Monday, May 2, 2016

JACK Quartet Returns for Composer Workshop

JACK Quartet at One M&T Plaza, 2013
This week, the Center is excited to welcome back the JACK Quartet for a composer workshop in Baird Recital Hall.  Longtime friends of the Center, the JACK Quartet have taken part in many Center events, beginning with their first residency in October 2009, during which they worked with student composers and presented a concert that featured works by Xenakis, Sciarrino, Robert Morris, and Elliott Sharp.  Two years later, the quartet returned with Aaron Cassidy for a joint residency that included a concert featuring the composer's first quartet (and which also included John Cage's String Quartet in Four Parts and concluded with Ligeti's famous second quartet).  One of their most memorable performances was a concert at Buffalo's One M&T Plaza which kicked off the 2013 June in Buffalo Festival and Performance Institute.  The performance, part of Eric Huebner's "Music in Buffalo's Historic Places" series, consisted only of Morton Feldman's immense 100-minute String Quartet No. 1.

JACK Quartet at June in Buffalo 2013
This week, the ensemble—tireless advocates of new music that they are—will present a composer workshop, realizing new works by four UB graduate composers:  Roberto Azaretto, Alex Huddleston, Nathan Kelly, and Su Lee.  Known for their work helping young composers realize their ideas—the Toronto Star described them as the "musical vehicle of choice to the next great composers who walk among us"—the event is sure to be enlightening for composers and audience alike.

The members of the JACK Quartet met while studying at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY.  Having studied with the Arditti Quartet, Kronos Quartet, and members of the Ensemble Intercontemporain (under the direction of Pierre Boulez), the quartet—consisting of John Pickford Richards, Ari Streisfeld, Christopher Otto, and Kevin McFarland—developed their sophisticated new music chops, quickly becoming one of the most active quartets on the scene.  They have collaborated with a number of renowned composers, including John Luther Adams, Caroline Shaw, Helmut Lachenmann, Steve Reich, Matthias Pintscher, and John Zorn, with upcoming performances including premieres by Derek Bermel, Roger Reynolds, Toby Twining, and Georg Friedrich Haas.  It's no wonder the Washington Post referred to them as "the go-to quartet for contemporary music, tying impeccable musicianship to intellectual ferocity and a take-no-prisoners sense of commitment."

Monday, April 18, 2016

Slee Sinfonietta: On Mobiles and Dances

This week, the Slee Sinfonietta presents their first concert of the Spring season, conducted by UB Percussion Professor, Tom Kolor.  The program brings together two works from a pair of seminal American experimentalists:  John Cage and Earle Brown.  The Sinfonietta's program combines two large-scale works by these artists which, while less well known than some of their more famous pieces (e.g., Imaginary Landscapes or Folio), offer a distinct and unique perspective on the insights and accomplishments of these two important composers.

Earle Brown - Novara
The program begins with Brown's Novara (1962), for flute, bass clarinet, trumpet, piano, and strings.  The piece was originally commissioned by Lukas Foss for a Fromm concert at the Tanglewood Festival, where the premiere was conducted by Brown himself.  The conductor plays a unique role in Novara:  in this "open form" or "mobile" piece, all the musical possibilities are notated by the composer and laid out before the performers as a series of events (in numbered boxes).  The conductor, as the composer explains, "is free to conduct the events in any sequence or juxtaposition, in changing tempi, loudness, and in general mold and form the piece."  The virtuosity of Brown's compositional technique is on display in the flexibility and malleability of his musical material.  In the Sinfonietta's performance, Kolor will guide the ensemble in spontaneous, on-the-spot decisions about how to realize the piece.  The work therefore becomes a collaboration between composer and conductor—and the specific realization changes from performance to performance.  This open approach to form, while still relying on a fixed underlying structure, was something Brown found inspiration from in other media:
The concept of the elements being mobile was inspired by the mobiles of Alexander Calder, in which, similar to this work, there are basic units subject to innumerable different relationships or forms.  The concept of the work being conducted and formed spontaneously in performance was originally inspired by the "action-painting" techniques and works of Jackson Pollock in the late 1940s, in which the immediacy and the directness […] produces such an intensity in the working and in the result.

Merce Cunningham & John Cage
The concert will conclude with Cage's Sixteen Dances (1951), for flute, trumpet, four percussionists, piano, violin, and cello.  This 50-minute work was originally used to accompany Merce Cunningham's dance piece, Sixteen Dances for Soloist and Company of Three.  Cunningham's choreography was concerned with expressive behavior, specifically, as the artist explains, "the nine permanent emotions of Indian classical aesthetics, four light and four dark with tranquility the ninth and pervading one."  The piece's structure is designed to feature or illustrate each emotion (alternating light/dark) with interludes acting as bridges between each movement (i.e., each emotion).  Cage's compositional approach in the Sixteen Dances was unique—it being the last piece he composed before turning emphatically toward chance procedures.  For this work, he created a "sound gamut", a collection of 64 isolated sound events which he laid out on an 8x8 chart.  Then, as James Pritchett explains, "Composition […] became a matter of moving from place to place on the chart, picking one sound out after another, then stringing them together rhythmically into phrases."  The resulting piece is generally sparse in texture, but often rhythmic, quickly-moving, and light on its feet (as one would expect of a dance).  It's whimsy and levity are often underscored by a poignant mystique characteristic of much of Cage's early work, with frequent repetition and subtle variations underscoring the objectivity of the musical material.  

It was the aforementioned act of composing according to chart movements that eventually led Cage to chance music:  "Somehow, I reached the conclusion that I could compose according to moves on these charts instead of according to my own taste."

After this exciting program, the Sinfonietta is only getting started.  They will also be among the many resident ensembles at June in Buffalo 2016, where they'll perform a full concert of works by JiB faculty composers.  Meanwhile, members of the Sinfonietta will help realize new works by the participant composers.  It will be an exciting week in which the ensemble continues to live up to its mission to bring important works, new and newer, to fruition.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ensemble Linea in Residency at the Center

This week, the Center is excited to welcome back Ensemble Linea for a residency which will include a concert of new works (April 6) and a graduate composer workshop (April 8).

