Wednesday, July 1, 2015

2014-15 Season Recap


The Slee Sinfonietta plays Ives's Three Places in New England
The Center's 2014-15 season has been an incredibly exciting one with lots of exciting concerts, including numerous premieres of new works by intrepid composers.  We saw several Slee Sinfonietta programs, including memorable performances of Elliott Carter's Triple Duo (with Ensemble SIGNAL), Charles Ives's Three Places in New England, and the production of Doug Fitch's magnificent "How Did We…?".  We had two fruitful residencies with the Mivos String Quartet and the Deviant Septet, and several visiting composers, including Larry Groupé, Rand Steiger, and Daniel Asia.

Last month, we capped off the season with the 40/30 anniversary of the June in Buffalo Festival, a vibrant week of new music that featured 16 concerts with nearly 80 adventurous new works performed—half of those by the 30 emerging composers in attendance.  The festival was a great success, a celebration of many years of great performances.  In a recent Wall Street Journal Article, author Allan Kozinn points out that, "It would be hard to name more than a handful of major composers of the past 30 years who have not appeared on its faculty roster."  Kozinn, impressed with the work of the festival's participant composers, elaborates:
[A] highlight of a Saturday afternoon program devoted to new student works was Mr. [Eric] Huebner's assured account of Music for a Mad Scientist—300+ Microvariations on a Bach Theme, an explosively virtuosic solo piano work by Texu Kim.  Mr. Kim […] hid his Bach theme amid intensely chromatic Lisztian thunder, at first.  But when the invigorating clatter briefly subsided, the score's internal joke became clear:  The work's theme is the gently arpeggiated C major Prelude that opens The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I.  […]  Ying-Ting Lin's The Journey began murkily, with repeated bass tones in the piano punctuated by chordal bursts for bass clarinet and violin, but quickly grew into an engagingly varied, lively piece.  Liliya Ugay played the assertive, steely piano line in her own Third World Fable, but regularly ceded the spotlight, and some lovely, supple writing, to the violin and cello.  The student program's most satisfying work was its opener, Ryan Jesperson's Souvenirs/Miniatures, a tightly focused piano trio that—like Ms. Ugay's work, but with a different accent—juxtaposed tense, sharp-edge keyboard angularity with luminous string writing rooted in 19th-century shapeliness.
SIGNAL and the Slee Sinfonietta perform
David Felder's Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux
Kozinn also took note of Saturday night's stunning performance of David Felder's Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux by SIGNAL and the Slee Sinfonietta, under Brad Lubman's direction.  The chamber orchestra piece set poems by René Daumal, Pablo Neruda, Robert Creeley and Dana Gioia (read more about the work here), and featured vocal soloists Heather Buck and Ethan Herschenfeld, as well as video projections by Olivier Pasquet and 12 channels of electroacoustic sound:
The poems are heard not only in the spiky, emotionally intense vocal writing, but spoken on the recorded tracks, which also include percussion sounds and the sparkle, buzz and variegated growl of purely electronic timbres, all moving around a dozen speakers placed throughout the hall.  Abstract video by Olivier Pasquet added atmosphere rather than commentary.  All this could easily have become an exhibition of gimmickry, but Mr. Felder kept his grand audio-visual fabric focused, sober and often wrenching.
The festival saw not only great performances, but also seminars and masterclasses by its world-renowned faculty composers, which can be invaluable to emerging composers.  As noted in a recent UB Reporter article by this author:
The works of these faculty composers were featured in JiB's evening concerts, while the composers themselves gave morning seminars and consulted with participant composers in master classes.  "I am always eager to show my works to professors and peers, not to find confirmation but to collect 'data,'" says Chen.  "Then, at the end of the day, I sit down and do some 'data mining' for my future projects.  […]  JiB is only a week long, but its impact on me will surely last for years to come. I cannot wait for JiB 2016."
For those interested in learning more about the festival, be sure to check out our series of profiles of JiB artists on Edge of the Center, and visit the UB Music Library for an exhibit commemorating the festival's 40/30 anniversary, which is still on display.

Onward…

The Oerknal Ensemble will visit the Center next year
The gears are already in motion for next year's season.  We are excited that next year's events will include visits from guest composers Kaija Saariaho and Hanna Eimermacher, as well as residencies with several prominent new music ensembles, including Load Bang, Voxnova Italia/Project Isherwood, Ensemble Linea, and the Oerknal Ensemble.  We can also look forward to many spectacular Slee Sinfonietta concerts, and of course, June in Buffalo 2016, which will feature the following resident ensembles:  Arditti Quartet, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Ensemble Dal Niente, Ensemble SIGNAL, Slee Sinfonietta, Uusinta Ensemble.

Edge of the Center will announce more details on all of these events in the coming months.  It's already shaping up to be another incredible season featuring some of the most skilled performers in the city and from around the globe.




Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music

2015-16 Schedule of Events



September 2015
Hanna Eimermacher
Visiting composer

October 5, 2015
Visiting composer

October 5, 2015
[Rescheduled concert]:
Program to include works by 
Brook, Felder, Lachenmann, Stauning

November 2015
Visiting ensemble
Evening performance and composer workshop

December 4-6
Visiting ensembles
Two evenings of concerts and composer workshop

April 2016
Visiting ensemble
Evening performance and composer workshop

May 2-5, 2016
Visiting Ensemble
Evening performance and composer workshop
Program to include works by 
Felder, Heidelberger, Nielson, Zorn
Slee Sinfonietta

October 6, 2015
Slee Sinfonietta Presents
Ensemble Signal
Brad Lubman, conductor
Camilla Hoitenga, flute
Featuring works by Kaija Saariaho and other Finnish Composers
Part of FinnFest in Buffalo, NY

April 21, 2016
Slee Sinfonietta
Program TBA


June in Buffalo 2016
June 6-13
David Felder, Artistic Director

Faculty Composers
Hanna Eimermacher
David Felder
Joshua Fineberg
Josh Levine

Resident Ensembles
Arditti Quartet
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Dal Niente
Ensemble Signal
Slee Sinfonietta
Uusinta Ensemble

Special Guests
Magnus Andersson
Brad Lubman

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Null Point: Singing Silos, Decay/Reverberate


Silo City, site of Null Point's Decay/Reverberate
The grain silos in Buffalo's Old First Ward have been an attractive location for the city's experimental artists for many years.  These vast, now empty structures are the site of several well-known events, including the Silo City Reading Series, the City of Night festival, and the Silo Sessions video series.  Most of these events take advantage of the resonant acoustics of the large grain elevators, using the silos' natural reverberation to extend and transform a wide variety of sonic art forms, from folk music to literary readings.

