Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra: a History of Innovation

June in Buffalo welcomes back the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, who will close the 2017 festival with a full concert of works by faculty composers. The program includes David Dzubay’s Siren Song, Jeffrey Mumford’s verdant and shimmering air: four views of a reflected forest, and two works by June in Buffalo director David Felder, Incendio and Canzona. Canzona is a new work for brass ensemble receiving its world premiere on the festival—profiled in a past post in this publication.

For much of its history, the orchestra has been renowned for its programming of new music.
The orchestra’s first recording (1946) was the world premiere recording of the then-contemporary Symphony no. 7 by Dmitri Shostakovich, opened the door to later engagement with more radical works. Follwoing the appointment of Lukas Foss as music director in 1963, new music played a central role in the orchestra’s programming. Foss began by introducing early 20th-century repertoire such as Ives’s The Unanswered Question and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and soon after programmed the most radical orchestral works of the post-WWII era, including the US premiere of Stockhausen’s Momente and works by Berio, Cage, Carter, Ligeti, Nono, Penderecki, Takahashi, Xenakis, and Foss himself, some of which were recorded on the high profile label Nonesuch Records.

Not only did concerts include cutting-edge music, but the orchestra also pioneered programming frameworks that moved beyond numerous conventions of orchestral concert programs. Concerts often departed from the overture-concerto-symphony format, sometimes including 5-6 works. Programs often included new music, as well as early music, non-Western music, and rock alongside canonical classical works, often in combinations revealing unexpected resonances—as in a 1966 concert juxtaposing two movements of a Mahler symphony with Webern songs and Webern’s orchestrations of Schubert songs. Other concerts consisted entirely of new music, such as a 1965 concert featured works by Varèse, Boulez, Penderecki, Kilar, and Kagel (then Slee Professor at the University at Buffalo (UB)), and a 1970 event featuring the Grateful Dead together with orchestral works by Foss (with laser show), Cage, and (a rock-ified version of) Bach. Concerts frequently featured leading new music performers as guest soloists and ensembles; the Creative Associates of UB’s Center for Creative and Performing Arts, where Foss taught, were regular guests.

Michael Tilson Thomas, now renowned for his ambitious new music projects as music director of the San Francisco Symphony, took over as music director in 1971. He continued many of Foss’s programming priorities, while strongly emphasizing the performance of works by American experimental composers (who would later be the center of his acclaimed “American Mavericks” series). The emphasis upon American experimentalists coincided conveniently with Morton Feldman’s arrival at UB in 1972, leading the BPO to premiere two of his works, The Viola in My Life IV (itself on a remarkable marathon program that also contained Berio’s Epifanie, Cage’s Variations IV, a Charpentier Mass, and Debussy’s Rhapsody) and Voices and Instruments II. Tilson-Thomas also welcomed works that explored the absurd, the theatrical, and blurred distinctions between performance and audience, as in a 1972 program that featured Berio’s Recital I (for Cathy) and David Bedford’s controversial With 100 Kazoos for Ensemble and Audience.

Continuing the close relationship between the BPO and UB cultivated by Lukas Foss, the BPO has been regularly featured at June in Buffalo. In recent years, June in Buffalo has provided an important outlet for the orchestra’s new music programming, as detailed in a past post from this publication. A further link between the orchestra and UB is David Felder, UB Distinguished Professor and June in Buffalo Director, who was the BPO’s Meet the Composer Composer-in-Residence from 1992-96. In addition to the new work to be premiered on this year’s festival, he is currently at work on a new work for the orchestra to be premiered in 2018.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Josh Levine and Slee Sinfonietta Soloists: Redefining Virtuosity

Due to unforeseen contingencies, Josh Levine will be replacing Brian Ferneyhough as faculty composer at this year’s festival. The Ferneyhough works scheduled for performance will still be presented, while two of Levine’s works will be added to the Wednesday evening concert. This publication previously wrote a profile on Levine, who was a faculty composer at last year’s festival.

Wednesday night’s concert will open as scheduled with the MIVOS Quartet playing works by Mumford, Buene, Hellstenius, and Ferneyhough; as a last minute addition, the Slee Sinfonietta Soloists will perform two solo works by Josh Levine. UB graduate student and Dean’s Fellow Jade Conlee will perform Praeludium (Inflorescence II) (2008-9) for piano while UB alumnus and UCSD doctoral student TJ Borden will perform Sixty Cycles (2015) for cello.

