Where are all the great composers?

Think about the great classical composers … names like Bach, Mozart and Debussy come to mind. And there’s no doubt they were extraordinary, but it sometimes feels like we’re reaching back centuries when looking for “the masters.”

To be sure, there are contemporary composers whose names are probably at least familiar to you: John Williams, Philip Glass and Leonard Bernstein, for example. But they’re not alone. Rest assured that we have plenty of gifted classical music composers in our midst here in the 21st century! Here are a few worth checking out.

It should be no surprise that some great composers have gravitated to the film industry. Hans Zimmer has scored more than 100 movies, winning a huge number of awards. He’s known for a minimalist style, but not without a dose of drama. You’ll find his work in The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, Blade Runner 2049, Gladiator, and Dunkirk, to name just a few. Click here for a live performance of a Pirates of the Caribbean medley.

Lesley Barber is a Canadian composer who is probably best known for the score of the movie Manchester by the Sea, but before working in the TV and film industries, she spent several years scoring plays. She actually got her start writing music for theater productions as a way of earning money in graduate school. Listen to a collection of her Mansfield Park compositions here.

Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan is said to draw on his Roman Catholic roots in his creations, and he writes both choral and orchestral music. His works include Le grand Inconnu, Tenebrae Repositories, and his Fifth Symphony. In 2018, his work Stabat mater was performed in the Sistine Chapel; you can watch the performance here.

Alvin Singleton has been composer-in-residence for the Detroit Symphony and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He draws from a wide range of influences, including jazz greats and modern popular musicians like Santana. Listen to an interview and a performance of his eight-part piece “Argoru” here.

Great talent is all around us! All we have to do is listen.