Linea have been frequent guests of the Center since their first appearance at June in Buffalo 2011, at which they made a big impact with strong performances of David Felder's Partial [Dist]res[s]toration and Gerard Grisey's Talea.  Linea returned to the festival two years later (JiB 2013), and performed an exciting program which featured Brian Ferneyhough's Mnemosyne and Tristan Murial's Treize Couleurs du Soleil Couchant.  The program concluded with Rokh I, a new work by Raphaël Cendo, a composer with whom the ensemble has closely collaborated on numerous occasions (video of this performance can be seen below):

Linea have had many productive, collaborative relationships with both established and emerging composers.  Cendo is currently composing a piano concerto for the ensemble, and they have premiered and commissioned works by the likes of Klaus Huber, Ivo Malec, Younghi Pagh-Paan, and Michael Jarrell.  They recently began regularly programming the music of Peter Ëotvös, and have performed nearly all of his catalogue, including the 2008 premiere of his Octet Plus.  Linea recently premiered (and recorded) Brian Ferneyhough's Chronos Aion, and are looking forward to upcoming collaborations with Philippe Manoury, James Clarke, and Center artistic director, David Felder.

Linea's Keiko Murakami performs Mnemosyne at JiB 2013
As an internationally-recognized ensemble, Linea have regularly been featured at festivals around the world.  Currently on their third tour of the US, they have played a significant role in the "development of cultural exchanges between France and the US", and through their programming have become a "global ambassador of French music".  Their April 6th concert will feature music by three French composers:  Aurélien Dumont, Frédéric Durieux, and Pascal Dusapin.  Dusapin (recently featured in the NY Times) is known for a Xenakis-like combination of complex, intellectual composition and a more primal mythos.  Linea trombonist Thierry Spiesser will present the composer's solo trombone work, Indeed, which features 'micro-glissandi' and uses a pixie/plunger mute combination to produce bright, spectrally-dense multiphonics.  From Durieux, Linea will perform Etudes en alternance I, II, III, which consists of three short movements of dynamic, high-energy gestures which demand a significant level of skill and agility on the part of the ensemble:

In addition, the program will feature chamber works by Valerio Sannicandro and Marco Momi.  To begin the concert, the ensemble will present Brazilian composer Michelle Agnes Magalhaes' prepared piano solo, Mobile, which will be performed by Linea's Claudia Chan.  The work combines quiet sections focusing on subtle color changes like those the titular sculptures, with more active, deliberately-clumsy mechanical sections.  Composed for the Cage centenary in 2012, the work is an intriguing update to Cage's approach to the instrument.

To conclude their residency, Linea will present a workshop with UB graduate composers, which will feature performances of works by Roberto Azaretto, Matt Chamberlain, Weijun Chen, Meredith Gilna, Daniel Gostelow, Brien Henderson, Nathan Kelly, Su Lee, and Igor Marques.  Through their participation at June in Buffalo and other festivals, Linea have cultivated a reputation for helping young composers realize their ideas effectively.  The high level of proficiency they demonstrate both as individual players and as an ensemble provide a great avenue for composers to test out new musical ideas.  We can't wait to hear what our composers have in store, and how Linea will help realize these new works!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Checking in with Leah Muir & Nora Ponte

Last Fall, Edge of the Center began an intermittent series of alumni profiles.  This week we thought we'd return to this series, checking in with two former UB composers, both of whom are continuing to produce a variety of exciting artistic projects.

Leah Muir
Leah Muir graduated from UB with a PhD in composition and a presidential fellowship in 2008.  Since that time, she has been a Fulbright Research fellow in Vienna, where she studied with Chaya Czernowin at the University of Music and Performing Arts.  In 2011, she was awarded a Meisterchülerin degree from the Berlin University of Arts, after studying there with Elena Mendoza, Daniel Ott, and Iris ter Schiphorst.  Leah is currently a Docent at the same school, where she and Mendoza serve as co-Artistic Directors of Ensemble ilinx and the Studio for New Music, overseeing concerts with repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries, including the Zoom + Focus series for student composers.  Ensemble ilinx is the first new music ensemble for students at the University, and its founding has been a significant accomplishment.  Leah occasionally conducts the ensemble and in a February program led them in a performance of Francesco Filidei's I Funerali Dell'Anarchico Serantini.

Leah's work has been performed by the Bruckner Orchestra Linz, Ensemble SurPlus, Trio Amos, New York New Music Ensemble, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and has been heard at such venues and festivals as the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Münchener Biennale, Wien Modern, the Aspen Music Festival, June in Buffalo, and Ars Electronica.  Her own music theatre productions include Von Sodom und Gomorra nach Berlin, premiered in 2012 at the Münchener Biennale, and the 2013 mini-opera Wie man findet, was man nicht sucht, which was commissioned as part the "Neue Szenen" prize at the Deutsche Oper.

Leah's recent works include The Quanta of Sublimity, for strings, percussion, and improvising mallet instruments, which was premiered last month in Laussane, Switzerland by the Tchiki Duo, with David Friedman on mallets, and Marc Leroy-Calatayud conducting.  She also has three more premieres in store for the spring, including Das Siebte Gebote, a vespers for soprano, bass clarinet, and organ, which was commissioned by the Guardini Stiftung for soprano Irene Kurka.  The work will be premiered in St. Matthäus Kirche in April, with a follow-up performance in June.  Another premiere will be included on a May 13th performance by Berlin PianoPercussion at the Konzerthaus Berlin:  Punch for two pianos, percussion, and 'video ePlayers'.  "While there is no specific definition for ePlayer," Leah explains, "I understand it as a digital performer and utilize samples a musician might be able to execute on his/her instrument.  A video ePlayer adds the visual layer."  Leah's Geigenwerk also features video ePlayer, and will be premiered at an upcoming concert by Sarah Saviet.  It's certainly a very productive and exciting time for Dr. Muir!

