Friday, November 3, 2017

David Felder’s Jeu de Tarot


A highlight of Ensemble Linea’s upcoming visit to the Center will be the world premiere of Center artistic director and SUNY Distinguished Professor David Felder’s new violin concerto Jeu de Tarot. Commissioned by Ensemble Linea, the work is dedicated to the group, its conductor, Jean-Phillippe Wurtz, and guest violin soloist, Irvine Arditti, who will collectively premiere it at a concert in Slee Hall on November 8. The concert also includes works by Brian Ferneyhough and Philippe Leroux.
Ensemble Linea at June in Buffalo 2013

The seven movement, 27 minute work for violin soloist and 11-player ensemble takes inspiration from philosopher P.D. Ouspensky’s interpretations of Tarot cards. Felder is interested in the deck of Tarot cards as a “philosophical machine,” as an open-ended collection of allegorical figures pertaining to what Carl Jung calls individuation, “the process by which a person becomes a psychological ‘in-dividual’, that is, a separate, indivisible unity or ‘whole.’” The seven movements are entitled as follows, after particular Tarot cards:
1. The Juggler
2. The Fool
3. The High Priestess
4. The Hermit
5. W(h)orld; The Empress
6. The Hierophant
7. Moonlight

Each card depicts a particular stage and/or problem in the quest for individuation. In Ouspensky’s interpretation, “The Fool” is a sort of snake chasing its own tail: “he knew not where he went, but was absorbed in his chimerical dreams which ran constantly in the same circle.” The Fool carries with him a bag of symbols he has forgotten how to use; the symbols retain their power but he is unable to access it. Felder’s corresponding movement depicts the Fool’s paradoxical trajectory: the music has enormous rhythmic momentum but seemingly no identity or agency. The music seems to be enthralled with a quest to go somewhere, but avoids changing in a significant way: its basic building blocks (elemental figures like attacks, chords, flams, reiterated notes, scales, and arpeggios) never coalesce into characteristic melodic material, or into large-scale goal-oriented processes, but instead captivate listeners with the physicality of their subtly variegated detail. A page from the score of “The Fool” is shown below; a more extended sample of the score is available on Felder’s new website. Jeu de Tarot will ultimately be part of a larger compositional project exploring musical resonances of Tarot.

from Jeu de Tarot, movement 2: The Fool

While Ouspensky’s interpretations of Tarot provided the impetus for the piece, consultations with soloist Irvine Arditti proved pivotal for the composition of its solo part. As a result, in the solo part Felder has explored possibilities unprecedented in his music: complex irrational rhythms, extreme agility in the left hand, microtones, and extended techniques (the latter particularly in the final movement). Arditti’s input was presumably indispensable, as he has specialized in and played an important role in developing performance practices in all these areas. Another result of the collaboration is a cadenza in the fifth movement where the soloist is given options for improvisation, while the other musicians are given unusual latitude to make decisions in real time about their parts. Felder says that “I would especially like to thank Irvine Arditti for working so closely with me. I enormous appreciate him being so generous with his time, and for the active suggestions—informed by deep knowledge of my prior work—he brought to the collaborative process.”

Irvine Arditti at June in Buffalo 2015
Felder is also grateful to the work’s commissioners, Ensemble Linéa and conductor Jean-Phillippe Wurtz, for their continued interest in his work. “I was particularly pleased with their performance of my 2002 piece partial [dist]res[s]toration, so I am delighted to have the opportunity to create a new work expressly for the group’s superlative virtuosities.” At the Center, we greatly look forward to Linéa’s arrival, and especially to this special premiere performance.



Thursday, November 2, 2017

Ensemble Linea: Musical Ambassadors


In early November, the renowned Ensemble Linea arrives at the Center for 21st Century Music for a residency. The ensemble will perform a concert on November 8 featuring the world premiere of Center artistic director David Felder’s new violin concerto “Jeu de Tarot,” where they will be joined by acclaimed violin soloist Irvine Arditti (of the Arditti Quartet). While in Buffalo, the ensemble will also hold a workshop of new works by Center PhD composers.


Founded in 1998 by pianist and conductor Jean-Philippe Wurtz, the Strasbourg-based ensemble has quickly risen to become one of the most highly regarded new music ensembles in the world. Many of the most prestigious new music festivals around the world have hosted performances by Linea: Musica (Strasbourg, France, from 2002 to 2017), ManiFeste (Paris, France, 2016), Darmstadt Ferienkursen (Germany, 2012), Archipel (Geneva, Switzerland, 2008 and 2015), ACMF (Seoul, South Korea, 2009), Budapest Autumn Festival (Hungary, 2009), Aspects des Musiques d’Aujourd’hui (Caen, France, 2009), Ars Musica (Brussels, Belgium, 2011), Ultraschall (Berlin, Germany, January 2013), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (United Kingdom, 2011 and 2013), Contempuls Festival (Prague, Czech Republic, 2013), reMusik Festival (Saint Petersburg, Russia, 2015), MATA Festival (New York, USA, 2016), and the Center’s own June In Buffalo (2011 and 2013). Similarly, the ensemble’s recordings have received awards such as the coveted Diapason d’Or (given out by the critics of Diapason magazine), the Orphée d’Or de la Création Lyrique (given out by the Lyric Recordings Academy), and the Fonogram prize for Best Contemporary Music album at the Hungarian Music Awards (the Hungarian equivalent of the Grammies), and their performances have been broadcast by the national radio stations across Europe, including Deutschland Kulturradio, France Musique, and BBC Radio 3—who aired a live concert by the ensemble. As a result of this recognition, leading composers of today have been inspired to write new works for the ensemble, including Klaus Huber, Ivo Malec, Younghi Pagh-Paan, Michael Jarrell, Péter Eötvös, and Philippe Manoury.