Praeludium (Inflorescence II) is based on the harmonic structures of an earlier piano miniature. Levine writes about the piece
is the first of two pieces in this series whose point of departure is a return to earlier work of mine, the other being Breathing ritual (Inflorescence V). Though decidedly figurative at first, the piece erupts into a dense superimposition of reiterating lines that forms a vast thicket of notes through which the interpreter must forge an individual path.
The composer has made the score available online here.

Sixty Cycles was commissioned by the Isabelle Zogheb Foundation for Kevin McFarland, formerly cellist of the JACK Quartet. TJ Borden gave the first complete performance of the piece this past January. Originally planned for a friend’s sixtieth birthday, the work “was born of my thinking about life’s phases and the frequent disjuncture between experienced time and the temporal grids we use to organize our lives (years, months, days…).” The piece consists of 60 phrases of equal (notated) length, each being “ten beats long (the fixed temporal grid), but they vary in perceived and often clock duration through tempo fluctuations and according to the activity and density of the materials that ‘inhabit’ them.” For more detail, have a look at the score, available here.
The piece takes a unique approach to the cello, radically extending traditional notions of virtuosity. Levine writes that
The cello part requires extremely subtle control and virtuosity. The performer explores and struggles with the instrument as if trying to make sense of its capacities, seeking ­– or perhaps trying to regain? – the ability to play with conventional beauty, and uncovering other beauties in the process. In the first half of the piece, for example, a substantial amount of the material is fingered not only in the instrument’s highest, less-exploited reaches, but also often on the “wrong” side of the bow. Similar extensions of traditional sound production arise through instability/variability in the way the bow contacts the string, widespread use of left-hand pizzicato, and the significant presence of high harmonics and multiphonics, sound objects akin to woodwind multiphonics that consist of simultaneously produced harmonics on a single string.


Soloists Conlee and Borden are well known to June in Buffalo audiences. Both have played regularly with the Slee Sinfonietta, but are best known for their astounding performances of superlatively difficult modernist solo works. Last year’s festival opened with Conlee’s performance of Boulez’s First Sonata, while the 2015 festival featured Borden’s performance of Brian Ferneyhough’s Time and Motion Study II.

David Dzubay: Color and Pluralism

For the next installment in our profiles of this year’s June in Buffalo composition faculty, we introduce the work of David Dzubay. Dzubay’s Nine Fragments will be performed by Dal Niente, Kukulkan III by Signal, and Siren Song by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. This is not Dzubay’s first contact with UB and its network: he attended June in Buffalo as a student in 1997 (during this festival, he also functioned as guest conductor), and one of his principal composition teachers was Lukas Foss, professor of composition at UB during the 1960s.

Dzubay’s music has received a formidable amount of institutional recognition across the world. His works have been performed by the symphony orchestras of Aspen, Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, Louisville, Memphis, Minnesota, St. Louis and Vancouver; the American Composers Orchestra, National Symphonies of Ireland and Mexico, New World Symphony, and conductors including James DePreist, Eiji Oue, JoAnn Falletta, Keith Lockhart and David Zinman. He has recently received numerous prestigious honors, including a Sackler Prize, two Fromm Commissions, and an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; Guggenheim, Bogliasco, MacDowell, Yaddo, Copland House and Djerassi fellowships; awards from the NEA (twice), BMI (twice), ASCAP (thrice), Meet the Composer, the American Music Center, and the Tanglewood Music Center. Currently Professor of Music at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and composer in residence at the Brevard Music Center, he previously taught at the University of North Texas. Also active as a conductor, he is Director of the New Music Ensemble at Indiana University, and has conducted at the Tanglewood, Aspen, and June in Buffalo Festivals.

Dzubay’s music has been praised for its fresh, distinctive voice, which he has cultivated within listening parameters familiar to classical music audiences, those of 19th century Western art music. It is no easy task to find new musical possibilities within this extremely well-worn musical space; below, I explore three strategies the composer uses to “make it new” while not departing radically from certain conventions.

John von Rhein, music critic of the Chicago Tribute, writes that Dzubay’s work is “beautifully conceived for the instruments, the music bears a distinctive stamp,” while Michael Anthony of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes that “he also knows how to translate his imaginings into bright, unusual orchestral sound.” The opening of Siren Song exemplifies some of Dzubay’s orchestrational strategies in action: emphasis on dull or bright instrumental tessituras, ambiguities between harmony and timbre, and between pitched and unpitched instruments, and a stratified polyphonic depth of field, all indicating awareness of innovative 20th century orchestral works.