Nora Ponte
Nora Ponte graduated from the composition program with a PhD and a Dean's Fellowship in 2007.  Since then, she has had her music performed at a variety of festivals and conferences around the world, including ICMC 2012 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the Sound and Music Computing Conference in Stockholm, the University of Puerto Rico's International Festival of the Humanities, and the Sound Art Festival of San Juan just to name a few.    She was also the guest composer at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro New Music Festival in 2008, where she premiered her song cycle Mirrors, with vocalist Lorena Guillén.  The same year, she received the Buenos Aires City Composition Municipal Award in the symphonic music category, one of the most important awards Argentina offers to composers.

Nora has had a number of recent works commissioned and premiered.  Ser Diferente, for flute, guitar, and viola, was commissioned by Matiegka Trio and premiered in Buenos Aires in 2010.  The piece was recorded by the ensemble, and included on their 2011 CD, Trio Matiegka de Buenos Aires:  Música para flauta, viola y guitarra.  In addition, Alma Mater, for electronics, was commissioned by the 2011 Sound for the Spaces / Spaces for the Sound exhibition at El Arsenal de la Marina, in San Juan.  An excerpt of this piece can be heard below:

Other works which have been premiered recently include Espejismos for solo piano (2010), which Nora performed at the Arts Inter-American Festival at Fracisco Arriví in San Juan, and Vitrales I y II for four-channel electronics, which was premiered at San Juan's Contemporary Arts Museum in 2009.  The latter piece was also included on the Batiscafo 12B compilation CD in 2012.

Nora is grateful for her time at UB, and thanks the University for her fellowship and the opportunities it offered her.  She now serves as Associate Professor of Composition and Director of the Electronic Music Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras.  Nora is currently working on a new electronic piece related to Bach's Sixth Brandenburg Concerto, and a separate solo piano piece.  This summer, she will record two pieces for a CD she is hoping to have released by the year's end:  Aforismi for string quartet (2015) and Preludios for flute and piano (which includes two preludes from 1990, and a third from 2013).  We can't wait to hear the final product!

Congrats to Leah and Nora for all their accomplishments and upcoming projects!  We're eagerly looking forward to what they come up with next!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Visiting Composers: Marc Satterwhite & Bernard Rands

Bernard Rands
Over the next two weeks, the Center is excited to host two visiting composers for our Guest Artist Series. Marc Satterwhite and Bernard Rands will present in the Composer Seminar series on Friday March 25, and April 1, respectively.

Marc Satterwhite has taught in Texas, Indiana, and Michigan, and is currently Professor of Composition and Music Theory at the University of Louisville School of Music.  His music has been heard around the world, from Japan and South Korea to England and Latin America, and has been performed and recorded by several notable ensembles, including the Boston Symphony, Utah Symphony, Eighth Blackbird, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Verdehr Trio, the London Composers Ensemble, and Percussion Group Falsa.  

Marc Satterwhite
Satterwhite was a member of the Grawemeyer Award Committee for a number of years, and currently serves as its director.  Named for the famous industrialist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist H. Charles Grawemeyer, the Grawemeyer Awards are five annual prizes given in the fields of music, political science, psychology, education, and religion.  The oldest of the five, the first award for Music Composition was presented in 1985 to Witold Lutosławski for this Third Symphony.  Other winners include György Ligeti, Harrison Birtwistle, Toru Takemitsu, Thomas Ades, and Louis Andriessen.  Recent Guest Artist to the Center Kaija Saariaho won the award in 2003 for her first opera, L'Amour de loin, and this year's award has gone to Hans Abrahamsen, a member of the 2016 June in Buffalo faculty, for his song cycle, let me tell you.  "I have one of the best jobs in the world," says Satterwhite.  "I have great students, terrific colleagues, and I get to direct the most prestigious award for composers in the world.  This puts me into constant contact with great musicians in the wider world, some of whom have become good friends as a result."

Satterwhite began his musical career as a bassist, studying the instrument at Michigan State University and playing full-time in the Orquesta Filarmónica de la Ciudad de México.  After deciding to pursue composition, he enrolled at Indiana University, where he studied with John Eaton and served as a research assistant to George List, one of the pioneers of the field of ethnomusicology.

As a composer, Satterwhite emphasizes adept instrumental writing, his music featuring elaborate gestures and fine textural subtleties which often outline familiar teleological narratives.  "I am most interested in music which has an immediate emotional appeal, but which is also intellectually stimulating enough to bear up to repeated hearings.  I tend to prefer music which is goal-directed, with clear buildups, climaxes, and dénouements."  His output is quite varied, ranging from large-scale works for orchestra or wind ensemble (including a 3-hour opera, Akhmatova, composed in 2000), to more compact chamber pieces and solos, like his Spiky Epiphanies for piano trio, or the dramatic solo 'cello work, Witnesses of Time:

Despite this varied oeuvre, Satterwhite's compositional voice is fairly consistent.   "Although I love a great deal of music which is on the lighter side, my own music is, with some notable exceptions, usually pretty serious.  This has always been true, and is generally true of my tastes in the other arts as well.  I usually prefer Shakespeare's tragedies to his comedies, I like sad songs more than happy ones-and so on."  Satterwhite's solemn, often elegiac approach can be heard clearly in his recent orchestral composition, Icons, which was partly inspired by Roman Catholic reliquaries—containers made to house relics of saints.  "The incongruousness of a few bone fragments housed in such a splendid piece of art struck a deep chord in me.  Despite its beauty, it still had a definite aura of the macabre and bizarre for me.  […]  I have attempted to recreate some of the beauty and mystery of such objects, but I will confess that it's really more about the darker images these creations conjure up for me."