Also committed to education, outreach, and access, the ensemble has developed numerous projects to bring performances and instruction to range of settings worldwide. The ensemble regularly collaborates with student composers, in residencies at universities like UB, Harvard, and Northwestern, as well as at festival academies such as Voix Nouvelles (New Voices) at the Abbaye de Royaumont, Darmstädter Ferienkurse (Germany), the composition academy of Philippe Manoury at Festival Musica, as well as June in Buffalo. In 2014, the ensemble set up its own academy focused on the performance of contemporary music, for both instrumentalists and conductors. The annual academy has expanded each year, with increasingly international groups of students.


The ensemble’s educational activities also reach beyond student musicians, bringing contemporary chamber music to places where it is not readily accessible. The ensemble regularly presents free concerts, workshops, and public rehearsals in public libraries, music schools, municipalities, and cultural centers, often in collaboration with the cultural center of Vendenheim, the multimedia libraries of Strasbourg and Cernay, and the cultural department of the city of Saint-Louis. The ensemble often develops innovative programming for these occasions, such as “Stockhausen for Kids,” a staged multimedia event developed in collaboration with puppet theater company Flash Marionnettes, which has been presented across France, drawing a crowd of 4000 at the Musica Festival.



Concurrently, the ensemble aims to be a musical ambassador, an “active participant and facilitator in the geopolitical landscape” through worldwide touring. Towards this end, the ensemble has sought to tour in regions where institutional infrastructures for contemporary art music are less developed: the Middle East, Russia, and Korea. The ensemble has also toured the US three times prior to this year’s visit (2011, 2013 and 2016), sponsored by FACE (French American Fund for Contemporary Music) and anchored by visits to the Center for 21st Century Music. Linéa’s concerts in the US have attracted wide notice, including coverage in the New York Times. At June in Buffalo, their exciting yet polished performances of challenging pieces by faculty and student composers made strong impressions on audiences. We greatly look forward to their return!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Eric Moe: Expanded Virtuosity


On November 3rd, composer Eric Moe visits the Center for a masterclass with graduate students and a talk about his compositional work. Currently Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of Pittsburgh, Moe has been active as composer, pianist, arts administrator, and curator for decades. His work has been recognized by many of the most prestigious honors available to an American composer: a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Aaron Copland Award, and a Lakond Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and commissions from the Barlow Endowment, Fromm Foundation (twice), Koussevitzky Foundation (twice), Meet the Composer, New Music USA, and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. After graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley, he taught at the University of California Santa Cruz and San Francisco State University before joining the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 1989.

Moe’s compositional work explores a range of formats—acoustic and electroacoustic, instrumental and vocal, concert music and theater (often with video). Moe writes that “I am fascinated by virtuosity, and showcase different flavors of it in solo compositions, concerti, and in concert.” The composer’s 2007 clarinet-piano duo Grand Prismatic illustrates his project of a multifaceted virtuosity. While conventional notions of virtuosity often emphasize speed and volume above all else, Moe cultivates a much broader range of virtuosities in his duo. While parts of the piece invoke a conventionally extroverted, assertive virtuosity, other passages foster an introverted, delicate virtuosity, particularly in the rapid hushed passages at the work’s end. Moreover, the work’s approach to virtuosity extends beyond mere execution of passagework, to more holistic aspects of live ensemble performance. The piece also invites a virtuosity of interpretation from its performers, requiring unusually detailed attention to phrasing (for instance in near-repetitions of rapid melodic figures) and agility in navigating rapid-fire shifts in character. Moreover, the piece’s dovetailed rapid rhythmic figurations encourage heightened nimbleness in ensemble coordination. The work was commissioned by UB clarinet professor Jean Kopperud. Her recording of the piece with pianist Stephen Gosling, a frequent guest artist at the Center, is below.


Moe’s compositional interest in virtuosity is informed by his parallel activities as pianist. The composer has been active premiering, commissioning, and performing solo and chamber works with piano. A founding member of the San Francisco-based EARPLAY ensemble, he also keeps busy with solo projects, such as the CD The Waltz Project Revisited - New Waltzes for Piano featuring waltzes for piano by two generations of American composers. Gramophone magazine praised the solo CD, writing that “Moe’s command of the varied styles is nothing short of remarkable.” Other recordings featuring his playing are available on the Koch, CRI, Mode, Albany, New World Records and Innova labels. A video of the composer performing his own composition Grand Étude Brilliante is available online:



Also active behind the scenes as an administrator and curator, Moe is co-director of the University of Pittsburgh’s “Music on the Edge” concert series. The series has produced numerous ambitious, innovative concerts over the years, and often partners with the Center for 21st Century Music to bring highly regarded ensembles and soloists from Europe to the US. This year, the partner institutions will present concerts and workshops by the Parisian Ensemble Court-Circuit in April.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bernard Rands Honored with SUNY Honorary Doctorate


On October 24, the Center for 21st Century Music’s resident chamber ensemble, the Slee Sinfonietta, presents a portrait concert of Bernard Rands, as the composer receives an honorary doctorate from the State University of New York (ticket information is available here). The concert features two large-scale works by Rands, together with works by his former teacher, the late Luciano Berio, and by his former student, Center for 21st Century Music Artistic Director and SUNY Distinguished Professor David Felder.