Last week's Decay/Reverberate, however, took a different approach.  Sponsored by the Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music's co-sponsorship program, and presented by Null Point, a Buffalo-based platform for experimental music and sound art, the four-day event (June 11-14) centered around site-specific works that recognized not only the silos' acoustic features, but also their architecture and history—a history that is entangled with often-troubling subjects like habitat destruction and labor exploitation.  Event curator (and UB composer) Colin Tucker sought out works that "build new musical and sonic syntaxes from the ground up in dialogue with the site, revealing Silo City in new and unexpected ways."  Null Point's call for works attracted a surprising number of artists—with submissions coming from 18 countries on 5 continents—all eager to engage with the site in this way.

Tucker developed a curatorial strategy he called 'double negation':  "[The] site and aesthetic negate each other, creating a third space which is not reducible to either, and yet which opens up unnoticed aspects of both.  The site provides resistance to aesthetic business-as-usual, while the artwork brings into focus aspects of the site that might not be apparent in its everyday existence."  This resulted in a program of works that were site-specific not only in their dependence on the physical and acoustic properties of the silos, but also in their reckoning with and consideration of their social and ecological history.

Materials from Christof Migone's Record Release 7-inch
which uses surface-resonating speakers, contact microphones, 
and small pellets used to make vinyl records in an interactive 
installation.
For some artists, this entailed turning the silos themselves into a kind of large-scale musical instrument.  One such work was Lena Nietfeld's "…some workers it casts into barbarous types of labor, and others it turns into machines", in which "the floor, walls, and the remains of metal grain hoppers are scraped and struck with a variety of objects of historical significance."  These include shovels and brooms (used to move loose grain from ship hulls to the grain elevator) and beer bottles (representing the grain scoopers' dependence on saloon bosses).  In Nietfeld's work, five musicians perform a repertoire of actions that reflect the kinds of work done when the grain elevators were fully operational.  "In some cases this can be very visceral," Nietfeld explains, "but in other cases it is more subtle."  Noting that the introduction of grain elevators to the waterfront produced a significant change in the First Ward's soundscape, the performers of "…some workers" do not read from a traditional score, but instead rely on cues from each other and/or unpredictable environmental sounds (bird calls, ships, machines, etc.).

For the collaborative work, Slow Drip, media artists Tom Stoll and Ezra Teboul took the simple sound of dripping water—ubiquitous to abandoned industrial sites—and developed it into an expansive sonic sculpture.  Based around a set of hanging bowls which slowly drip water into each other—mimicking the funnel structures of grain silos—the piece used opto-interrupter sensors to measure the dripping, and relayed this information to a computer, which spontaneously created real-time sonic responses from a repertoire of drop-like sounds pre-recorded by clarinetist, Krista Martynes.

Shannon Werle, a Dartmouth-based artist specializing in the intersections between architecture, sound, and urban research, offered Filter Index.  A culmination of months of research into the relationship between impulse-location and tone-color, the piece consisted of several dozen balloons positioned throughout the silos popping in succession.  This activated "the reverberant interior of the Marine A elevator, making manifest the unique acoustic architecture of the silo."  Werle has created a preliminary fixed media version of this piece—with an accompanying video diagramming each point's location—which can be seen below (additional documentation from Decay/Reverberate will be released on Null Point's website over the coming months).


Other pieces included works by frequent Center collaborators Daniel Bassin and Matt Sargent.  Bassin performed his Typographies II:  Opera, a series of 35 improvisational modules for trumpet (Bassin) and drum set (UB percussionist John Bacon).  The piece—based on a compositional germ Bassin first cultivated in a string quartet composed for the Ardittis at June in Buffalo 2010—utilized the silos' reverberations as a "virutal third player" and was subtitled "sempre pianissimo":  referring to the 'intensity of listening' demanded by the piece as well as the "potential violence that comes as soft sounds give way to silences."  Sargent's Tide (10+1 basses) was a collaboration with bassist Zachary Rowden.  The work's eleven lines (10 recorded + live performer) consisted of an interaction between software and improvisor, just as its realization depended on an interaction between sound, space, and audience.

Daniel Bassin & John Bacon
perform Typographies II: Opera
Nearly all of the nearly twenty pieces featured at Decay/Reverberate were world premieres, composed especially for this site and this event.  One of the few exceptions was a performance of James Tenney's classic having never written a note for percussion, a frequently-performed open work for percussion, consisting simply of a crescendo from pianissississimo to fortissississimo and back again.  During last week's realization, percussionist Brandon Bell performed the work as an extended roll on a simple gong.  "However," Tucker notes, "the real instrument was not the gong but the silo itself—as the gong's volume rises, the silo begins to 'sing' as its resonant frequencies become activated."

The singing of the silos was a integral—if not deliberately understated—component of Tucker's own work, surplus, an electroacoustic installation whose specific location was unannounced.  In surplus, two unmarked speakers played back a large number of field recordings taken at Silo City, which had been overdubbed and filtered in order to reinforce low frequency broadband noise emanating from nearby industrial fans and distant traffic.  As a result, the sonic environment near the concealed speakers became something of an acoustic black hole, as the speakers strongly emphasized certain ambient sounds while masking others.  "[I] liked the idea of just strolling around the site and [wondering] 'What's that going on over there?" Tucker told WBFOsurplus aligns closely with Tucker's original curatorial project, as the piece, in his words, "materializes a socio-ecological contradiction in sound, denaturing the site's present day scene with faint traces of the unresolved antagonisms constitutive of its past."


—Ethan Hayden

Monday, June 1, 2015

Buffalo's Third Wave: Thirty Years of June in Buffalo Under David Felder


April in Paris is a well-known song by Vladimir Dukelsky (aka Vernon Duke) and May in Miami refers to a month of cultural and community activities in its eponymous city.  But June in Buffalo? Here our seasonal conceit might founder except among those of the musical cognescenti who are aware of Buffalo's unique reputation as a North American center for contemporary music.  Buffalo, at the eastern end of Lake Erie, is one of those American "rust belt" cities—like Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh—that had a solid cultural foundation laid by its nineteenth-century German and Slavic settlers, and then in the late 20th came upon both hard times and population loss as the muscle of American industry was outsourced abroad.  Yet, for anyone who chooses to look closely, the city has maintained its vivid cultural and architectural life into the present, whether in its blocks of nineteenth-century row houses and Frank Lloyd Wright designed dwellings, the Albright-Knox Museum of Art with its renowned collection of twentieth-century American paintings, the excellent Buffalo Philharmonic or the University at Buffalo with its tradition as a vital contemporary music hub going back to the 1960s.


