In our final profile of June in Buffalo faculty composers, we sit down with David Felder, JiB's Artistic Director and Birge-Cary Chair in Music Composition at UB. Felder has been directing the festival since 1985, when he restarted it with a new vision aimed toward providing young composers with a chance to hear their works realized by professional ensembles. During this year's festival, three of Felder's works will be performed: Dal Niente will present Rare Air (2008), a collection of short movements for clarinet, piano, and electronics, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Linebacker Music (1994). The festival will also feature the premiere of Felder's newest work, Netivot, a virtuosic three-movement composition for string quartet and electronics, which was composed for the Arditti Quartet. Netivot marks the third work Felder has composed for the Ardittis, a collaboration which began in 1986 with Third Face, and continued through 2007's Stuck-stücke (a selection from the latter, performed by the Ardittis, can be heard below).
Edge of the Center sat down with Felder to discuss Netivot, as well as the other pieces and the festival itself:
What were your main goals when you began composing Netivot?
Netivot is my third quartet for the Ardittis. I have had a longer relationship personally and professionally with Irvine and that extraordinary group than with any other performers. I think of the quartets I've written as a body, an entity with a variety of parts, and it is my hope to compose more quartets. This one is markedly different that the first two—in working with the group over this long period of time one is not only permitted but encouraged to innovate. I explored an inner world in this work, with only a few regions of the more typically extroverted and kinetic music that I'd previously composed for the quartet.
The piece draws a lot from vowel formants, is there an underlying text from which these sounds are drawn? What role do the electronics play in the piece?
The work revolves around sources that will have to remain largely offstage. Let me just say that there is source material but it is not text per se—the musical material is abstracted from an array of some biblical text. The relationship between the electronics and the onstage materials of the quartet is entirely consistent with what I've always done. They are fully integrated into a whole musical object at each moment and are designed to create a multi-dimensional representation of that moment.
What do the Hebrew movement headings refer to ("Devekut," "Hitbodedut," "àmud ànan/àmud èsh"), and how significant are these extra-musical references to the work?
The overall title refers to spiritual pathways, connections among many identifiable nodal points, or regions, each one a continuity of experiencing, not an aim in itself. The first movement works with powers of concentration and fine attention; the second movement responds to an unfolding metaphoric, imagistic landscape as a consequent of the first movement and begins to develop rudimentary song from an intonation of specific scale points and formants—musical objects as things arise and disappear; and in the last movement, the linear becomes vertical in two chorales; The third movement's title refers to pillars of cloud and of fire. Each region has its own feel, but all of the individual phrases and materials are made of the same basic stuff.
Many of your recent pieces make reference (implicitly or explicitly) to spiritual concepts and/or practices. Typically, one associates the idea of "spiritual music" with more muted and reflective characteristics, but your works are often, as you say, "extroverted and kinetic." Where is the connection for you between spirituality and such powerful physical gestures?
Alchemically speaking, transformation from one thing to another requires heat.
The piece is very difficult and demanding, even in places where the sounding result is more subdued. Is the drama of performative virtuosity something you specifically sought out in this piece, or is it simply a result of the harmonic and textural ideas you were working with? Since you worked closely with the Ardittis during the process of composition, what would you say their contribution was to the realization of the work?
Just a few points here—the formation itself is a kind of Ferrari, and in my first two quartets I intended to exploit the more overt aspects of performative virtuosity. But the Ardittis can do just about anything, and so looking at other aspects of virtuoso performance was a great opportunity for me—I intended to explore a finer inner micro-world and to ask the quartet to merge the live performance with the multi-layered of electronics. Next March, we will present the work in what we hope will be its final shape—my great friend Elliot Caplan is collaborating with us on a video portion, and the work will be presented here in that way. In working with the quartet, they graciously provided recorded feedback on several occasions during the process. I absolutely need real acoustic feedback when I write, especially in a work which is 'new' for me, and I am deeply grateful to the quartet for their immense help throughout the process. Working with them has been one of my great joys in my creative career.
With regard to the other works on the festival, Rare Air, as a series of miniatures, seems to be unique among your works. What attracted you to smaller forms in this piece, and how do you think it differs from your other works?
Since our culture seems to place incredible value on ad campaigns and commercials, with thematically linked and developing characters who we can identify and presumably identify with (the GEICO Neanderthal, Flo the Progressive saleswoman, etc.), I decided to make a set of commercials with linked thematic materials that would interrupt the regular flow of a concert. Clarinetist Jean Kopperud encouraged me to do something I had always wanted to do, but hadn't, and so…
I am guessing by Rare Air's movement titles "Boxmundsson" and "Boxmunsdottir", that the piece has some relation to BoxMan, your earlier work for trombone and electronics? Is that correct?
I love the Nordic tradition in family naming, so we have dottirs and ssuns, with cartoon versions of cantus firmi expropriated from my earlier piece BoxMan and realized anew for bass clarinet and piano.
You say in Linebacker Music's program note that the piece is based around a series of 'macro-crescendos', can you elaborate on this idea?
Linebacker is a kind of concert overture that offers a tribute to the physical. It was composed during my time as composer-in-residence with the BPO in the early-mid 90's, and was designed to speak to our local community as a part of its charge. It turns the Buffalo Bills 'shout' theme on its head, and attempts to replicate imagining the experience of being in a lot of traffic, in the way that a linebacker in football has to sort through the tremendous wash all around in order to deliver impact. There are a set of hits at the end of the piece followed by a sad little moan intended to remind the locals that yes, indeed, we went to four Superbowls in a row and lost them all.
Finally, June in Buffalo celebrated a big anniversary last year, with it being the 40th anniversary of the festival and your 30th anniversary as Artistic Director. With this being the first year after such a milestone, where do you see the festival moving forward, beginning with this year and in years to come?
The festival is always a function of the individuals who are brought together for the week, all of the composers and performers. Nothing changes about that; but we’ll have new groups and new composers coming more regularly in each of the next years and for the foreseeable future. It is exciting each year to be a part of those dynamics. There could be some occasional thematically based years sprinkled in as well…
We'll look forward to hearing Netivot's first performance, as well as Rare Air and Linebacker Music. We're also excited to see where the festival takes audiences and participants this year, and how it will continue to grow and transform in years to come.