Rands is among the most lauded living composers. He won the Pulitzer Prize (1984), a Grammy award (2000), the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award (1986), and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004. His work has consistently been featured by the most prestigious art music institutions globally. He was composer in residence with the Philadelphia Orchestra for seven years, and his works have been conducted by the likes of Barenboim, Boulez, Davis, Eschenbach, Maazel, Marriner, Mehta, Muti, Ozawa, Rilling, Salonen, Sawallisch, Schwarz, Slatkin, Spano, von Dohnanyi, and Zinman, among many others, and commissioned by Suntory Concert Hall in Tokyo, the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Internationale Bach Akademie, the Eastman Wind Ensemble, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra.


In 2014, Rands’s 80th birthday was marked by the premiere of a piano concerto by Jonathan Biss, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Spano, followed by repeat performances by Biss with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, and with the BBC Scottish Orchestra conducted by Markus Stenz at the BBC Proms. That year, the BBC also devoted its three-day FOCUS festival entirely to Rands’s music, the Tanglewood Festival presented the premiere of Folk Songs (also featured on the Slee Sinfonietta’s upcoming concert), and Bridge Records released a CD "Bernard Rands – Piano Music 1960 – 2010" featuring the playing of Ursula Oppens and Robert Levin.
In 2014, Rands also appeared as faculty composer at June in Buffalo, where numerous large-scale works were presented: his complete piano preludes, two ensemble works, and his orchestral piece …where the murmurs die…. Rands has a decades long history appearing as faculty composer at June in Buffalo, where he has appeared particularly frequently (2006, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015) since the formation of the Center for 21st Century Music.

The Slee Sinfonietta portrait concert will feature two Rands works, “now again” – fragments from Sappho and Folk Songs, both for voices and chamber orchestra. “now again” (2006) sets poetic fragments of ancient Greek poet Sappho for three voices and chamber orchestra. Fanfare magazine writes that the piece presents “a montage of fragments [that] somehow coalesces to create a portrait of Sappho and her ancient world…it's a puzzle that comes together to form more puzzles.” The work has been widely praised in high-profile newspaper reviews, with the Philadelphia Inquirer writing that “as with all great pieces, so much was implied by so little,” while the Chicago Sun Times praising its “welcome marriage of precise technique and sensuous lyricism and scoring.” Also on the program is Rands’s recent Folk Songs (2014), nine re-imaginings of folk songs in their original languages; the composer calls the work “semi-autobiographical” because each song originates in a region where he has spent significant time: Bavaria, England, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, USA, and Wales.


The program also features works by Rands’s former teacher Luciano Berio and former student David Felder, connecting Rands’s lauded works in a broader historical context and connecting them to the Center for 21st Century Music. Berio’s Linea (1973) is a virtuoso work for two pianos and percussion emphasizing constant and often drastic variation of a simple melody. David Felder’s Coleccion Nocturna (1983) for clarinet (doubling on bass clarinet), piano, and tape also takes processes of variation as its point of departure, presenting five variations on what the composer describes as "a wholly self-contained musical object" from his piano solo Rocket Summer. Significantly, the piece was the final piece written during Felder’s doctoral studies with Rands at UCSD.

The concert also commemorates Rands’s role in the revival of June in Buffalo in the late 1980s. Started in 1975 by then Edgard Varèse Distinguished Professor Morton Feldman, the festival had since lapsed into inactivity in the years before the festival’s current director David Felder arrived at UB. Felder restarted June in Buffalo in 1986, expanding it with opportunities for student composers to have works performed at a professional level (a model that his since been adopted by new music festivals worldwide). This format was based on an earlier festival Felder had spearheaded while Visiting Professor at California State University—Long Beach in the early 1980s, a festival which had featured Rands and Felder’s earlier teacher Donald Erb as faculty composers. Rands played an integral role in the transplantation of this model to UB, lending energy, time, and expertise by setting up contacts with funding agencies, sending students to the festival, and talking up the festival throughout the new music world.



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Eric Huebner and Steven Beck perform Karlheinz Stockhausen’s “Mantra”


On Saturday, October 14, the Center for 21st Century Music presents a performance of Karlheinz’s Stockhausen’s acclaimed concert-length work Mantra, featuring UB piano professor Eric Huebner and guest pianist Steven Beck. Performed only rarely due to its length and logistical complexities (see below), Mantra is a historically significant piece, particularly notable for augmenting the piano with percussion and live electronics and for pioneering a new musical style that is both melodic and modernist.