It was the latter, in fact, that in 1964 became host to the Center for the Creative and Performing Arts—and a home to the composers and performers who constituted it—during a period that saw the proliferation across the United States of that strange new beast called the "new music ensemble".  Buffalo's was one of the best-funded and supported and, under Lukas Foss and Lejaren Hiller, continued to function until 1980.  Meanwhile, Morton Feldman had joined the UB faculty and founded and directed the June in Buffalo Festival from 1975 to 1980, after which point it became dormant for several years.  The next stage of the story—and the real point of departure for this article—commences with the arrival of David Felder as a new UB faculty composer-colleague of Feldman's in 1985.

I first met David on a 1983 trip to San Diego where I'd gone to collaborate with Roger Reynolds on a project that became his Transfigured Wind series of flute pieces.   At some point Roger indicated that he had a graduating student of whom he thought highly and who he thought I'd enjoy meeting, and thus it came to pass that David and I shook hands on a May afternoon at Roger and Karen's house overlooking the Pacific.  Hindsight makes liars of us all, of course, but what I  remember is meeting a dark, intense young man who introduced me to the score of his recently-completed Coleccion Nocturna, a work which caught my attention by virtue of its balance between a gently-enfolding, almost amniotic, nocturnal stasis and sharp, pointed outbursts.  It represented in ovo if not in the flesh what I've come to call the Felder Style.

A couple of years later Roger mentioned that David had taken a position at the University at Buffalo, and we both speculated as to how he would adapt to being a colleague of Morty's (and vice versa) and  what effect he would have on Buffalo.  We didn't have to wait long.  In early 1986 I received a call from him re-establishing our connection and asking if I'd like to participate in a reborn June in Buffalo Festival now under his direction that would take place… well, in June and in Buffalo.  I came aboard, though at the time with very little idea of what David planned or intended, just as I had little sense of the dimensions the festival would assume over time.  Nor could I have predicted that I'd frequently be beating a path to Buffalo over the upcoming thirty years.   


The 1986 Festival brochure described it as "A Composer's Seminar" with a faculty of seven senior composers and a performance faculty of about fifty plus the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.  Given the university setting and the fact that the twenty-or-so younger composer participants were mostly of graduate student age and status, the academically-slanted designations were quite understandable.  Most unacademic, though, was the first gathering of the faculty at Buffalo's legendary Anchor Bar the night before the festival began.  Present were Felder, Feldman and Jerry Hiller of the UB faculty plus Jacob Druckman, Donald Erb, Bernard Rands and myself.  Over drinks (potent) and chicken wings (hot and lots of them) and with live jazz in the background, David outlined his vision for JiB:  each senior composer would give a two-hour morning lecture on his work and meet with small groups of the younger composers in scheduled master classes (or "mahsteh clahsses" as Charles Wuorinen later characterized them in his most plummy BBC accent).  We would, as well, have a couple of our pieces performed, with time set aside for us to conduct or supervise rehearsals.  In the meantime, the performance faulty was hard at work rehearsing not just faculty works but one work for concert performance by each of the younger seminar participants.  Thus, the week-long festival featured a headliner concert every night along with two smaller concerts during the afternoon and master classes scheduled to fill the interstices between concerts.  At the same time rehearsals for upcoming concerts would be going on all day and part of each night.

Over the years, this has remained the basic template for the festival.  What, of course, has varied have been the diverse and various musical contents that have been enclosed within it.  As for the basic ingredients—composer participants, senior composers, and professional performers—there has been continuity embedded within slow change.  The young composer participants must, even with a few repeaters, sum to close to 700 by now.  They have come from all parts of the world, and from graduate music programs both renowned and little-known.  The festival has given them a chance to try their wings, often for the first time, in a professional setting, affording them the opportunity to engage peers, senior colleagues, and professional performers in an intense and supportive atmosphere where music was the only item on the agenda.  Many of their contacts with staff performers have spawned commissions and collaborations that have extended far beyond the week-long confines of the event, and numerous careers have been launched or received a boost there.

Nils Vigeland, Harvey Sollberger,
David Felder, and Stephen Manes at JiB 1986
The line-up of senior composers, too, has seen both stability and change, and has reflected a broad range of musical approaches and viewpoints.  While I know that lists are not terribly exciting, I think that even a partial grasp of the festival's breadth and extent needs to take into account its roster of senior professionals over the years.  That list's regulars and repeaters have included Jacob Druckman,  Donald Erb, Brian Ferneyhough, Lukas Foss, Philip Glass, John Harbison, Philippe Manoury, Bernard Rands, Steve Reich, Roger Reynolds, Augusta Read Thomas (who became the first of the former students to advance to the ranks of the "seniors") and Charles Wuorinen.   Other distinguished American composers who have participated over the years have included Martin Bresnick, Earle Brown, John Corigliano, George Crumb, Charles Dodge, John Eaton, Aaron Jay Kernis, Alvin Lucier, Mathew Rosenblum, Christopher Rouse, Gunther Schuller, Steven Stucky, and Nils Vigeland, as well as Jonathan Golove, Cort Lippe, and Jeffrey Stadelman of the UB faculty.  There has been a strong international component, too, with visits from Jukka Tiensuu (Finland), Vinko Globokar (Slovenia), Jonathan Harvey and Simon Bainbridge (UK), Gerhard Stabler (Germany), Bent Sorensen (Denmark), Tristan Murail (France) and Joji Yuasa (Japan).  The 2004 edition of the festival was focused on "Music and Computers" and listed nineteen Resident Composers including such notables in the field as Rand Steiger, Edmund Campion, Tod Machover, and Miller Puckette.  In total, it's hard to imagine another city the size of Buffalo with so many distinguished musical visitors over the same time period.  The "Buffalo Tradition," begun with Lukas Foss and then passed-on to Morton Feldman, has clearly had an exuberant third wave worthy of or surpassing the first two.

New York New Music Ensemble at JiB 2003
JiB's performers, too, have represented a who's-who of leading new music ensembles and soloists.  There being far too many to list in full, I'll mention as representative the ensembles assembled for the festival's two anniversary editions—2000 (25th anniversary of founding by Feldman) and 2010 (Felder's 25th anniversary).  Thus, in 2000 resident ensembles included UB's Slee Sinfonietta, the New York New Music Ensemble, the New York Virtuoso Singers, and Steven Schick's red fish blue fish percussion ensemble.  2010 saw the participation of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Slee Sinfonietta, the Arditti String Quartet, Brad Lubman's Signal Ensemble from New York City and two European groups, Ensemble SurPlus and Ensemble Labortorium.  The New York New Music Ensemble has, in fact, participated in almost all of the festivals since the mid-1990s, and Ensemble SurPlus, the Arditti Quartet, and JACK Quartet have been in residence several times as well.