If the music’s kaleidoscope of vivid colors opens up possibilities within a compositional practice centering familiar listening parameters like dramaturgy and harmony, its stylistic and historical diversity serves a similar purpose. Dzubay composed certain pieces as parodies (“in the respectful sense,” writes the composer) of works by Josquin des Prez and Perotin—a framework that thematizes unbridgeable historical difference, cultivating resistance to composing and listening habits. More broadly, as Matthew Guerrerri of the Boston Globe writes, Dzubay’s music frequently draws on a wide stylistic palette, “[gathering] miscellaneous styles under a buzzing, rustling, shimmering sonic umbrella.” The range of reference is wide: Nine Fragments, to be performed at June in Buffalo, was inspired by the music and playing of composer/oboist Heinz Holliger, one of the most radical musicians of the late 1960s and eary 1970s, while other works, as discussed above, take medieval music as their point of departure.

Parallel to invoking other music, Dzubay’s works are frequently programmatic, invoking extra-musical phenomena through titles, program notes, and use of referential topoi. These references function to particularize and comment upon received musical conventions. For instance, at 5:19 in Siren Song, the regular drum strokes refer to the genre of the march, perhaps a funeral march. However, certain details—such as the anguished, restless lyricism of the upper-voice melody, as well as the texture’s increasing metric disintegration—contradict the genre’s ramified conventions. The piece’s use of the march defamiliarizes the genre’s conventions; while the genre’s presence in the work lends it dimensionality, engaging in conversation with a familiar, multi-faceted cultural object.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Brian Ferneyhough: Fractured Energies

This year June in Buffalo is delighted to welcome Brian Ferneyhough back to its composition faculty. Ferneyhough is one of the most celebrated composers of his generation, with performances at most major European new music festivals by most major European new music ensembles, a publishing deal with Edition Peters (who sign few living composers), and numerous recordings (at least 29 currently in print) devoted to his music. His Collected Writings, published in 1995, is widely read, and his influence on multiple generations of younger composers (a not unreliable predictor of future reception) is enormous. His pedagogy is also highly regarded: he is currently Professor at Stanford University, having taught previously at the University of California San Diego, the University of Chicago, and the Freiburg Musikhochschule. He is also a frequently invited guest teacher at music festivals around the world, most notably at the Voix Nouvelles Course at the Abbaye de Rouyamont near Paris; he returns to June in Buffalo after previous engagements in 2013 and 2015. At this year’s festival, Ferneyhough will give a lecture and masterclasses, while guest ensembles and soloists will perform five of his pieces drawn from different periods of his output.
from the score of Unity Capsule

Before discussing specific pieces, it is worth taking time to unpack Ferneyhough’s project as a whole. While he is among the most lauded composers today, he is also one of the most widely misunderstood. The term “complexity”—whether meant as a criticism or not—is not exactly conducive to a wholistic understanding of his music. The significance of his music lies not in its quantitative complexity alone, but in how its increase in quantitative notational complexity induces a more consequential qualitative shift in the nature of the score, performance practice, and interpretation. Therefore, to understand his work primarily in terms of a quantitative deviation from a presumed notational norm overemphasizes its surface features while obscuring their unique, innovative raison d’ȇtre.

Unity Capsule performed by Ine Vanoeveren

The material of Ferneyhough’s music is kinetic energy: melodic mobility, and instrumental physicality, as well as intersections between the two. His approach to notation does not per se specify an ideal sound image, but codifies a field of colliding energies--an obstacle course of sorts--for the performer to navigate. The notation aims to create a white-hot but specific energy in live performance, bringing the liveness of music making to the fore. 