The 65 minute work for two pianists (each also with woodblocks and crotales) and live electronics (primarily ring modulators) was completed in 1970. Mantra marks a striking shift in Stockhausen’s style, and more broadly, as Robin Maconie writes, it “defines Stockhausen’s aims for the 1970s” and beyond, presaging the melodic structures that form the bedrock of LICHT, the cycle of seven operas that preoccupied the composer from 1977 to 2003. While many of Stockhausen’s works from the 1960s feature extended playing techniques (Mikrophonie I) and unusual sound sources like radios (Kurzwellen), Mantra features equal-tempered pitches on pianos. Likewise, while many of his 1960s works explored notational indeterminacy via open form (Momente), open-ended symbolic notations (Plus-Minus), and verbal prompts for “intuitive music” (Aus den Sieben Tagen), Mantra is a through-composed score in staff notation.



The work’s title refers to a 13 note melodic cell (heard near the work’s outset) that forms the piece’s foundation: the entirety of the piece can be related to it through audibly traceable processes of repetition and variation. The pitch, rhythmic, and textural attributes of this cell function as “kernel” for piece as a whole, in a synthesis between the serial procedures of Stockhausen’s 1950s music and 18th-19th century practices of organic thematic transformation. See below for a video of the composer explaining the work’s construction in detail.


Both pianists bring to the performance extensive backgrounds in new music and classical music. Eric Huebner is currently Associate Professor at the University at Buffalo, pianist of the New York Philharmonic, and adjunct faculty at the Juilliard School. After making his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 17, he has appeared at prestigious venues such as the Ojai Festival, Monday Evening Concerts, Carnegie’s Zankel and Weill Recital Halls, Miller Theatre, Merkin Hall, (le) Poisson Rouge, and Roulette. From 2011-12 he was a member of the award-winning chamber ensemble Antares, and he has also appeared with numerous NYC-based contemporary music ensembles, including the International Contemporary Ensemble, Talea, New York New Music Ensemble, American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Manhattan Sinfonietta, So Percussion and the American Modern Ensemble. His performances have been broadcast on PBS, NPR, WNYC (New York), Radio Bremen (Germany), ORF (Austria) and the BBC, and recorded on Col Legno, Centaur, Bridge, Albany, Tzadik, Innova, New Focus Recordings and Mode Records.

Huebner will be joined by Steven Beck, a frequent guest performer at June in Buffalo. As soloist, Beck has appeared with the National Symphony Orchestra, the New Juillliard Ensemble (under David Robertson), and the Virginia Symphony. He has performed at prestigious venues such as the Kennedy Center, Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Merkin Hall, Miller Theater, and Tonic, Aspen Music Festival, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, and Bargemusic, and with respected ensembles such as Talea Ensemble, Speculum Musicae, the Da Capo Chamber Players, the Manhattan String Quartet, the Pacifica String Quartet, The Metropolis Ensemble, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, and the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.

The performance has been in the works for a long time. Huebner writes that “it's been my dream to play Mantra since I first learned of the piece in high school.” Inspired by a recording featuring former UB professor Yvar Mikhashoff, Huebner came close to mounting a performance while a student at Juilliard but did not have access to the requisite resources. As Huebner explains, the piece is very much a team effort, requiring a range of highly specialized tasks in performance as well as behind the scenes. UB music department music technology director Christopher Jacobs will run  sound, while the department’s piano technician Devin Zimmer built custom crotale mounts to fit inside the pianos. Percussionists Tom Kolor (UB Associate Professor of Music), Daniel Druckman (New York Philharmonic), and Greg Zuber (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Principal Percussionist) assisted in procuring the necessary crotales and wood blocks needed for the piece, some of which are not commonly used. Additionally, Huebner and Beck will use an electronics interface designed by pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough, integrating the original analog electronics into iPads connected to laptops, controlled directly by both performers. Huebner writes that, “I'm extremely grateful for the support of the Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music and its director, David Felder for making this performance possible…[Steven Beck and I] are hoping our performance at UB will be the first of many.”



Monday, October 9, 2017

Concert Celebrates Innovative Past and Present Works by UB Composers


From Jonathan Golove, UB Associate Professor of Cello and Composition:

I'm writing to let you know about a concert that I've been working toward for over a year. This Friday night at 7:30, a group of UB performers and professionals from the region will play a program of music by composers associated, both currently and formerly, with UB Music. We're thrilled to have Moshe Shulman and Robert Phillips represented on the program, both of whom received doctoral degrees in composition at UB. Moshe is well known to many in the area for his tango exploits, and he'll be conducting his wonderful Seven Prophetesses for soprano, harp, and string quartet. Moshe was commissioned by the Fromm Foundation for this work, and you'll hear that he really delivered! Outstanding soprano Tiffany DuMouchelle, newly appointed at UB, will sing.

Robert Phillips
Robert Phillips recently returned to Buffalo to manage the Center for 21st Century Music, following several years in Berlin, and we're delighted to welcome him back by performing his Larghetto Rubato for guitar, cello, and bassoon. It's a really intriguing and beautiful work composed for an all-star trio of European musicians (Magnus Andersson, Rohan de Saram, and Pascal Gallois) who were at UB for a visiting residency back when Rob was earning his degree. Sungmin Shin, UB guitar faculty, leads our performance of the trio.