With the longevity of the festival has come growth, as well.  In 1997 David Felder founded the Slee Sinfonietta, a resident professional chamber orchestra with a year-round season.  The Sinfonietta has been a participating ensemble in every edition of the festival since 2000.  In 2006 Felder founded the Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music to help support and coordinate the festival as well as the rich menu of concerts, lectures, visitors and other new music events that proliferate on campus during the academic year.  The most recent addition to the "family" (2013) has been the June in Buffalo Performers Institute, an intensive course in contemporary music performance practice and skills, offered every other year, led and staffed by Music Department faculty.  It functions as a kind of performers' equivalent to the Festival's offerings for composers.   

In overview, it seems to me that the only American summer music festivals to which JiB can be compared are Tanglewood and Aspen, and here the differences are manifest.  Tanglewood and Aspen both run courses for young composers over an eight-week period, whereas JiB by comparison is a kind of "flash" festival lasting a week or at most ten days.  Whereas T & A  feature performances by excellent young student performers, JiB draws on professional specialist performers and ensembles, and in a week JiB's composer participants—20-25 each year (more than either T or A invite)—meet and interact with a range of composers, performers, and ensembles more extensive than the other festivals provide over their two months' span.  Finally, there is a considerable difference between a festival centered entirely around new music and one which, whatever its virtues, is a kind of sideshow to a larger festival geared to more conventional musical tastes.  Perhaps the nearest thing to JiB is Germany's Darmstadt summer music course, which packs a comparably intense schedule into a similarly short period of time.

David Felder, JiB 2003
Behind all of this has been the imagination and guiding hand of JiB's Artistic Director, David Felder.  For make no mistake about it, since he took it on, the festival has been David's baby, just as it was Feldman's before him.  Along with its artistic direction, he has shouldered the burden of finding external and internal funding for it and maintaining support within the University through the usual cycles of economic boom, bust, and academic regime change.  And inextricably related to the rise and growth of the festival has been Felder's role in helping lead the University at Buffalo's Department of Music to an enviable position among American musical-training institutions.  With its prime focus on composition, and the performance of new music, the Buffalo Department of Music represents a welcome departure from the cookie-cutter sameness and seamless flatness of so many American musical incubators.  While it's not for everyone, it is vital and necessary for those who desire a more comprehensive and intensive engagement with new music than most academic units afford.  Complementing his stirring compositions, June in Buffalo, The Center for 21st Century Music, the Slee Sinfonietta, and the UB Music Department have become important aspects of what I would call David Felder's creative life's-work.  Thanks to his vision, hard work and energy, the Buffalo Tradition has been both fostered and furthered, and the Third Wave has become a tsunami.

Especially intriguing to me has been David's ability to keep the festival on target as a place of meeting and exchange between composers of all ages while still "making it new" in response to the various changes our field has undergone.  Within its basic template, the festival has shed its skin and re-made itself numerous times over the years, whether in the form of new faces among the senior composers and performers or in the form of "project" years which have targeted particular musical topics.  Thus, in 2001 the focus was local, as JiB celebrated the 100th anniversary of Buffalo's hosting of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition with programs featuring "A New Generation of Buffalo Composers."  2002 saw a focus on "Music and Text," 2003 on "Music and the Visual Image," 2004 on "Music and Computers," while 2005 took on the more general topic of "Sonic Virtuosity."  2008's edition returned again to "Music and Computers," this time engaging the full range of "algorithmic, interactive, multimedia, acousmatic, and electroacoustic computer music" in its description.   The quality and relevance of these events is attested to over time by the presence at the festival of  numerous European and American music critics and scholars, as well as by the visits of publishers and representatives of performing rights organizations which have become commonplace.

Harvey Sollberger conducting the
June in Buffalo Chamber Orchestra, 2000
Through all these years and changes my experiences as a participating composer, flutist, and conductor have come to constitute an important part of my life.  By my count I've participated in 18 of JiB's past 30 editions, during which time I've enjoyed renewing old acquaintances and deepening friendships with various composer and performer colleagues as well as with many of the staff and production support crew.  Concurrently, I've met scores of younger composers and become aware each year of music, composers, performers, and ensembles that were new to me and that have helped keep me abreast of music's new and breaking developments.  Many of these interactions and discoveries occurred onstage or in lecture and rehearsal halls.  Others were over meals or at the late-night watering-holes where we all, composers and performers united by thirst and post-concert excitement, met to shoot the bull and drink and eat into the wee hours.  Alas, my tolerance for those wee hours has declined over the years, but these and other memories retain a vividness that attests to their intensity and staying power.    

While on the subject of food I dare not forget Duff's Wings, that sterling purveyor of Buffalo's great and unique gift to global cuisine, the Buffalo chicken wing.  It's just down the road from campus, and I'm still drawn there at least once each time I visit.  Fancy it's not, but ten hot wings ("medium is hot, hot is very hot; very hot is very very hot") garnished with celery, fries, and ranch dressing taken with a couple of beers qualify as near sublime in my book.  Having bitten, now, with my mind's tooth into Buffalo's equivalent of Proust's madeleine, a host of other memories come flooding in.  For instance, as an impecunious younger faculty composer who chose not to bear the expense of a motel, I recall the curious sense of relief and liberation I felt as I relaxed or studied scores in my spartan UB dorm room.  Within those narrow walls, with my straitened bed and state-issue desk as my only possessions, I avidly gulped down my freedom from phone calls, bills, taxes, mortgage, traffic jams, and committee meetings.  Having nothing to do all week but to lecture, perform, and listen with no external distractions, I understood—and felt the call of—the simple monastic life, for wasn't our love of and devotion to music equal and equivalent to a monk's higher purpose?  Memories of outstanding and revelatory performances abound, as well, and if I were to choose one, Jesse Levine's performance (from memory) of the orchestral version of Morton Feldman's The Viola in my Life, with Jan Williams conducting the Slee Sinfonietta, stands out.  Yet another high point was attained in performing the solo flute part of my Riding the Wind I in 2006 with James Avery and his Ensemble 
Ensemble Sur Plus at JiB 2010
SurPlus colleagues.  It wasn't just the stunning quality of the musicians or the quiet guru-like certitude with which James led them, but the fact that both James and I saw it as the closing of a circle which we had opened twenty-eight years before when he at the piano and I with my flute had first played the piece together.  This was made all the more poignant by Ensemble SurPlus's return to JiB in 2010, this time without James, who had died in the interim.  He was a great musician and a wonderful person who all who knew him will miss and long remember.