Unity Capsule performed by Carlton Vickers

Ferneyhough’s scores employ a range of strategies in their quest for a variegated, animated energy in live performance; here I will discuss three strategies: turbulence, torque, and pressurization. Turbulence means deliberate undercutting of stable reference points through the use of fine, rapidly changing differentiations of pitch, dynamics, articulation, physical parameters (i.e. bow position), and above all rhythmic density (whose shift at each barline undercuts the orientation afforded by a stable pulse). Torque refers to intentional collisions between notational parameters: phraseological emphasis operates against metric emphasis, meaning that the performer must swim upstream against the inherent tendency to emphasize downbeats; concurrently, dynamics, accentuation, and register often operate semi-autonomously, creating resistance to received linear phrasing conventions. Finally, pressurization involves extreme performative and notational registers--high, continuous rhythmic density, together with a saturated notational image--which raise the temperature in live performance. If turbulence and torque fracture kinetic energy in different ways, pressurization intensifies its impact. Therefore, for all its intricacy, the notation conveys and elicits a fundamental physicality.

Electric Chair Music, a documentary about performance practice in Ferneyhough’s Time and Motion Study II

For performers, the path towards unlocking this music’s restless kinetic energy lies in learning the music from two incompatible perspectives: on one hand, attending to the accuracy of individual details, and, on the other, focusing on kinetic energy, on wholistic volitions of gestures and phrases (as the composer describes in more detail in the preface to his solo piano work Lemma-Icon-Epigram). Learning a Ferneyhough piece means finding a personal way to mediate between these competing perspectives. As such, interpretation is not a process of applying conventions for phrasing on the basis of melodic/harmonic analysis (as in pre-1800 Western art music), but rather one of working out a personal solution to the notation’s overdetermined dilemmas from the ground up. Performer and score enter into a non-hierarchical, non-identical relationship: the score renders audible the performer’s individual proclivities, while, in a successful performance, the performer must render audible the broader energetic tensions at the heart of the work. In an era when the overproduction, overconsumption, and museumification of Western art music tightens the grip of habit on performers, encouraging ever more literal, conventionalized interpretations, Ferneyhough’s approach to notation and performance practice offers a unique and ingenious way to place the spontaneity, unpredictability, and vulnerability of live performance at the center of the concert music experience. The two contrasting interpretations of Unity Capsule posted above give some idea as to what this entails in practice.

Time and Motion Study II performed by UB alumnus TJ Borden (cello) with JiB alumni James Bean and Paul Hembree (live electronics)

These concerns are perhaps realized most “purely” in two solo works from the mid-1970s, Time and Motion Study II (1973-76) for cello and live electronics, and Unity Capsule for solo flute. The works programmed at this year’s June in Buffalo date from both before and after this period. Coloratura for oboe and piano (1966), to be performed by Dal Niente, marks an early attempt to translate the pointillistic style of the 1950s Darmstadt composers into a musical language concerned primarily with kinetic energy.

Coloratura performed by former JiB guest performer Peter Veale and former UB Professor James Avery

The Second String Quartet (1980), to be performed by the MIVOS Quartet, marks a break from the solo works of the 1970s. Unlike the solo works, the quartet enters into a more overt dialogue with historical Western art music. Here fractured linear momentum, density, and physicality become a way to defamiliarize clichés of Romantic and expressionistic string writing. The iconic significations of these clichés become liquidated in the music’s multidimensional fractured continuity; their pathos evaporates as heightened physicality gives them a new life.

Second String Quartet performed by frequent JiB guest performers Arditti Quartet

By the 1990s, Ferneyhough had expanded his approach to historical musical materials: “subjective” Romantic gestures are not only recontextualized, but are also placed in conversation with contrasting “objective” materials. Terrain (1992), to be performed by Irvine Arditti and Signal, epitomizes this approach, above all in its instrumentation, counterposing (historically) “subjective” violin soloist with “objective” wind/brass/double-bass octet (the same ensemble as Edgard Varèse’s Octandre).

Terrain performed by Mark Menzies and Wasteland Music

While Terrain activates a collision between Romantic materials and modernist materials, both ostensibly invented from scratch, later pieces have explored what happens when expressionist gestures enter into dialogue with materials from Renaissance music. That is, expressionist materials, predicated upon authenticity of subjective expression, comes into contact with Renaissance materials that predate notions of subjectivity in music (which might be traced to mid-16th century madrigals). Unsichtbare Farben (1999), to be performed by Irvine Arditti, is built from passages of Ockeghem masses that are ultimately inaudible to the listener; here the historical dialectic functions perhaps more as a compositional process towards a result that might not be achieved in other ways, rather than as concrete feature of the listening experience. In In Nomine (2001), however, materials from an eponymous piece by Christopher Tye are more apparent to the listener; Ferneyhough writes that the piece presents found materials “in various distorted forms," exploring a continuum of materials from intact Tye materials at the opening to materials that bear no audible relationship to Tye's style.