Belgian composer Henri Pousseur was in Buffalo from 1966 to 1968, serving as Slee Professor of Composition, giving a series of "lecture recitals," and living in the Delaware building now known as "The Mansion." During that time, he was working to finish his magnum opus, an opera in collaboration with French novelist Michel Butor, who had also been on the UB faculty several years before. They referred to their work, Votre Faust (Your Faust) as a "variable opera," and it was a compendium of music that could be shaped by its performers in many ways, but was also open to the intervention of the audience, who would determine, among other things, the way the story ended! Votre Faust was premiered in a concert version in March 1968 at the Second Buffalo Festival of the Arts Today (at the Albright Knox), and this is the (near) 50th anniversary we are celebrating. Pousseur adapted his music for the opera into a series of works he called "satellites," and we will be playing some of these Friday night. The performers are Tiffany DuMouchelle, pianist Eric Huebner, flutist Emlyn Johnson, and myself. This music is unrecorded, and the chances to hear it are quite few.

In addition to the concert, which begins at 7:30pm in Lippes Concert Hall (Slee Hall), we will have two related events. The first is a lecture on Thursday at 5 given by visiting composer and Pousseur scholar Andre Brégégérè (NYC). The second is a panel discussion including Brégégérè, UB Music's own Jamie Currie, and Romance Languages and Literatures Professor Fernanda Negrete. Thursday's lecture will be be held in Baird 327, and the panel, which will include live music, will be at 4 on Friday in the Music Library. While you're there, be sure to spend some time looking at the tremendous exhibit curated by the Music Library's John Bewley on Pousseur in Buffalo! The concert and panel discussion are funded by the University Library's Wolf-Steger Fund and by the Center for 21st Century Music. The Wolf-Steger Fund supports the presentation of the work of Buffalo composers through an endowment from the late UB music faculty member Muriel Wolf and her husband, bassist Albert Steger, a longtime member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

For more information:

Henri Pousseur

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Awards, Grants, Commissions: Student Activities 2017


During 2017, PhD students at the Center for 21st Century Music have received national and international recognition through festival appearances, grants, awards, commissions, performances, and curatorial activities.

Music by Center PhD students appeared at festivals around the US, Canada, and Europe this year. Weijun Chen was selected for two prestigious national residencies—the Atlantic Center for the Arts (with faculty composer Derek Bermel) and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Matt Sargent’s music was featured on Columbia University’s “Re-embodied Sound” Symposium, the first event of its kind examining possibilities with transducers in music and sound art. Jessie Downs appeared as both composer and vocalist at Longy School of Music's Divergent Studio and Loadbang's Contemporary Chamber Connection; the former presented a performance of her composition Shadow a Thing. Downs was also a featured composer at Vocalypse's Opera from Scratch Workshop in Halifax, Canada, and was selected to attend the upcoming Royaumont Contemporary Voice workshop with Juliet Fraser. Matthew Chamberlain recently returned home from the Royaumont Voix Nouvelles (New Voices) Composition Workshop in France, where a new piece was performed by Quatuor Tana and Ensemble Multilatérale, leading to a commission for a new work for pianist Claudia Chan in 2018. Matthew’s appearance at Royaumont was part of the inaugural year of an exchange program between Voix Nouvelles and the Center’s June in Buffalo Festival.


Matthew Chamberlain’s commission from Royaumont was one of a number of prestigious commissions, grants, and awards received by Center PhD students during 2017. Matt Sargent was awarded a commissions from the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra and the Switch~ Ensemble. The latter project was awarded a New Music USA Project Grant, to support the ensemble touring the piece across upstate NY in Winter 2018, including a local stop at Buffalo State College. Recognition of Center PhD students' work has been not only national but also international: Igor Coelho Arantes Santana Marques’s Escenas, arranged for string orchestra and piano, was a finalist in the 4th Música Hoje National Composition Competition in Curitiba, Brazil.

In 2017, Center PhD students received performances across the US, Canada, Europe, and South America. Two PhD students are beginning to develop a long-term collaborative relationship with the rising Ensemble Mise-En: Meredith Gilna’s Gravity Shuffle will be performed by the ensemble October 5, and a new work of hers, written especially for the ensemble, will be premiered by the group on October 16; Matt Sargent’s piano solo Going, gone was also written for the ensemble, who have programmed it multiple times, most recently in April. Sargent’s works were also programmed at EMS Stockholm (Sweden), Reykjavik Art Museum (Iceland), on the cutting-edge music series Indexical (at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History), and on UC San Diego’s new SlowSD Festival of Slow Music. Other notable performances of works by Center PhD composers include the Spektral Quartet’s performance of Weijun Chen’s Canoe at Western Michigan University and Michael Matsuno’s premiere of a new work for flute and electronics at Harvard University.