The week after Satterwhite's visit, the Center is excited to once again host world-renowned composer Bernard Rands.  A member of the JiB 2015 faculty, and long-time friend of the Center, Rands will present some of his recent work, part of a vast and continually-expanding repertoire that includes numerous orchestral works, several celebrated vocal pieces, and a successful opera, Vincent, on the life of Vincent van Gogh.  Click here to read our full profile of Rands, written as part of last year's series on 2015 JiB composers.

Be sure to catch both of these skilled and highly-reputed composers during their visits in the coming weeks!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Joshua Fineberg: An organic architecture

The word 'organic' is often (over-)used in music writing to describe music that develops seemingly of its own accord, that avoids blocky, sudden changes in favor of naturally flowing lines that coalesce toward arrival points that seem both unexpected and inevitable.  In truth, the word has often been used specifically to contrast the lyrical textural subtleties of French composers against the (perceived) mechanical intellectual rigor of Germanic music.  But the problem with the term 'organic' is that it relies on the untruth that any music could be 'natural'—as a cultural expression of human beings, music does not evolve of its own accord (at least, not composed music), but is always deliberately constructed and organized.  

Heydar Aliyev Center, designed by Zaha Hadid
No composer's work exemplifies this paradox perhaps as well as Joshua Fineberg.  Much of the neo-spectralist's output is marked by a Debussyan emphasis on texture, a highly decorated, contemplative attention to timbral detail.  However—as Fineberg will be the first to admit—this 'organic' appearance is illusory.  Instead, it is the result of careful psychoacoustic observation, research, and a meticulous compositional construction.  The result is something which is both free-flowing and punctiliously assembled, a kind of 'organic architecture'—not in the Fallingwater sense, but like the more recent work of Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid—works that maintain the superficial impression of diaphanous elegance while clearly the result of careful and considered construction.

Fineberg, one of the foremost experts on the tradition of spectral music, studied with Tristan Murail at IRCAM before returning to the US to pursue a PhD in composition at Columbia.  He was the John L. Loeb Associate Professor for the Humanities at Harvard University from 2000-2007, and since then has been a professor, and director of the Center for New Music, at Boston University.  An accomplished writer on music, Finberg's book Classical Music, Why Bother? was published by Routledge Press in 2006, and he has served as editor for two issues of The Contemporary Music Review on Spectral Music (Vol. 19 pt. 2 and 3) and for a double-issue featuring the collected writings of Tristan Murail in English (Vol. 24 pt. 2 and 3).

We are excited that Fineberg will be joining the composition faculty at June in Buffalo 2016.  As a gifted pedagogue, his expertise will surely prove insightful to the emerging composers with whom he will be working.  The festival will see the performances of three of the composer's works, including an early piece, Paradigms, for six instruments and live electronics, which will be performed by Dal Niente.  The work's title illustrates the composer's frequent reliance on models in his work, whether these be "acoustic, physical, energetic, or simply poetic."

The festival will also feature a performance by Ensemble Uusinta of Objets trouvé, a piece based on an idea that has been frequently explored by visual artists:  that a familiar object may shift into "something else, something startling, or strange, or even beautiful."  [The Center was proud to host Ensemble Court Circuit in 2013, the ensemble for whom the piece was composed, who played it during their residency that year.]  In addition, the Arditti Quartet will be on hand to perform La Quintina, a work for string quartet and electronics Fineberg composed in collaboration with the ensemble in 2012.  The composer describes the inspiration for the piece:
There is a wonderful repertoire of four-part vocal polyphony in Sardinia in which singers attempt to create an illusory fifth voice while singing in harmony through excellent intonation, careful shaping of vowels, and the acoustics of resonant churches.  Our auditory processing system misinterprets the combinations of the vocal quartet’s overtones and suppressed frequency regions as a separate voice, producing this astonishing effect.  This vaguely feminine phantom voice is called la quintina (the fifth part), and is considered to be the Virgin Mary singing along.
In Fineberg's piece, the four members of the quartet combine to produce similar phantom tones acoustically, until the electronics eventually join in to assemble these ghostly fragments into an autonomous fifth part.  While a piece so dependent on resonance and acoustics can likely only be fully appreciated in a live performance, a well-rendered studio realization can be heard below.

Such works will put on display for listeners the aforementioned organic architecture of Fineberg's music, the effortful effortlessness of his colors and textures, and the dynamic interplay between study and realization.

—Ethan Hayden

Monday, March 7, 2016

Uusinta Ensemble: JiB's 'newest' resident ensemble

It's hard to believe, but June in Buffalo is already only three months away!  We've been hard at work planning for the event, and are excited about all the great music that will be made.  This week, we begin our series of profiles on the composers, ensembles, and artists who will be in residency at this year's festival.  We begin with a newcomer to JiB, Helsinki's Uusinta Ensemble.

Uusinta performs at 2014 MATA Festival
Uusinta was founded by composer Osmo Tapio Räihälä in 1998, and during their early years, when most of the members were themselves composers, the ensemble specialized in premiering new works by Finnish and Nordic composers.  More recently, the ensemble's repertoire has expanded to include works by composers from around the world, and they have oriented themselves around a prime mission to "bring the most exciting composers from all countries to its concerts in Helsinki and abroad."  Over the past two decades, the ensemble has found itself at a number of highly-regarded festivals and in venues around the world, including Berlin (Ohrenstrand), Paris (Theatre Dunois), Vienna (Arnold Schönberg Center), Valencia (Mostra Sonora), Oslo (Nordic Music Days), and Tallinn (Estonian Music Days).

In particular, Uusinta's performance at the 2014 MATA Festival earned them high praise, with the New York Times remarking on their versatility and virtuosity, and describing their performance as containing "ample gravity and dignity," while being marked by an "athletic brio" and a "playful ease and anything-goes attitude."  A concert at Helsinki's Musica Nova Festival with Nicholas Hodges and Magnus Lindberg prompted the Financial Times to applaud Uusinta's combination of "waves of energy" and 'fragility,' as well as to remark on the evocative textures of "shivering strings, rustling percussion and slithering woodwinds" in their performance of Toshio Hosokawa's Poe monodrama, The Raven.