In Nomine performed by Mark Takeshi McGregor, Kristen Cooke, and Liam Hockley, clarinet

-Colin Tucker

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

David Felder: Composer, Pedagogue, Artistic Director

As the next installment in our series of profiles of this year’s June in Buffalo composition faculty, we feature David Felder, who is also the festival’s director. Currently a SUNY Distinguished Professor and the Birge-Cary Professor in Music Composition at the University at Buffalo (UB), Felder wears many hats: as professor, practicing composer, and arts administrator. In these roles, he has built UB’s music department into a formidable powerhouse for new music.

As a composer, Felder has recently completed two large-scale works: Netivot for string quartet, electronics, and video, and Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux, for vocal soloists, orchestra, electronics, and video, both of which have been featured at recent June in Buffalo Festivals. This year’s festival features two Felder premieres: Canzona, to be performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic’s brass section, and Violin Concerto, a portion of a longer work in progress to be performed by Irvine Arditti and Ensemble Signal. Three other Felder works will also be presented: Incendio, performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic brass; Another Face, performed by Irvine Arditti; and partial [dist]res[s]toration, performed by Ensemble Dal Niente.

Like Felder’s earlier work Incendio, Canzona is, as the composer describes it, a “trans-literation” of an existing vocal work of his own. Historically, the canzona emerged in precisely this fashion during the late 1500s, and Felder’s interest in the music of this period, particularly in Robert King’s brass arrangements of Giovanni Gabrieli’s canzonas, was a crucial point of departure for the work. Although Felder’s Canzona is a 21st century work written in his strikingly individual musical language, it engages with numerous aspects of the historical canzona: a consciously “choral” approach to ensemble writing, continuity of rhythmic momentum, and quasi-antiphonal textures.

Violin Concerto will be a preview of a few movements from what will eventually be an eight-movement, 25-30 minute work, to be premiered in full by Irvine Arditti and Ensemble Linéa on a concert at UB’s Center for 21st Century Music in November. While Felder’s works of the 1980s and 1990s explored extended single-movement forms (such as Another Face), starting in the early 2000s, he started exploring a unique approach to multi-movement form (such as in partial [dist]res[s]toration). While in 18th- and 19th- century approaches to multi-movement form, movements contrasted with each other, and internally unified through key, tempo, instrumentation, topoi, and more, Felder describes his individual movements as “kaleidoscopic,” as each drawing upon multiple, contrasting threads of material.

Also a tireless arts administrator, he oversees four arts initiatives at UB. Through diligent work over more than three decades, he has built up one of the leading centers for new music in North America, and sustained it in the wake of declining state funding and local foundation funding. Perhaps most notably, he has led June in Buffalo since 1985, taking the reins from former UB Professor Morton Feldman; former June in Buffalo faculty member Harvey Sollberger has chronicled Felder’s tenure as director in detail here. Felder also leads Center for 21st Century Music at the University, an institute that produces guest artist concerts and guest lectures by high-profile national and international new music luminaries. Through the Center, Felder is artistic director of the Slee Sinfonietta, UB’s resident faculty chamber ensemble, whose focus is the performance of 20th century classics and new works. Felder’s activities also extend beyond the music department: together with fellow SUNY Distinguished Professor Bruce Jackson, Felder is founding co-director of the multi-disciplinary Creative Arts Initiative, a platform for master artists to conduct residencies at UB.

This year’s festival is notable for its partnerships with two European institutions, the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, Norway, and the Voix Nouvelles Course for Young Composers at the Abbaye de Royaumont near Paris, France. Two composition professors from the Norwegian Academy will be featured faculty at the festival, while an ensemble of Academy graduate performance students will perform works by graduate composition students from both the Academy and UB; this publication detailed these activities in a past post. In partnership with Voix Nouvelles, June in Buffalo and its partner course will exchange participant-composers each year.