Lest I convey the wrong impression, though, all was not always sweetness and light at JiB.  I recall being told after I'd conducted a piece of mine, that a senior composer—okay, it was Morty Feldman—and his entourage of students (1986) had very publicly walked-out after the first couple of minutes.  Too bad.  I wish I'd known Morty better, since I admire his music.  And then there was the stuffed-shirt critic from the West Coast some years later, who, while on a panel, commenced to re-write the history of music in the 1960s in the most simplistic and neo-Stalinist terms ("heartless serialists, musical expressiveness crushed everywhere, blah-blah-blah").  As someone who'd participated in a small bit of that history, who'd been there, for God's sake!, I felt offended to the point where I couldn't refrain from abruptly cutting-in from the audience to set him straight.  Rude?  No question.  The result?  The next piece I had performed in Los Angeles received a totally excoriating review from this gent.  I wore it as a badge of honor, and in fact included it in my next University of California review file (and got the raise).  Then there was the young  woman who I unwittingly drove in tears from my master class (sorry!), and the soloist in a Wuorinen piece I was conducting, who grabbed several pages instead of the right one, causing a train wreck, and so on and so much more.

But enough of stories told by the elders around the campfire!  It's 2015 and David Felder is completing his thirtieth year at the helm of June in Buffalo.  While the template for the Festival may have changed little from 1986 to 2015, the people and to some degree the musical content it encloses have and will continue to change.  Thirty years have taken their toll, too, and several of the original 1986 faculty including Jacob Druckman, Donald Erb, Morton Feldman, and Lejaren Hiller are no longer with us.  Others from those early years will be back, joined as well by younger colleagues.  And this year, as always, the invited ensembles and performers will be among the best of those currently active here and abroad, and the young composers—our hope for the future, who always, of course, seem to get younger each year—will be out in force.  Is it too much to hope for another thirty years under Felder's direction?  A Fourth Wave?  Time will tell, but in what counts—the here and now—anyone seeking a musical setting where near-utopian idealism is balanced and blended with the down-to-earth practicality of superb music making would be well-advised to set her sights on Buffalo this June.

Harvey Sollberger
May 5, 2015

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Unexplored Regions: An Interview with David Felder


This is a big year for June in Buffalo, marking both the 40th anniversary of the festival's founding and the 30th anniversary of David Felder's tenure as artistic director.  Under Felder's direction, the festival changed significantly, placing a greater emphasis on student works, and bringing in a wide range of skilled composers, performers, and ensembles.

David Felder
Felder, who serves as the Birge-Cary Chair in Composition at UB, has long been recognized as a leader among his generation of composers.  This year, JiB will see the performance of several of the composer's key works, including his brass quintet, Canzone XXXI (to be played by the Meridian Arts Ensemble), his set of orchestral variations, Six Poems from Neruda's "Alturas…" (to be played by the Buffalo Philharmonic), and his recent Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux, which will be performed by SIGNAL with members of the Slee Sinfonietta (see our post from its October performance).  The latter work, a fifty-minute song cycle for two voices, chamber orchestra, and 12 channels of electronics, sets poems by René Daumal, Robert Creeley, and Dana Gioia.  All three works, like most of Felder's output, are characterized by their energy, lyricism, and what Dansk Musiktidsskrift has called "an impressive ability to establish a sound universe, in which one is taken through every corner of experience."

I recently had a chance to interview Felder about the festival, and some of his recent work.


When you restarted the festival in 1986, what were some things you set out to do differently from the way it was run in the past?

It was a very big philosophical change, which was based on the way I assessed the field as a young composer myself at that time.

When I was in California, I was like a lot of other younger composers.  I didn't really feel that I'd had a good performance of my work until I was about 28 years old.  It was mostly student performers or conservatory faculty members who didn't care at all about playing a younger composer's work. Though I could understand why people didn't want to spend the time on a young composer's work, I thought it was really difficult for me and every other young composer I knew to evaluate what we were trying to do.  I took a look around, and I saw that there were only a few other opportunities for young composers to have strong performances of their work. Those were places like Aspen, Tanglewood, Davidovsky's summer program at Wellesley, and the summer program at Yale (the latter of which I was fortunate enough to attend).  But those programs were extremely selective and almost entirely Ivy League, so the majority of younger composers around the country were kind of stuck, particularly the composers on the West Coast.

Felder with student composers at JiB 2010
So I began a series of concerts at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, which lasted two or three years.  I was given some venture capital and programmed some young composers and some senior composers that were friends of mine.  Then, when I moved to Cal State Long Beach, I formed the Summer Composers Institute, which was meant for West Coast composers to work with senior composers—the two who started it with me were Bernard Rands and Donald Erb—and we brought together this group of really great performers and ensembles to perform their works.

By the time I moved to Buffalo, the June in Buffalo festival had been dormant for a long time. So I proposed that I bring my vision and restart the festival, but under the terms I'm outlining here.  I considered Feldman a friend and had great respect for him, but we had differing views on what it meant to be a young composer.  He did not believe that young composers deserved to be presented in the way that I was presenting them.  He thought that they should sit at the feet of the geniuses and catch any pearl that might fall from their lips.  So the old June in Buffalo program did not feature performances of young composers' music, they just sat in seminars, and the concerts were portrait concerts of individual faculty composers.  It's a very different philosophy about how one teaches and how one helps young composers develop.

What were some of the difficulties restarting a festival which had been dormant for several years?

When I arrived, despite promises to the contrary when I interviewed, there was absolutely no money.  So I had to do everything with zero budget, and I had to raise the funds completely those first years.  I was able to find some interesting solutions, and the budgets started to stabilize after the third or fourth year, particularly when I became the Birge-Cary Chairholder and could dedicate resources.  I am proud that even from the beginning there was never one year in which there was a deficit.

Also, the first year we had to work hard to get  applicants, I had to call around a lot.  Very soon, though, we began to attract a large pool of applicants, allowing us to be very selective about who we decided to invite.  And the festival fairly quickly became an obvious success.  And now, there's  not a week that goes by where I don't see another new festival imitating JiB.  There are loads of them out there now—even some of our former student assistants for JiB are copying us.  It causes me to think about what the field might need next, since such events have proliferated now to the point of near-absurdity.

Are there any JiB performances that you have found particularly memorable?

There was a New York New Music Ensemble performance of an amazing work by Jacob Druckman called Come Round, which is really one of his great pieces.  I just remember that the performance [at JiB 2000, conducted by Harvey Sollberger] was absolutely hair-raising!  And a few years ago [2013], Charles Wuorinen conducted the Slee Sinfonietta in a performance of his chamber cantata, It Happens Like This.  That was a really great performance.  Having the composer here conducting the group was really very special.

But there are so many of them, it's really difficult.  So I'm singling out just a couple which were absolutely breath-taking.

The Performance Institute is doing the Druckman this year on their June 5 concert at Kleinhans.

Right, and that's being programmed because we really wanted to get that piece on the festival.  Jake Druckman was a big part of the early years of JiB, he came quite a bit and he was extremely supportive of me and also supportive of the festival.