Uusinta director, Ville Raasakka
Uusinta's commitment to realizing new works is an integral part of their DNA.  Formed by composers for composers, the group has premiered over 100 new works, and has collaborated with some of the most internationally-recognized composers currently active, including Beat Furrer, Chaya Czernowin, Mark Andre, Michel van der Aa, Hèctor Parra, and fellow Finnish artist (and recent visitor to the Center) Kaija Saariaho. In 2011, Uusinta initiated the contemporary concert series, Klang, which focuses on music composed after 2000.  The most recent Klang performance featured two premieres Uusinta commissions by composers Oscar Bianchi and Max Savikangas.  In 2000, the ensemble started its own publishing house, Uusinta Publishing Company, to publish new works by Finnish composers.  Over the past sixteen years, they have published works by artists such as Ralf Gothóni, Markus Fagerudd, and friend-of-the-Center, Sebastian Fagerlund.  During their tenth season as an ensemble, Uusinta was part of the EU's Re:New project, which promoted European contemporary music in eleven countries.  Uusinta, whose name can translate as both "replay" or "newest", was well-suited for such a project, as they have devoted themselves to producing, and reproducing the most exciting new works by established and emerging composers alike.  Under the artistic direction of composer Ville Raasakka, the ensemble has continued to stay true to this mission.

It is for this reason that we are so excited to welcome Uusinta to the festival this year.  A group so devoted to the realization of new works by young composers will fit right in with the mission of the festival, and we're looking forward to hearing them play and 'replay' the 'newest' music this summer in Buffalo.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Awards, Commissions, Performances: Recent Composer Activities

The fall is a busy time for UB graduate composers, and several have had very eventful semesters.  The past few months have seen many of them composing new works, receiving commissions, and having works performed by top-tier performers around the world.  Here is just a quick sample of what some of the group are up to:

Weijun Chen
Weijun Chen was awarded the prestigious Jacob Druckman Prize by the Aspen Music Festival and School.  The award, offered "in memory of the great American composer who taught at Aspen from 1976 to 1995," is conferred on one student composer each season.  The prize consists of a commission for a new orchestral piece for the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra, which will be premiered this summer.  In addition, Weijun has been commissioned by MATA to compose a new work which will be premiered at the 2016 MATA Festival. Finally, Weijun's string-quartet, Canoe, saw three performances in the past months by the Mivos Quartet, and received an honorable mention at the American Prize for Composition.  Congratulations Weijun!

Moshe Shulman
Also, recent UB graduate Moshe Shulman has won the 2015 Fromm Foundation Commission Competition.  Moshe is hard at work on the piece—a chamber work for singer and small ensemble with an original Hebrew text about Jewish prophetesses.  We look forward to hearing about this project as it develops, and we can't wait for the premiere!

Jessie Downs' music was featured on a concert in Chicago late last month, alongside works by Doug Farrand and Ryan Packard.  Streetlights, a string trio originally composed for young musicians was performed, in addition to I did not see it to the end for piano, percussion, and electronics (see below for a recording).  The latter work is a companion piece to work-in-progress, which Jessie is composing for Packard, Farrand, and UB pianist Jade Conlee), we'll look forward to hearing that piece soon.  Also, Jessie's vocal sextet, castings of light, which was performed by Voxnova Italia at their December residency at the Center, will see a performance in downtown Buffalo later this Spring.

Matt Sargent has been keeping very busy, with several commissions in the works, including a trumpet concerto for Jeff Silberschlag and the Chesapeake Orchestra, a piece for tuned gongs and real-time electronics commissioned by percussionist Julie Licata at SUNY Oneonta, and Pillars of Decay, a "multimedia collaborative performance for custom-designed metal/industrial instruments and real-time electronics," designed by Matt, vocalist Amanda Schoofs, percussionist Trevor Saint, and UB-alum Jeff Herriott.  The work will be toured across the Rust Belt next year.  In addition, Matt's Ghost Music, was recorded for a forthcoming album of solo percussion works by Bill Solomon of Signal.  Matt also recently completed two series of works:  More Snow to Fall, seven pieces for glockenspiel and vibraphone for Saint, who will premiere the works on his March 2016 tour, and Tide, three new works for 10 violins, 10 cellos, and 10 basses (i.e., multi-tracked soloist).  The latter saw two recent performances by UB-alum TJ Borden in California (see below for a recording).  Finally, Matt has been presenting a series of concerts with the Electroacoustic Ensemble at Bard College (where he serves as Visiting Professor of Electronic Music and Sound), including two performances with composer Michael Pisaro, who was in residence with the ensemble in November 2015.

Last month, Roberto Azaretto was in Madeira, Portugal, where he took part in the Estalagem da Ponta do Sol Residency for Contemporary Music and Electronics.  While there, he worked with composers Patricia Alessandrini and Gilbert Nouno,  and had an in-progress work performed by violinist Karin Hellkvist and flutist Richard Craig.

Ethan Hayden
Ethan Hayden's piece for stereo electronics, bats with baby faces in the violet light, saw two performances in the Fall:  at Ljudbio II in Uppsala, Sweden, and also at an electroacoustic music concert at Buff State.  In addition, Ethan's presented "…ce dangereux supplément…", his piece for solo voice, electronics, and animated projections, at the 2015 International Computer Music Conference in Denton, TX.  He'll perform the same work this spring at Narrations contemporaines, a poetics conference in Montreal hosted by bleuOrange, revue de littérature hypermédiatique.  Ethan's large ensemble piece, Let's celebrate our corpse-strewn future! will be premiered by Buffalo's Wooden Cities next month, at a concert which will also feature works by current/former UB composers Zane Merritt and John Bacon.  In addition, his four-voice arrangement of Kurt Schwitters' Ribble Bobble Pimlico was heard last weekend at Hallwalls' Dada centenary event, performed by BuffFluxus.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, there is lots of other music being made here at UB, and we can't wait to hear what's next for these artists in the coming months!