Beyond partnerships, this year’s festival presents an unusually stylistically diverse rostrum of faculty composers, together with some exceptional concert programming. In non-coastal America, it is uncommon to hear top-notch European new music chamber ensembles like Cikada; it is perhaps even more unexpected to hear live performances of music like Brian Ferneyhough’s challenging chamber music (particularly a lengthy, ultra-virtuosic work for larger forces like Terrain). Similarly, it is rare in the US to hear a full program of new orchestral works, as the festival offers on its final concert. A full concert schedule is available here—we look forward to seeing you there!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Transatlantic Music Exchange: Cikada Trio and Bifrost Ensemble

June in Buffalo marks the culmination of an exchange project between composers and performers in Buffalo and Oslo, Norway. Organized by June in Buffalo Director and UB Distinguished Professor of Composition David Felder, Norwegian Academy of Music Professor of Composition Henrik Hellstenius, Norwegian Academy of Music Associate Professor of Percussion Kjell Tore Innervik, and UB PhD candidate in composition Colin Tucker, the project will bring two Norwegian ensembles—Cikada Trio and Bifrost Ensemble—to the June in Buffalo Festival, alongside two faculty composers—Henrik Hellstenius and Eivind Buene—from the Norwegian Academy of Music.

Cikada Trio, a subset of the larger Cikada Ensemble, returns to Buffalo after an acclaimed visit to the Center for 21st Century Music in 2010. At this year’s June in Buffalo, a trio of longtime Cikada members—Anne Karine Hauge, flute; Rolf Borch, clarinet; and Kenneth Karlsson, piano—will perform works by living Norwegian composers: faculty composers Henrik Hellstenius and Eivind Buene as well as Maja Ratkje and Asbjørn Schaathun. One theme running across the concert is the re-imagining of found material: Buene’s Landscape with Ruins alludes to fragments of tonal vocables, while Ratkje’s Two small pieces for Arnold S. takes its point of departure from two chords found in Arnold Schoenberg’s Little Piano Pieces op. 19; Schaathun’s Stravinsky goes Bach and Schaathun goes Frescobaldi is also based on small fragments, in this case from Stravinsky’s Cappriccio and Concerto for Piano and Winds. In previous posts, this publication profiled two composers--Eivind Buene and Henrik Hellstenius--featured on this program.

Active for over two decades, the ensemble is renowned for its high-profile festival appearances and recordings alike. From its earliest days, Cikada distinguished itself by pursuing ambitious projects—music of great performative difficulty by Liza Lim, James Dillon, and Richard Barrett, multimedia collaborations, and numerous concert length works, for instance, by Martin Raune Bauck and Richard Barrett (the latter in collaboration with the Australian ELISION Ensemble). The ensemble is also known for its long-term collaborations with Scandinavian composers; the trio’s program at this year’s festival, featuring works by four living Norwegian composers is evidence of the ample fruits of this endeavor.

Cikada is now a widely recognized senior ensemble in the Scandinavian new music scene; complementing this, this year’s festival features a young, up-and-coming ensemble from Oslo. Bifrost Ensemble is a recently formed sextet (trumpet, clarinet, percussion, harp, violin, and cello) made up of graduate students in performance at the Norwegian Academy of Music. Advised by percussion faculty member Kjell Tore Innervik, the group will give world premiere performances of works by graduate student composers from UB (Roberto Azaretto, Derick Evans, and Colin Tucker) and the Norwegian Academy (Jonas Skaarud) at June in Buffalo. 

Jonas Skaarud, Il vento

Two of the composers spoke with Edge of the Center about their new works. Jonas Skaarud’s Il vento to ha lasciata un’eco chiara, nei sensi, delle cose ch’ài vedute – confuse – il giorno takes its title and inspiration from a poem by Sandro Penna. Skaarud writes that
The piece is about chrysanthemums, shivering lakes, yellowgreen trees in the sunlight and other nice pictures. But often they pass quickly. And while you try to grasp them, they reshape and reshape. And they pass. And you try to grasp them, and they reshape.

Exploring ephemerality from another angle, Colin Tucker’s a rift, like the breath drawn in, immaculate thematizes incompatible tensions between melody and instrument. Tucker writes that
If 19th century Western art music’s aesthetics of melodic lyricism sought to transcend the materiality of the instrumental medium, scripting musical sound as a transparent vessel for ineffable meaning, the present work materializes these aesthetics’ conditions of impossibility, staging melody’s submersion into its physical medium. The instruments strain to enunciate melodic fragments against the headwinds of hushed, high tessituras and instrument-specific techniques that magnify unpredictable interactions between performers’ bodies and their instruments: air sound (clarinet), quiet tremolo from a close distance (percussion and harp), and extremely slow bow (strings).