Numerous Center composition students are also active as curators, performers, and conductors, seeking to be directly involved in the performance and presentation of their own works and those of fellow living composers. Matthew Chamberlain has been active as a conductor, premiering Center PhD alumnus Nathan Heidelberger’s Faust Projecta theatrical adaption of Faust with live music for an ensemble (supported by UB’s Creative Arts Initiative), and conducting premieres of student pieces at June in Buffalo. In October, Matthew will conduct the Slee Sinfonietta in two pieces by Bernard Rands on a concert to celebrate his receiving an honorary doctorate from SUNY (stay tuned for a future post about this concert). Next spring, Oberlin Conservatory has invited Matthew to be artist in residence, where he will conduct Du Yun's Pulitzer Prize winning opera Angel's Bone as well as work with the Conservatory's contemporary music ensemble and Sinfonietta on a new piece commissioned by them.


Null Point, an initiative for new music and sound art led by PhD candidate Colin Tucker, gave the world premiere of PLACE, a previously unrealized extended outdoor piece written in 1975 (!) by David Dunn, who is now a highly recognized figure in American experimental music. Supported by New York State Council on the Arts and UB Department of Music, the project was co-curated by Tucker and Center PhD alumnus Ethan Hayden, both of whom also performed in the piece alongside current Center PhD students Jessie Downs, PhD alumnus Zane Merritt, and former June in Buffalo guest artist (and UB music student) Jonathan Hepfer. The project received press attention internationally in the The Wire as well as locally, and will be the subject of a special issue of the journal Sound American in Winter 2018.


Tucker was also part of a team who curated an exchange project with Norwegian musicians which culminated in 2017’s June in Buffalo Festival. As this publication described in a previous post, Tucker, together with Center Director David Felder and Norwegian Academy of Music Professors Henrik Hellstenius and Kjell Tore Innervik, Norwegian ensembles Cikada Trio and Bifrost Ensemble and Norwegian composers Henrik Hellstenius and Eivind Buene appeared at this year's June in Buffalo. The Bifrost Ensemble—a group of graduate performance students at the Norwegian Academy led by Innervik—presented a concert of world premieres of works by Center PhD students Roberto Azaretto, Derick Evans, and Colin Tucker and Norwegian Academy graduate students. The new pieces were also performed at NYC's Norwegian Seamen's Church and will be performed in the near future in Oslo. The exchange between the Center, the Norwegian Academy, and Cikada, will occur again in 2019, when it will be expanded to include more student composers from both UB and the Academy.


Sotto Voce Vocal Collective, led by PhD student Jessie Downs, celebrated its first full year as an ensemble, with five self-produced concerts and notable guest appearances. Sotto Voce performed on the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s retrospective of the music of former UB graduate composer and Creative Associate Julius Eastman (previewed in a widely read New York Times article), and joined Null Point as featured artists in the inaugural event of a new performance series at Buffalo’s newest arts space, the Cass ProjectAmong its members are Center PhD student Brien Henderson and PhD alumnus Ethan Hayden. 





Sunday, September 24, 2017

Robert Carl: Crystallizing Time


The Center for 21st Century Music welcomes Robert Carl on September 29 for an artist talk and masterclass with graduate students. Currently chair of the composition department at the Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford (CT), Carl’s distinguished career began with an especially varied and extensive education, followed by performances at venues like Carnegie Hall, IRCAM, and New Music America, and awards, fellowships, and residencies from a surprisingly exhaustive list of major institutions.

Carl’s degree studies took place at Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Chicago. He also received a Lurcy Fellow for study at France’s highly regarded Conservatoire Nationale Supérieure and Université Paris-Sorbonne in 1980-81. His principal teachers included Iannis Xenakis, Betsy Jolas, Ralph Shapey, George Rochberg, Jonathan Kramer, George Crumb, Richard Wernick, and Robert Morris—an unusually diverse group of composers, both aesthetically and geographically. He has received awards and fellowships from most major national American granting institutions (American Academy of Arts and Letters, National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, and Tanglewood, and residencies from many of the most prestigious national and international residency sites (Copland House, Camargo Foundation, Bogliasco Foundation, Rockefeller International Study Center (Bellagio, IT), Youkobo ArtSpace, Tokyo Wonder, Site Yaddo, Djerassi Foundation, Ragdale Foundation, Ucross Foundation, and the MacDowell and Millay Colonies).


Carl’s early compositions cultivated dialogue between contrasting historical styles, perhaps most strikingly in the 1992 saxophone quartet Duke Meets Mort. This work takes harmonic commonalities between the musics of Duke Ellington and (former UB professor) Morton Feldman as a point of departure, imagining Ellington’s Mood Indigo in the musical voice of Feldman. In the video below, Carl speaks about this work.


In Carl’s recent work, reference to historical styles is less explicit and less specific. The 2008 Fourth Symphony constructs wave-like accumulations and dispersals of kinetic energy. The music emphasizes shifts in kinetic energy through interaction between textures distinct in rhythmic and melodic momentum; by approaching these two parameters, as well as harmonic rhythm, in counterpoint against each other, the piece achieves a multidimensionality of directional energies that is rare in post-tonal music. In the symphony, historical referentiality is hardly absent but is more diffuse than in the composer’s earlier work: Fourth Symphony converses with generalized symphonic conventions like four-movement form, figural/orchestrational topoi, and sweeping gestural rhetoric.