Monday, February 8, 2016

SIGNAL Ensemble featured in CAI Pilot Project

This week, UB's new Creative Arts Initiative launches the first of several pilot projects:  the residency of Ensemble SIGNAL, which will feature a masterclass, an open rehearsal, and a discussion on artistic entrepreneurship, all leading up to Performance in the Dark, a concert in the CFA Black Box Theater featuring works by Steve Reich and Georg Friedrich Haas.

The university-wide Creative Arts Initiative is "dedicated to the creation and production of new work upholding the highest artistic standards of excellence and fostering a complementary atmosphere of creative investigation and engagement among students, faculty, visiting artists, and the community."  Through a number of programs aimed at exposing UB students to the richness of the Buffalo arts community—including artist residencies and innovative interdisciplinary course offerings—the CAI will contribute to UB's Strategic Plan by "creating opportunities for creative interaction between visiting artists, students and faculty, and the Buffalo arts community."  "We feel a tremendous amount of energy in being able to create opportunities for people to interact with really high-level, excellent artists," says co-Director, David Felder, in the CAI's introductory video (see below), "We're talking about individuals and groups, companies as well as solo [artists]."

One of the ways the CAI will engage students is through direct interaction with visiting artists.  Ensemble Signal's residency is the first of many such engagements.  The residency will feature a number of exciting events, beginning on February 10th with "Rehearsing in the Real World," an open rehearsal at which students will be able to witness how the ensemble works together to prepare Georg Friedrich Haas's famous String Quartet no. 3.  Later that evening, Signal's leadership will host "The Entrepreneurial Artist," an open discussion and Q&A covering the ensemble's history, with the aim of empowering UB students in the creation of their own community projects.  The following day will feature a public performance workshop and masterclass, at which Signal co-artistic director and others from the ensemble will coach UB music students, some of whose compositions will be performed later this semester.  

Ensemble Signal
The residency will culminate in Performance in the Dark:  Music by Steve Reich and Georg Friedrich Haas, a free concert in the CFA Black Box Theater featuring two groundbreaking works of contemporary music.  The concert will open with Part I of Reich's Drumming, performed by Doug Perkins of Signal alongside Tom Kolor and students in his percussion studio.  The 1971 work was composed after Reich's trip to West Africa, where he studied with Ghanaian master drummers.  One of the first large-scale masterpieces in American minimalism, the piece quickly became a staple of contemporary percussion repertoire, especially its opening section:  a quartet for tuned bongos which employs Reich's characteristic phasing techniques.  The concert also features Haas's more recent String Quartet no.3 „In iij. Noct.“ (2001), a piece which is "performed in complete darkness, with the musicians playing from memory in different parts of the room."  The New Yorker's Alex Ross has described the piece as one in which the performers 
seem to map the space with tones, like bats using echolocation to navigate a lightless cave.  […]  Often, the music borders on noise:  the strings emit creaks and groans, clickety swarms of pizzicato, shrill high notes, moaning glissandos.  At other times, it attains an otherworldly beauty, as the players spin out glowing overtone harmonies.
This week marks just the first of two non-consecutive weeks of Signal's residency:  the ensemble will return the week of April 30 for a second week which will include a series of "secret" pop-up concerts around UB North Campus, a collaborative performance of Terry Riley’s In C with UB students, and a large-scale concert celebrating the music of Steve Reich.  (For more about Ensemble Signal, see our JiB 2015 profile post from last year.)

The CAI is currently accepting proposals for residencies from creative artists from all fields (music, film, plastic arts, visual arts, drama, writing, and architecture).  This first open call aims to attract artists from around the world, with the aim of giving students the opportunity to interact with great artists who are not currently active in Buffalo.  CAI Managing Director, Cynthia Stewart emphasizes that the initiative is seeking artists who will be actively creating at UB.  Rather than bringing in a visiting artist to simply give a talk, the CAI seeks artists who will actually engage in artistic creation as part of their residency, with an emphasis on student involvement.  "The call is really open with regard to how to incorporate student interaction," says Stewart, "but the more student involvement the better."  Stewart stresses the lack of constraints on the scope of the residencies artists can propose.  "It might be a micro-seminar or a master class.  It might be a semester-long encounter.  There are not a lot of strictures."  The first open call has a deadline of March 1st, and the CAI is eagerly anticipating a variety of proposals from artists of diverse disciplines.

Arts One will visit the Albright Knox Gallery this semester
One of the initiative's key new programs is the Arts One course.  Aimed at introducing students to "a wide range of artistic performance and creative activity," the course consists of a unique approach:  every week, students are exposed to a new artistic exhibition.  Through a partnership with a variety of local institutions, including the Albright Knox, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, students will attend a different event each week.  "This course is deliberately designed to put students in direct contact with artists and arts organizations in a very topical way. Each semester will be very different based on what’s happening in Western New York," says Felder.  This semester, the capacity-filled course will hear curator's talks at Hallwalls and the Albright Knox, attend concerts by Ensemble Linea, the BPO, and the Richmond Ballet, and will see performances by the Zodiaque Dance Company, among many others.  "The aim is to demonstrate to students the difference between a live performance and simply seeing something on YouTube," says Stewart, "it also forces them off campus and allows them to connect to the creative riches in Buffalo."

CAI co-director D. Felder
The Creative Arts Initiative was itself initiated through the hard work of co-directors David Felder and Bruce Jackson.  "It was their brainchild," says Stewart, "and they've been beating the drum for it for a long time."  Their vision was for an initiative that would see more investment in the creative arts, specifically.  "It's based on the idea that creating is a different process from studying," Stewart explains.  "Due to their work and persuasion we were able to receive a grant to get the initiative started, and using their relationships in the arts community we were able to assemble an excellent board.  This gives us a good position to help visiting artists make a splash in the community and not just here at UB."