Colin Tucker, a rift

The program will also include Innervik’s interpretation of former UB professor Morton Feldman’s King of Denmark, a “graph piece” from 1964 to be played at a very quiet dynamic, using only fingers and hands on a variety of instruments. Shortly after its Buffalo presentation, the program will travel to New York City for a concert at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church (317 E 52nd St.), on June 8 at 6pm. Plans are underway for further performances of the new works in Oslo.

Feldman, King of Denmark, performed by UB Percussion Professor Tom Kolor

Thursday, May 25, 2017

June in Buffalo 2017 Participants

The June in Buffalo Festival is pleased to announce its 2017 composer participants: 

Phil Acimovic
Roberto Azaretto
Michael Bang
Joseph Bohigian
Lily Chen
Yu-Chun Chien
Paul Duffy
Derick Evans
Meredith Gilna
Kolten Heeren
Alex Huddleston
Zhuosheng Jin
Jihyun Kim
Jiyoung Ko
Leslie Lang
Sunyeong Pak
Jakub Polaczyk
Matt Simon
Ben Stevenson
Adam Strawbridge
Adrien Trybucki
Colin Tucker
Jacob Walls
Jung Yoon Wie

The June in Buffalo Festival takes place June 5-11 2017 on the University at Buffalo campus. June in Buffalo offers an intensive schedule of seminars, lectures, workshops, professional presentations, participant forums and open rehearsals as well as afternoon and evening concerts open to the general public and critics. Each of the invited composers will have one of their pieces performed during the festival. Evening performances feature faculty composers, resident ensembles and soloists renowned internationally as interpreters of contemporary music. Faculty composers include Eivind BueneDavid DzubayDavid Felder, Brian FerneyhoughHenrik Hellstenius, and Jeffrey Mumford, while resident performers include Dal NienteMivos QuartetEnsemble SIGNAL, Slee Sinfonietta. Buffalo Philharmonic OrchestraCikada Trio, and Irvine Arditti.

A schedule of all June in Buffalo concerts is available here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Henrik Hellstenius: Voyages and Rifts

June in Buffalo is delighted to welcome Henrik Hellstenius as a faculty composer in 2017. Hellstenius will be featured at June in Buffalo alongside composer Eivind Buene, the Cikada Trio, and the Bifrost Ensembles as part of a broader musical exchange between Buffalo and Oslo during 2017, to be profiled in a future blog post. Currently professor of composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, Hellstenius has written music that has appeared on 22 commercially available recordings, spanning chamber music, orchestra, opera, electroacoustic music, and music for theatre. This year’s June in Buffalo will feature performances of Hellstenius’s chamber and solo music. During the festival, Hellstenius will also give a lecture and will give feedback to participant-composers in masterclasses.

Rift, a string trio from 2014, will be performed by the MIVOS Quartet; Trio Aristos’s recording of the work is available on Tidal, Spotify, and iTunes. Perhaps most immediately striking about the piece’s musical language is its approach to accumulating and dissipating gestural energy. While the piece follows a familiar global shape of accumulation to a high point (4:50 in the Trio Aristos recording) followed by dissipation, this shape unfolds in unpredictable and remarkable ways on a local level. In accumulating momentum over the piece’s first five minutes, the piece charts a patient, often discontinuous trajectory. Much of the first half of the piece attempts to gather rhythmic energy on descending scalar figures, as if trying to roll down a hill; these efforts rarely sustain themselves, and often end up far afield of their goal. At times, one’s location within the global energy shape is clear, but at other times, it is not apparent at all, making for an exciting play of expectation and realization as the piece unfolds. The piece’s nuanced dramatic shape is undoubtedly assisted by the piece’s subtle pitch language. Pitches are derived from spectral chords, yielding a colorful range of microtonal intervals. These intervals—sometimes reminiscent of tonal sonorities—together with the piece’s widely varying registral spacing in a striking sound world wholly distinct from the saturated chromaticism of high modernist atonality.

June in Buffalo will also feature a performance by Irvine Arditti (of the Arditti Quartet) of the violin solo The Argonaut (2010). You can hear a performance of the work by Emily Fowler in the recording above. Drawn from the material of a larger instrumental theatre piece Victoria Counting for staged violinist. Hellstenius writes that “the title refers to the seamen following Ulysses on his many voyages,” based on Heiner Müller’s text Landscape with Argonauts.

