the organization Bang on a Can. Founded in 1987 and based in the US.
- Bit 20 Ensemble – chamber ensemble with 17 musicians, including electronics. Founded in 1989 and based in Norway.
- Ensemble Musikfabrik – contemporary musical ensemble with 16 musicians. Founded in 1990 and based in Germany.
- Theater of Voices – vocal ensemble consisting of 30 musicians, including organists and sound designers. Founded in 1990 by Paul Hillier. Focusing on both early music and contemporary music.
- Alarm Will Sound – 20-member chamber orchestra founded in 2001 and based in the US.
- American Contemporary Music Ensemble – varying settings, depending on the piece being performed. Founded in 2004 and based in the US.