Ensemble Signal Residency

Rehearsing in the Real World
Feb. 10, 3:00-4:00pm, B1 Slee
Open to all students

The Entrepreneurial Artist
Feb. 10, 6:30-8:30 pm, 211 Baird
Open to all students

Performance Workshop/Masterclass with UB Students
Feb. 11, 10:00am-12:00pm, B1 Slee
Open to UB music students

Performance in the Dark: Music by Steve Reich & Georg Friedrich Haas
Feb. 12, 8:00 pm, CFA Black Box Theater
Open to the public

Monday, November 30, 2015

Voxnova Italia & Nicholas Isherwood to Tune Voices, Souls

Voxnova Italia perform Stimmung
This week, the Center is excited to host the residencies of Voxnova Italia and Project Isherwood, who will present three events of adventurous vocal music sure to engage, challenge, and transport listeners.  Known for pushing vocal and performative boundaries, these artists have cultivated a repertoire and an approach to vocal music that centers on the raw physicality of the voice itself, while always expanding listener's understanding of the voice through intrepid use of technology and extended vocal techniques.

Voxnova Italia is an ensemble of vocal soloists dedicated to the repertoire of the 20th and 21st centuries.  They have made their reputation through the performance of works by the great composers of contemporary vocal music (Berio, Scelsi, Aperghis, Nono, Cage, et al.), and also through their mission of making heard the music of young and "unjustly neglected" composers.  In so doing, they have premiered a number of new works, including pieces by Giacinto Scelsi, Steve Lacy, Luca Francesconi, Betsy Jolas, and Gerard Pape (see below for a recording of the latter's Battle, commissioned by Voxnova in 1996).

Voxnova's December 5th program will feature two works:  a new arrangement of David Felder's …la dura fría hora… and Karlheinz Stockhausen's vocal opus, Stimmung.  Felder's work, originally composed in 1986 for chamber chorus and orchestra, is an ornate work of vocal counterpoint beginning from a simple seed of two notes, which expands at turns delicately and aggressively into rich harmonies that are at once forceful and mysterious—assertively present while hinting at whole worlds just over the sonic horizon.  Voxnova will perform a new adaptation for six voices.

Stimmung, Stockhausen's meditative masterwork for six amplified voices, is the first major Western composition to be based entirely on the production of vocal overtones.  Organized into 51 "moments," the work explores the natural resonances of the human vocal apparatus, while pushing the voice to create new timbres and rhythmic textures.  Evoking mystical and earthy elements pulled from Eastern religious traditions and the 1960s counterculture, Stimmung unfolds ritualistically, moving up and down the Bb harmonic series in a unique manner that is both ceremonial and theatrical.  The title, in the composer's words, "means 'tuning,' but it really should be translated with many other words because Stimmung incorporates the meanings of the tuning of a piano, the tuning of the voice, the tuning of a group of people, the tuning of the soul."  Voxnova's performances of this work have been called "stunningly beautiful, utterly serene, full of charm" by the LA Times, which adds, "the voices here might have been angels."  The ensemble specializes in performing a new version of the classic work, which uses Mongolian diphonic singing for the execution of the overtones.  This reinterpretation is perhaps closer to the composer's original vision, as Nicholas Isherwood, Voxnova's bass singer, worked closely with Stockhausen during the last years of the composer's life, performing the role of Lucifer in the world premieres of several of the Licht operas (Montag, Dienstag, and Freitag).

Nicholas Isherwood
Isherwood, Voxnova's founder, is one of the most widely-recognized bass singers active today.  Having worked with an impressive roster of composers, including Carter, Crumb, Kagel, Kurtág, Messiaen, and Xenakis, Isherwood has played a significant role in the creation of the contemporary repertoire for solo and operatic vocal music.  As a director, he has produced performances of Hans Werner Henze's El Cimarrón in Fontenay, Cage's Song Books Dijon and Paris, and Mauricio Kagel's Phonophonie at venues around the world (including a well-received performance at June in Buffalo 2006, see below).  Also a renowned performer of Baroque music and the commedia dell'arte, Isherwood has directed student productions of Adriano Banchieri’s La Pazzia Senile and Berio’s A-Ronne in traditional 'commedia' style.  An active teacher, he has taught vocal music opera at institutions in France, Germany, and the United States, including the IRCAM Summer Academy, Conservatoire de Montbéliard, Ecole Normale de Musique (Paris), California Institute of the Arts, the University of Oregon, and currently, Le Conservatoire national supérieur musique et danse de Lyon.  His book, The Techniques of Singing, was published by Bärenreiter in 2013, and quickly became a widely referred to work by performers and composers alike.

Isherwood's December 4th concert features works that extend his virtuosic vocality through the use of electronics.  The program includes Otro, a recent (2010) work by the computer music pioneer Jean-Claude Risset, Michael Norris's Deep Field, for voice and live electronics, and Isaac Shankler's evocatively-titled, Mouthfeel.  Also featured on the program will be Black Fire/White Fire, the third part of David Felder's Shamayim (2008), a work for voice, electronics, and video composed in close collaboration with Isherwood and video artist Elliot Caplan, which Haskins American Recod Guide called "abstract but not forbidding, [with] images arresting and unforgettable."  [An excerpt of Chashmal, the first work in the series, can be seen below).

The residency will conclude with a composer workshop on December 6th, at which Voxnova will perform new works by UB graduate composers Jessie Downs, Ethan Hayden, Brien Henderson, and Ying-Ting Lin.  Through this presentation, Voxnova and Isherwood carry forth their mission to articulate and embody the newest works of contemporary vocal music, always adding dynamic new pieces to the repertoire.  This, and the other events are definitely not to be missed!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Loadbang Brings Lung-Powered New Music to Buffalo

This week, the Center is excited to welcome LoadBang, the NY-based chamber ensemble that TimeOutNY has called "a formidable new-music force."  With their unique, pneumatic instrumentation of trumpet, trombone, bass clarinet, and baritone voice, the ensemble has quickly cultivated a broad and diverse repertoire since their founding in 2008, premiering over 200 new works, including originals and arrangements by Charles Wuorinen, David Lang, Alex Mincek, Eve Beglarian, Nick Didkovsky, Reiko Füting, Andy Akiho, and Alexandre Lunsqui.  Their bio proudly boasts a "stylistic palette ranging from whistled Brazilian rhythms and microtonal jazz standards to the decoupled and deconstructed sounds of the second modernity."  Indeed, Loadbang's unorthodox instrumentation yields a distinctive character all its own, one that the NewYorker has characterized as having "an irreverent, rough-edged, yet oddly cultivated style."