A common thread throughout Carl’s oeuvre is a focus on temporal experience. While the symphony emphasizes momentary shifts in density and momentum, the earlier saxophone quartet explores the implications of slowing down a historical musical material, subjecting it to (creatively imprecise) temporal magnification. In his artist statement, Carl writes that:
My work has always been concerned with time. At first this meant inventing musical techniques and forms that allowed for a peculiar flow of musical events, dynamic yet not always straightforward. Later, my "pre-musical" background as a historian reasserted itself, bringing more and more artifacts of my earlier life, earlier music, and other eras into my music, in a play of memory and shadow.
The composer thinks about time and temporal experience through concrete, even tactile metaphors:
For me, time is a substance both malleable and “crystallizable”. By shaping form in a manner similar to making a sculpture, I have found that I am able to create an ever-broader sense of space in my pieces, even when they are information-rich. As a result I hope that by creating a sense of amplitude into which the listener can enter, and trying to synthesize diverse historical elements, I can create something of a model for how s/he can cope with our increasingly fragmented, intense, and vertiginous experience of life today, and find a sense of energizing peace.
That “spatialization” of time is now allied in Carl’s practice to his exploration of harmony over the past 15 years (of which the Fourth Symphony is a prime example). He writes:

Tied into this sense of space, of rendering even complex events clear, is the way I’ve come to conceive of harmony in the last decade or so. I’ve been using “screens” of overtones from which to derive new harmonic combinations, and whose common partials create links for modulation. So far--it my ear at least--the result is a sound that’s fresh and satisfying. It also sounds “natural”, whatever that means. I do feel, however, that the flow and shape of my pieces is closer to natural phenomena than ever before, and the music is more “itself” than ever, with less need to symbolize something.


And having begun this practice with harmonic structures that follow overtone relations but remain in equal temperament, the composer as also begun a series of recent works to “unmask” the true relations with works that follow the same strategies but use just intonation.

Also active as a writer on new music, Carl has completed two books: an in-depth study of (former UB Creative Associate) Terry Riley’s minimalist masterwork In C, and a collection of essays on composition and new music entitled Survivable Music: The Emerging Common Practice. He also regularly contributes to Fanfare magazine and New Music Box. As editor, he completed his former teacher Jonathan Kramer’s Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening, left unfinished by the late composer, and edited an issue of Contemporary Music Review on historicism in late 20th century American music. Carl’s writing spans a range of approaches, from academic musicology to more open-ended speculation on the realities of being a working composer: 
One world I live in is more scholarly, so it demands research, references, footnotes. Another is critical, intuitive and usually focused on a particular piece, artist, or some mix thereof. [Survivable Music] is something in between. …I’d like to think this is criticism in an elevated sense of the word, an examination of current musical practice, aesthetics, and possibilities, attempting to draw conclusions, and maybe shed some new insights…The form is the essay, the tone is that of a lecture, often very much off-the-cuff. Or perhaps it’s more precise to say these are journalistic dispatches from the aesthetic front.

To learn more about Robert Carl’s work, check out his interview with New Music Box below, or  visit his extensive website.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians: Difference in Focus


The Center for 21st Century Music welcomes Ensemble Signal on September 19 for a performance of Steve Reich’s concert-length Music for 18 Musicians. Please note that the concert begins at the later-than-usual time of 9pm; it will be preceded by a talk by Signal’s co-artistic directors Brad Lubman and Lauren Radnofsky at 8:15pm. Previously, this blog examined long-standing collaborative relationships that led to the concert: between Signal and Steve Reich, and between UB’s music department and the composer. In this post, I introduce the piece itself and contextualize it within a broader history of minimalist music.


Completed in 1976, Music for 18 Musicians is often understood as a turning point within Reich’s compositional development, as a pivot from his strictly-composed, experimental early works to his more conventionally “musical” later works. It also functioned as a pivot in Reich's reputation, catapulting him to widespread renown within both art music and pop music worlds—orchestral commissions followed it, while the ECM recording of the piece sold over 10,000 copies and a live performance of the piece sold out the New York nightclub The Bottom Line. 

To understand where the piece came from, it is productive to consider the intensive earlier musical investigations of Reich and fellow minimalists. Historically, minimalism could be understood as an attempt to negate tonal modes of listening through the use of a limited palette of musical material. While numerous composers of the 1950s (John Cage, Milton Babbitt, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis) tried to challenge tonal listening habits by expanding and exhausting bandwidths of material, the younger minimalists attempted to achieve a similar end result through opposite means. If the former composers used discontinuity to overwhelm listeners’ capacities for syntactic listening, the latter use repetition and prolongation to underwhelm this mode of listening, instead encouraging a listening focused on the here and now of live performance.

The degree zero of early minimalism might be LaMonte Young’s X for Henry Flynt (1960), in which a heavy sound or cluster is repeated uniformly, regularly, and for a long period. This is music in extreme close up; there is no possibility of zooming out to orient oneself through anything resembling musical syntax. The piece’s restricted space simultaneously closes and opens: it impedes the possibility of tonal listening, but activates intensified focus on the particulars of the repeated sound’s envelope and spectrum, its interaction with acoustic space, and its status in listeners’ perception and memory. Two successive repetitions of the sound are never identical; the piece frames repetition as a guise for focused perception of subtle differences. Was the most recent repetition of the sound different from the last? If so, did I merely perceive it as being different? In this case, did my ever-changing memory bank of sounds play a role in reframing my perception? In encountering this piece, listeners listen to their own listening. The music does not have “objective” content that exists independently of the act of listening, as in tonal music; its content is the act of listening. Thus while listening in tonal music requires decoding "objective" content; listening in X for Henry Flynt invites open-ended exploration of ambiguous boundary spaces—between same and different, between sound object and perception, and between perception and memory. These broad parameters of listening pertain to much later minimalist music.