It seems that there's always been a lot of variety amongst the faculty composers who have been here over the years.

One of the hallmarks of the way that I program the week is that I don't bring in people to be on the faculty with all the same viewpoints—in fact, I actually deliberately select people so that there will be some friction between ideas, so that students might get input that's 180º opposite from one master class to the next.  I mostly enjoy very diverse groups of composers working together because you can learn the most that way if you have a strong individual internal motivator and your own vision to follow.  If you're looking for consensus, JiB is not necessarily the place for you.

Were there any JiB performances of your own works that are especially significant to you?

Felder coaches performers during a rehearsal of Tweener
In 1988, I wrote these solo pieces which are known as the Crossfire series, one of them is BoxMan for trombone, and another is a solo violin piece called Another Face.  Those were pieces that were supposed to be done with video walls.  We actually managed to do them here before they were done in Huddersfield and Vienna and some other places.  So we brought in the video walls and mounted the production of those pieces which was very difficult to do in those days.  Moving 24 television sets—which were extremely heavy—and setting them up as walls and then doing all the programming and the performances was really a trip.  But the pieces were great in that format, and they worked extremely well, so that was a big highlight for me.  The performances by trombonist Miles Anderson and violinist Karen Bentley were extraordinary!

Otherwise, any time that I hear my string quartets played is great.  For example, a few years ago [2013], JACK astonished me by playing the living hell out of my second quartet, Stuck-stücke, and that was really gratifying.  Of course, the Ardittis play it extremely well, but to then have a next generation quartet pick it up for the first time and play it absolutely brilliantly, that was wonderful!

One of the new things the festival has been doing in recent years is the Performance Institute.

There have been a lot of initiatives over the years, I've tried to do a lot of different kinds of things.  Years ago we had an emerging ensembles program, so groups that were just coming out of conservatory or had just formed in New York were invited to come and be resident ensembles at the festival.  For example, Brad Lubman had a group when he was at Stony Brook called the New Millenium Ensemble, which had just formed, so I invited them to come.  The Meridian Arts Ensemble was another one of the original groups that came under those programs, and there were lots of others.  We also tried a couple computer music initiatives.  And then we did some thematic programming for a number of years, where we looked at specific interactions between, for example, "Music and Text," and so forth.

The Performance Institute is another initiative, it's something that we're piloting right now to see how it might work, and it could be a nice broadening of the festival.

Is there anything in particular you're looking forward to about this year's festival?

Felder and Bernard Rands at JiB 2014
First of all, I'm really looking forward to seeing so many of the faculty members.  The composers who are coming are people who have been really important to the festival over the years for a variety of reasons.  These are many of the people who have been here the most, who have been the most supportive and probably the most performed—with the exception of Martin Bresnick, who has only been to the festival once before.  I've known him a long time and he's an extremely important teacher and composer, so this is a great opportunity to bring him back to fulfill the mission.

What would you say is the most significant development in your music since the mid-1980s when you restarted the festival?

I see it all as one very connected line, so I don't think that there have been any giant changes.  I would say that the work has perhaps become less technically demanding in terms of what is asked of the players, and more demanding in terms of their ability to contribute just the right sound.  In some of the earlier work there's a lot of complexity on the page, which may not have yielded the same level of complexity in the sounding result (this is typical for younger composers).  So I'm happy now to allow the complexity to exist in the sounding event, and I take a lot of joy in getting out of the way more than I used to.

It seems like there's an increasingly present "spiritual" component—for lack of a better word—at work in your music (I think of Shamayim, Requiescat, and Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux), which seems to contrast with older pieces like Linebacker Music or Canzone XXXI.

It is there, and it's strongly there underneath.  Even if you look at the earlier pieces, the sources may appear less overtly "spiritual," but what's underneath the brass quintet, for example, is Dante.  What's behind that piece is an unfinished canzona from La Vita Nuova.  So it may be a little more on the sleeve now, but it's always been there.



That's interesting, because it seems like a lot of your works make direct reference to, or take inspiration from, poetic texts (e.g., Six Poems from Neruda's “Alturas...”, Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux).

I think the reason goes back to when I was coming of age as a composer.  The older fixed forms held no appeal for me at all.  I was not interested in writing multi-movement abstract suites, nor was I interested in following any of the existing fixed forms, instead I was looking to try and create my own formal vehicles and containers.

There are many ways to create those containers.  For example, if you go back and read Simple Composition, Wuorinen argues very convincingly that one can extrapolate from aspects of the time point and build the form purely from concrete musical abstraction.  But for me, I wanted to find something that could be an inspirational touchstone, either that I could constantly refer back to as a way of looking to see if I was actually doing what I thought I was, but more importantly, to give me the opportunity to create forms which were modeled on some kind of psychological or spiritual profile that could be extracted from texts—not so much literally, but more as a way of modeling a behavior.  

So, for example, the piece BoxMan refers to the novel by Kōbō Abe.  I was reading that at the same time I was reading Konrad Lorenz's book, On Aggression.  In that book, Lorenz is looking at the long relationships of Greylag geese:  they pair up, male and female, and stay together for virtually their entire lives.  And yet, they manifest these varying kinds of aggressive behavior, which he studied as a way of looking at aggressive behavior in people.  Somehow, that was assembled in my mind with the lead character called the "BoxMan" in Abe's novel, and the result was a form which was a pure musical abstraction—one that works like a long set of variations.  The controlling forces in the variations are some behaviors that I abstracted from those two books.  So that's why you see some performance directions in the score like, "threatening," or "manic." 


Your recent piece, Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux ["The Four Cardinal Hours"], is a much more large-scale form, which is based on the cycle of a single day.  It occurs to me that a lot of large-scale works seem to take these seemingly mundane cycles as stepping-stones to larger forms (e.g., the days of the week in Stockhausen's Licht, or Joyce's Ulysses, which is also based on a single day).  Were any of those earlier works reference points for you?

Not directly, but when I interviewed Stockhausen, he said something that was very powerful for me.  I had asked him about circular forms, and he said, "No, it's a spiral."  I hadn't ever considered that before, and that simple sentence changed a lot for me in my own thinking about form.

The idea is that these are ways that we measure temporal existence.  So that's why larger works have a tendency to use these as models in some way.  The very short Daumal poem, which is at the heart of LQTC—something he did very late in his life when he was close to death, after not writing poetry for years—was extremely powerful to me for its simplicity and clarity.  When he was a young man, he wrote extremely complicated automatic writing pieces, but through the course of his own creative life, and his contact with Hindu art-forms, he came back to something that was extremely simple but very powerful and direct, in that it works on an inner level with its imagery. 