This year’s festival will also feature a new Hellstenius piece Unfolded, as it were, performed by the Cikada Trio, who commissioned the piece. The composer writes that

This piece shifts between short sections, or moments, with repetition of a sparse material of chords and sound objects, and moves towards a more linear music. It begins in an environment of small cells of noise sound and repeated musical objects. Then it moves towards the linear outstretched music, unfolding gradually a long garland or chain of tight piano chords forming the nave the last part of the piece. The piece develops from fragmented music towards compound music, from objects towards process. 

Despite the attention that his music has received across Europe, Hellstenius’s music has rarely been performed in the US. This year’s June in Buffalo, with performances of multiple recent works by top new music ensembles, provides optimal introduction to his music.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Juliet Fraser: Wondering, Reaching, Grasping

This week renowned British soprano Juliet Fraser visits the Center for 21st Century Music for a residency. Fraser, principal soprano and co-founder of the Exaudi Vocal Ensemble, will present a solo concert Thursday featuring an extended vocal work by former UB Professor Morton Feldman. In addition to a concert, she will conduct a new workshop with graduate composition students, focusing on a new work for solo voice by PhD composition student Jessie Downs. Drawing on her experiences performing contemporary vocal ensemble music, Fraser will also coach the local Sotto Voce Vocal Collective on its interpretations of works by James Weeks and Lauren Redhead to be featured on an upcoming concert.

Active in performing a wide range of repertoire, Fraser has performed classical and early music with the Monteverdi Choir, The King's Consort, The Tallis Scholars, and BBC Singers, and was a soloist of the Collegium Vocale Gent, directed by Philippe Herreweghe, for six years. In new music, she is principal soprano and co-founder of the Exaudi Vocal Ensemble, and has also appeared as soloist with Klangforum Wien, ICTUS, Plus-Minus, We Spoke: New Music Company, London Sinfonietta and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and is active in duos with pianist Mark Knoop and percussionist Maxime Echardour. She has appeared at festivals such as as hcmf//, Tectonics Glasgow, Transit 20/21, Donaueschinger Musiktage, MaerzMusik, Wien Modern, Aldeburgh, Spitalfields, hcmf//, ManiFeste, Festival d'Automne, Ars Musica, Wittener Tage and Darmstadt Ferienkurse.

Fraser has developed close collaborative relationships with numerous renowned living composers. The list of composers who have written solo works for her is impressive: Michael Finnissy, Bernhard Lang, Rebecca Saunders, Stefano Gervasoni, Frank Denyer, Christopher Fox, Matthew Shlomowitz, Cassandra Miller and Andrew Hamilton. As a member of Exaudi, she has worked with many of today's great compositional talents, including two graduates from UB’s Center for 21st Century Music.  Aaron Cassidy’s A Painter of Figures in Rooms was commissioned for Exaudi by the high profile PRS for Music New Music 20×12 as part of the 2012 London Cultural Olympiad, and was later recorded by the ensemble on Huddersfield Contemporary Records. Meanwhile, Fraser has premiered multiple vocal ensemble works by Evan Johnson, a collaboration that will continue in 2019 with a new work for voice and piano.

At UB, Fraser will perform Three Voices, a work by another UB-affiliated composer, Morton Feldman, who was Edgar Varèse Professor during the height of the Center for Creative and Performing Arts. Feldman wrote the work for innovative vocalist/composer Joan La Barbara, who premiered it singing simultaneously with two recordings of herself, a practice Fraser will adopt in her performance (although the score is written conventionally for three voices). Written in 1982 in Buffalo, much of the piece is wordless, with the choice of vowels at the performer’s discretion. A ways into the piece, words emerge, in the form of fragments of a poem dedicated to Feldman by his friend Frank O’Hara.

Fraser recently recorded Three Voices on Hat Hut Records. Her first solo disc, the album has already received international acclaim, including a nomination for a German Schallplattenkritik Prize, and a four-star review from The Guardian music critic Andrew Clements. Fraser wrote the liner notes for her CD, discussing how she formulated an interpretation of this work, which is surely among the most difficult contemporary vocal works:

The challenge of recording this piece is to avoid rendering the delicate tapestry either too cold, too clinical, or too gorgeous; to rest in the ambiguous space between beauty and evil, between the living and the dead. On every level, from the text of O’Hara’s poem to the demands of Feldman’s music, this is a work that is about the very human effort of wondering, reaching, grasping.