For early minimalist composers Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Tony Conrad, and Young, a key challenge was that of orchestrating duration. How can the composer “keep the ball in the air” without resorting to tonal approaches to time? How long must repetition and/or prolongation proceed to disorient tonal listening expectations; at what point does an aesthetically unproductive boredom set in? How can the composer create decisive shifts of perspective even while maintaining the continuity necessary to keep listening in the here and now?

Terry Riley (a former UB Creative Associate) answered these questions with bottom-up variation processes applied to looped melodic cells, while Young and Tony Conrad (a former UB professor) answered these questions through harmony based on resonance. For the younger minimalists Reich and Glass, these procedures perhaps too closely resembled traditional “composerly” decision making, and yet at the same time may have seemed quite arbitrary. In the mid to late 1960s, both Reich and Glass both sought out deterministic algorithmic processes that could determine the unfolding of melodic/rhythmic cells.


While Glass worked with processes of melodic growth and decay, Reich worked with a stricter, deterministic method, focusing on “phasing”—of gradually moving two identical sonic loops out of phase, incrementally changing the phase difference until the material comes back into phase with itself. This provided a strikingly economical way of encouraging listeners to listen to a simple, short sonic object with perpetually changing focus. As Reich explained in his essay “Music as a Gradual Process,” the anonymous, controlling nature of these processes appealed to him; their transparent nature allowed them to shift attention away from syntax and related tonal categories, towards the “impersonal, unintended, psycho-acoustic by-products of the intended process.”

Reich's phasing pieces first employed recorded samples of voices--It’s Gonna Rain (1965) and Come Out (1966)--and then later used live instrumentalists. After working exclusively with phasing for five years, he developed additional ways to vary fixed cells of material: “gradually substituting beats for rests (or rests for beats) within a constantly repeating rhythmic cycle,” “the gradual changing of timbre while rhythm and pitch remain constant.” These techniques feature prominently in Drumming, where they allow the composer to explore a concert-length duration.


In Music for 18 Musicians, Reich further expands his collection of variation processes, allowing for greater scope and flexibility in varying fixed rhythmic and melodic cells. Notably, certain more "conventional" musical possibilities excluded from his previous music take on a prominent role in this piece: harmony, dynamics, and core orchestral instruments (violin, cello, clarinet, bass clarinet). The piece employs the largest ensemble Reich had used to date—his trademark keyboard instruments constitute the core of the ensemble (6 percussionists on marimba, xylophone, and vibraphone without motor and 4 pianists), augmented by melodic instruments (violin, cello, 2 clarinets/bass clarinets) and voices (4 female voices).

Like Reich’s earlier work, Music for 18 is built around a central melodic/rhythmic cell, introduced after the piece's introductory section. (This cell is rhythmically identical to that used in Reich’s earlier piece Clapping Music.) This cell, like a similar one used in Drumming, is 12 pulses long; beneath its surface syncopations, it poses a deeper ambiguity to listeners: is the cell as a whole divided in 3 (3 groups of 4 pulses) or 4 (4 groups of 3 pulses)? While in earlier works, Reich presents traces of two incompatible ways of metrically interpreting a rhythmic cell, in Music for 18, the cell is accompanied by sustaining instruments alternating between two harmonies; the timing of harmonic changes momentarily tips the scales towards a single metric interpretation of the figure.


Indeed, harmony is more to the fore in Music for 18 than in any prior Reich piece. Broadly, the work uses sonorities reminiscent of tonal harmony but decontextualizes them from directional syntactic implications through frozen non-chord tones, unusual registral orderings, lengthy prolongation, and by oscillating between pairs of non-functionally-related chords. While in the domain of rhythm, the work explores contrasting metric interpretations of a 12-pulse rhythmic cell, in the domain of harmony, the work explores contrasting harmonic interpretations of a melody built from the tones of the A major scale. Each of the work’s 11 sections is based on a limited chord or harmonic field, each proposing a unique pitch center orienting the tones of the A major scale: section 1 implies D Lydian, section 2 B Dorian, section 3 F# Aeolian, and so on. (The sequence of 11 chords is also played at the work’s beginning and end, animated with regular pulses.)


Significantly, where Reich's earlier pieces approached form as the gradual unfolding of a linear process (i.e. phasing), form in Music for 18 is more exploratory and flexible, presenting a non-teleological sequence of perspectives on a common rhythmic/melodic object. Music for 18 thus evinces a broader aesthetic shift in Reich's work: while the early phasing pieces use deterministic processes to uncover possibilities that might elude a more conventional composerly intuition, Music reintroduces some of these considerations into the new approaches to structure and listening developed in the earlier works.