Loadbang - Lungpowered
This oddly-cultivated style will be on display at their November 12 concert, at which the ensemble will showcase selections from their recently-released LP, Lungpowered.  The program will include Alex Mincek's Number May Be Defined, a driving rhythmic work that corrals a diverse ecosystem of polyphonic organisms into a quirkily dynamic sonic unity.  Scott Worthington's Infinitive strikes a different balance, one between motion and stasis, anxiety and resignation, as its repeating harmonies outline Shakespearean soliloquies sung over shifting colors and uneasy rhythms.  The program will also feature a work by Loadbang's own Jeffrey Gavett, whose Musicorum et Cantorum sets a text by the Medieval theorist Guido of Arezzo around a dense microtonal tapestry of brass glissandi and disjunct clarinet stabs.  Other works featured will include the dynamic agitation of Heather Stebbins Quiver, the quarter-tone excitations of Adam Zahller's Ledascape, and Taylor Brook's Ouricon Songs, Volume 2, a new quasi-musical theatre take on European-American folk music.

Loadbang's members are each renowned musicians in their own right.  Baritone Jeff Gavett is the founder of the virtuosic vocal ensemble, Ekmeles, and has performed with groups as diverse as ICE, Red Light New Music, the Wet Ink Ensemble, the Rolling Stones, and frequent Center-quests Ensemble SIGNAL and Talea.  Also active as a composer and conductor, Gavett has premiered a number of significant works, including the US premiere of Luigi Nono's Quando stanno morendo and the world premiere of the full version of Iannis Xenakis's Oresteïa.  Carlos Cordeiro (bass clarinet) has toured Europe, Russia and the United States with groups like the Ensemble and Lucerne Festival Orchestra, while performing with conductors like Pierre Boulez and Magnus Lindberg.  Andy Kozar (trumpet) is a member of TILT Brass and has worked closely with composers like Helmut Lachenmann and Augusta Read Thomas.  As a baroque trumpeter, he has performed as part of the Boston Early Music Festival and with Ensemble Musica Humana, while also finding time to record on indie pop albums by the likes of Yuck, Emanuel and the Fear, and Bennett Lin.  William Lang (trombone) is a founding member of the Guidonian Hand trombone quartet, as well as the Boston Microtonal Society's Notariotious ensemble.  A student of the Meridian Arts Ensemble's Benjamin Herrington, Lang has performed solo recitals at the Stone, the Tank, the Gerschwin Hotel, and Greenfield Hall, and other venues throughout the Northeast and Miami.  Together, the four musicians in Loadbang not only premiere cutting-edge works of notated music—they are also expert improvisors known for pushing their breath-powered instruments to physical extremes.  They recently inaugurated a project to record some of their improvisations, which are to be released in hand-made limited editions.

Following their Thursday night concert, Loadbang will work with UB graduate composers at a composer workshop that will see the ensemble performing several new works.  Included will be Derick Evans' Bare Ruined Choirs, Igor Marques's Suíte Curitibana, and a new work by Roberto Azaretto.  As an ensemble devoted to education, with both the technical skill and musical enthusiasm needed to execute complex new music, we look forward to hearing Loadbang breathe life into these new works!

—Ethan Hayden

Monday, November 9, 2015

June in Buffalo 2016: Call for Works

Ensemble SIGNAL will be among the
resident ensembles at June in Buffalo 2016
The Center is excited to announce the June in Buffalo 2016 call for works!  Below you can find application requirements for composers interested in attending the festival and writing for one of the many renowned resident ensembles, including the Arditti Quartet, Uusinta Ensemble, Dal Niente, and Ensemble SIGNAL.  Additional information can be found on the June in Buffalo website.


Presented by the Department of Music and The Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music, June in Buffalo, a festival and conference dedicated to composers, will take place from June 6-12, 2016 at the University at Buffalo.  June in Buffalo offers an intensive schedule of seminars, lectures, master classes with selected faculty composers, 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 his/her pieces performed during the festival (please see application process for specifics).  Evening performances feature faculty composers, resident ensembles and soloists renowned internationally as interpreters of contemporary music.

Application Procedures
  1. A résumé or curriculum vitae detailing your education, experience, and creative activity.
  2. A letter of reference from someone acquainted with your current compositional activity.
  3. A proposal requesting the performance of a recent work for:
  1. 2 violins, viola, cello (or subset) – Arditti Quartet
  2. flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin, viola, cello (or subset) – Uusinta Ensemble
  3. flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin, cello (or subset) – Dal Niente
  4. flute, clarinet, oboe, piano, violin, cello (or subset) – Ensemble Signal
  5. solo instrument
Proposals with electronics and/or multimedia will be considered.

Included with the proposal should be a brief description of the work that includes length, full instrumentation, and any technical requirements.  Proposals for works in progress will be considered. A portion of the score plus the description listed above must be included with application materials for in-progress works.
  1. One or two scores that demonstrate your recent work and accompanying recordings, if available.
  2. A $25 non-refundable processing fee. Checks or money orders should be made payable to June in Buffalo.  Foreign applicants must pay by international money order in US currency. Do not send cash.
  3. An e-mail address at which you can be easily contacted and a SASE (optional) for the return of application materials.
Application materials sent to:

June in Buffalo
220 Baird Hall
Department of Music
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14260

To apply as an auditor please send a resume and the processing fee. Auditors attend all June in Buffalo events, but will not have a piece performed.

Participant fee is $775 USD
Auditor fee is $400 USD

Application materials must be postmarked by February 15, 2016.