The other poems, by Robert Creeley, Dana Gioia, and the reference to Pablo Neruda, are much more personal articulations of that larger transpersonal kind.  One of the great things about Creeley is that he can take a very simple moment that occurs in a day, and connect it, in a very subtle way, to much larger senses of time.  For example, there is one poem of his [“Kitchen” from Thirty Things, 1975] in which he's in a room, watching the light change as it comes through some lace curtains, but he's watching the light change indirectly on the floor, and that's a reference point.  It's very subtly done, he doesn't draw attention to it, but through that illustration the individual poet is connecting the passing of his own life to the larger life of man.  So that was the idea of the formal wheel in LQTC.

Brad Lubman conducts Felder's Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux
You also seem to have a predilection for lower voices in your music.  Contrabass clarinet, contrabass trombone, and bass flutes all figure prominently in some of your works, and the last movement of LQTC focuses almost entirely on the orchestra's lower range.  What attracts you to these lower pitch extremes?

I'd say I'm attracted to the unexplored regions, it's like Amundsen going to the South Pole or people who go down into the depths of the ocean in bathyspheres. I know there's a power in the low register that is very profound.  Much of contemporary music has been very focused on the attack point, but I'm interested in the movement of voices in the lower register which are not solely based on attack point or harmonic movement but are instead coloristic or resonance-reinforcing movements.  I'm also interested in the very highest registers.

There used to be three body types people talked about:  ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph.  I used to joke that I was mesomorphic (which is a body type that is wider at the hips), and so much of my music revolved around middle C and the octave below.  I think it's because of the tessitura of my voice:  I was a tenor-baritone and was a singer my whole life, so naturally, somehow, that's where my pieces originated.  And I noticed years later that many of my pieces work out from that register.

Even LQTC begins its unfolding from the F# in that octave.

Yes, it's meant to start there, due to the importance of B (the piece is very A/B centric).  The F# is also important because it's the 11th partial of a C fundamental.  And if you look at the piece, you'll see that there are certain pedal tones in the beginning, which essentially set out the work's major harmonic focal points.

I’m definitely looking forward to hearing that again at the festival this year.  Finally, when it comes to June in Buffalo, its legacy, and its longevity, what are you proudest of?

I don't know that I think in those terms.  If I had to answer that, I'd say that we've probably done performances of around 700 or more young composers' pieces, and those performances and the help that we've given to people over the years, I think has been really important to the profession.

I'm extremely grateful to the University at Buffalo, and Buffalo arts organizations, as well as our donors, university patrons, audiences, and composers—both student participants and faculty members—who have participated and supported this endeavor over the years.  Without that support, we certainly would never have gotten off the ground.  So it's very gratifying to continue to feel that Buffalo is a place that supports work that is innovative and hopes to advance the conversation about the ongoing developments in the field, whatever they may be.


June in Buffalo has certainly been a locus for the musical conversation to continue, with energetic and adventurous performers willing to dive into the uncharted territories being carved out by today's composers.  And the festival will surely continue for years to come, with hundreds more young composers hearing great performances of their work, further encouraging these emerging artists to keep surveying unexplored sonic regions.


—Ethan Hayden

Monday, May 25, 2015

Ensemble SIGNAL: It's Not Difficult


Reich and Lubman at JiB 2010
Few ensembles can boast performing works by both American minimalist pioneers and cutting-edge European avant-gardists, fewer still can perform each with equal elegance, expressivity, and fluency.  Signal is one of these.  The ensemble has made a name for themselves in the past seven years by working closely with both Steve Reich and Helmut Lachenmann, while producing diverse programs that include works by Ligeti and Lang, Boulez and Wolfe, Andriessen and Ferneyhough (and even, occasionally, 18th century music).  "We’re no longer plagued by notions of borders," Signal's director, Brad Lubman tells Thought Catalog.  "No one tells you, 'You have to play it this way' or 'You have to play it that way.'  It’s a very open time.  And because of that we’re seeing an explosion of compositional languages."  Seeing an explosion of languages is one thing, mastering so many of them is quite another.  But Signal often makes it look easy, performing even the most complex music with an agility that seems to disguise the intricacy—and difficulty—of such works.  "My viewpoint is that I don’t feel one should ever say anything is difficult," Lubman continues.  "What I’ve found is that even with some very complex music, once you’ve spent enough time with it, once you assimilate its features, you start to grasp the particular style and realize it’s not really difficult.  You just have to spend the time with it."

Radnofsky performing Lachenmann's
Pression during Signal's co-residency
with Lachenmann in 2010
Signal was founded in 2008 by Lauren Radnofsky and Lubman.  Radnofsky, Signal's executive director and principal 'cellist, is an important figure in contemporary string music, regularly presenting adventurous music with and without the ensemble (including appearing as the soloist in Saariaho's Amers and collaborating with JACK Quartet in performances of Xenakis's music).  Lubman has been a frequent guest conductor in many of the world's leading ensembles and orchestras, including Ensemble Modern, Klangforum Wien, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.  Since its formation, Signal has performed over 100 concerts, including the premieres of more than 20 new works, while co-producing five recordings (including a critically-acclaimed new recording of Reich's Music for 18 Musicians).

Lubman's relationship with June in Buffalo extends back nearly twenty-five years.  In 1992, he made his JiB debut conducting Charles Wuorinen's ornate chamber work On Alligators, while also seeing the performance of his own Trigram.  He returned to the festival several times throughout the decade, bringing his New Millennium Ensemble in 1994 and guest-conducting the New York New Music Ensemble in 1995.  In 2000, already a renowned interpreter of Steve Reich's music, he conducted the June in Buffalo Chamber Orchestra in a performance of the composer's City Life, while sticking around to conduct the Slee Sinfonietta in Bernard Rands's Concertino (a piece he reprised with Signal just last year).  Three years later, Lubman returned to conduct a stellar performance of Reich's Triple Quartet.

A particularly important performance took place at JiB 2007.  Lubman, already laying the groundwork for what would eventually become Signal, conducted the Slee Sinfonietta—augmented with several NY-based performers that would eventually play a crucial role in Lubman and Radnofsky's ensemble—in "An Evening with Steve Reich."  The performance featured two key works, including the then-recent Daniel Variations, and the rhythmic set of psalm-settings, Tehillim.  This proto-Signal concert hinted at what was to become, according to the New York Times, "one of the most vital groups of its kind."

Signal performing Julia Wolfe's Impatience at JiB 2012
Signal's first June in Buffalo was in 2010, and since then, the ensemble has become one of the most vital groups to the festival, returning every year to perform works by both student composers and faculty.  That first year saw another Reich portrait concert, including the unique pairing of the composer's Sextet with his recent Pulitzer-winning Double Sextet.  The following year, the ensemble returned to feature Ligeti's Chamber Concerto alongside David Felder's Journal—and, who could forget the full-on assault of Signal's performance of this writer's The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel?  (I can't, at least.)  2012 saw the ensemble's first multimedia performance, featuring Julia Wolfe's Impatience—a quasi-symphonic work accompanying Charles De Keukeleire's quasi-Futurist film of the same title.  Signal presented a particularly ambitious program the following year, giving strong performances of two complex—but not difficult—violin concerti:  Augusta Read Thomas's Carillon Sky and Brian Ferneyhough's Terrain, both performed with Irvine Arditti.  The program ended with a show-stopping performance of Wuorinen's Big Spinoff.  


Signal and the Slee Sinfonietta premiere Felder's LQTC
This year, the ensemble returns for their sixth JiB, to present (with members of the Slee Sinfonietta) David Felder's Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux.  Lubman premiered the evening-length piece in 2013, stunning the audience with his incredible ability to command not only the large ensemble onstage with his characteristically sweeping gestures, but also to cue the electronicists seated in the back of the hall with equal urgency.  That, coupled with Felder's 12-channel electronics, made the audience feel like we were seated within the ensemble, with intriguing sonic action unfolding all around us.  We look forward to seeing the reprisal of this performance, a virtuosic display of compositional artistry and performer dexterity.  It takes just such an ensemble to perform a piece such a this:  one that is able to assimilate its features, grasp its style, and belie the fact that surely this music is quite difficult.


—Ethan Hayden

Friday, May 22, 2015

Roger Reynolds: On Space and Collaboration


In Roger Reynolds' …the serpent-snapping eye, sounds seem to come from all directions, simultaneously resulting from previous gestures while also seemingly materializing from nowhere.  Unison sonorities grow more and more vibrant until they suddenly erupt into lively gestures, before seamlessly dissipating back into the void.  Even on a simple stereo recording, there is an amazing evocation of space, while the periodic vertical sonorities mark the passage of time—a time that is continuously stretching and contracting, like a breathing organism, constantly manipulating both space and memory.


There are two elements which nearly every artist working in the field today (composer or otherwise) pays obligatory lip-service to, but which are so characteristic of Reynolds' output, aesthetic, and working method, that they deserve special attention.  The first of these is collaboration.  Reynolds' output has been consistently assisted and informed by a key group of performers whom he has frequently composed for, including Harvey Sollberger (whose flute recordings became the basis of the electronic component of the Transfigured Wind series, and who, as a conductor, premiered several important works by the composer), percussionist Steven Schick (who worked closely with the composer on the Watershed series, among other works, and with whom Reynolds has taught a course on collaboration at UCSD), vocalist Phil Larson, pianist Aleck Karis, and his partner of over fifty years, Karen Reynolds, who has premiered several works as a flutist and who has also assisted with technological elements (for instance, developing the projections for Ping in 1978).  Reynolds explains:
The feedback process is so important and is very rare in my experience.  […]  I already know what my own imagination is going to produce.  What I don’t know is exactly how that imagined sound is going to intersect with the physics of the instrument in the moment of real performance. So I think [the performers] make the opportunity to engage with the medium.
Roger Reynolds
In addition to collaborating with performers, Reynolds has worked with a wide variety of artists in other media.  Many of his electronic pieces are the results of close work with musical assistants (particularly those composed at IRCAM, including Archipelago for chamber orchestra and live multi-channel electronics).  In 1991, Reynolds provided incidental music for the Tadashi Suzuki Theatre Company's performance of Chekhov's Ivanov, the result of continued artistic exchange between the composer and Suzuki.  Just a few years earlier, Reynolds, moved by John Ashbery's Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, composed an orchestral response, Whispers Out of Time, which won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize.  Reynolds and Ashbery later collaborated on the evening-length song cycle, last things, I think, to think about, for bass-baritone (Larson), piano (Karis), and electronics, the latter of which consisted of recordings of the poet reciting his text.  His most recent large-scale work, the 'symphonic vision' george WASHINGTON, features collaborations with Ross Karre (video), Jaime Oliver (electronics), and Josef Kucera (sound engineering).  For Reynolds, such collaboration creates a symbiotic relationship, as he told New Music Box:  "You enter into a relationship with one or more people and you have to sacrifice some of your autonomy and they have to sacrifice some of theirs in order to get to a place that you couldn’t get without each other.  And I like that kind of situation."

Reynolds consults with James Baker during a
rehearsal at JiB 2010
None of this is to suggest that Reynolds' works are "co-compositions" or are incompletely his own—quite the opposite, in fact.  In getting immediate feedback from performers who are directly engaged with the composer in the process of creation, in relying on musical assistants to code his algorithms, and in working with poets to create the raw textual material for a piece, Reynolds has freed himself to be more expressive, to allow his voice and gestures more space in which to move and develop.

Which brings us to the second key element in Reynolds' work:  space.  The early description of
…the serpent-snapping eye hints at this element, but it reaches farther.  There are pieces which involve the physical movement of sound in space, like the early theatre piece, The Emperor of Ice-Cream, in which phonemes are passed back and forth among eight singers spread out across a stage, or Watershed IV, which maps out an array of percussion instruments and uses surround-sound speakers to locate the audience within the geometrical arrangement of sound sources.  But then, most significantly, there is the treatment of sounds as elements which themselves exist and interact in spaces—a sensitivity Reynolds inherits from Varèse.  This can be heard in much of Reynolds' work, and is described by the composer as "spatialization as subject."

One of my favorite memories of June in Buffalo centers around such an acoustic space created by the composer.  At the 2010 festival, Reynolds presented a mid-day "lecture," which turned out to be an early installment in his Passage series, a group of multimedia works centered around Reynolds' own narrations:  memories of conversations, meals, and ideas shared with several composers he's known throughout his life (including Takemitsu, Cage, and Xenakis).  After a week of intense, adventurous, spiky new music, this sparse, surprisingly pacifying presentation was intensely welcome, as Reynolds—looking strangely like Beckett in his black turtleneck—allowed his warm baritone narrations to envelope the audience.  The piece, while basically a solo Reynolds performance, seemed itself to be a collaboration of sorts:  the artists who helped make these stories contributing in their own way to the piece without knowing it.  And Passage seemed, in an oblique way, to be representative of what June in Buffalo is itself:  a space in which artists can meet, interact, exchange ideas, and create stories.


We're thrilled that Roger Reynolds will be joining us on this anniversary year, and look forward not only to his presence as a teacher and a thinker, but also to the performances of his works, which will include Eric Huebner's presentation of the first book of Piano Études, and Irvine Arditti's performance of the large-scale violin solo, Kokoro.  Both are sure to be continuations of Reynolds' ongoing mastery of space and memory.


—Ethan Hayden