Friday, March 23, 2018

Celebrating Charles Wuorinen at 80

The Center for 21st Century Music is delighted to present an 80th birthday concert for Charles Wuorinen on April 24. Under the auspices of the Center’s Slee Sinfonietta series, guest ensemble Signal will perform a rare full concert of Wuorinen’s work. For event details and ticket information, visit Slee Hall’s website.

Wuorinen is among the most recognized living composers worldwide. He has received many of the highest honors available to an American composer—a Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and American Academy of Arts and Sciences—while his works have been performed by many of the most respected American orchestras, with commissions for new works from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, and more. As an opera composer, Wuorinen has collaborated with noted literary figures Salman Rushdie and Anne Proulx, in works commissioned by the New York City Opera and Teatro Real Madrid, respectively.

Also active as a performer (conductor and piano), in 1962 he joined Harvey Sollberger, past June in Buffalo faculty member, to create and lead the noted Group for Contemporary Music in NYC. The group has been credited for raising standards across the board in contemporary music performance, and functioned as an important model for later contemporary music ensembles. In fact, UB’s own Creative Associates in the 1960s and 70s were funded by the Rockefeller Foundation’s project to create Group for Contemporary Music “spin off” ensembles; more recently, the Center’s flagship Slee Sinfonietta (founded in 1997 by the Center’s Artistic Director David Felder) continues to refine models of new music ensemble performance pioneered by these earlier ensembles.

Throughout his long career, Wuorinen has been a frequent guest at UB. He has served as faculty composer at numerous June in Buffalo festivals, from the early days of the Festival in the 1970s all the way through to recent years. In turn, the festival has functioned as an important outlet for Wuorinen’s work over the years, including large-scale works such as the complete Fenton Songs (performed by Ensemble Surplus in 2006), the orchestral Microsymphony (performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic in 2007), and the cantata It Happens Like This (performed by the Slee Sinfonietta in 2013). Building on this long-standing relationship, the State University of New York awarded Wuorinen an honorary doctorate from the State University of New York during the 2013 June in Buffalo Festival, where a ceremony was followed by a portrait concert.

Charles Wuorinen speaks at the ceremony at which he was awarded a SUNY honorary doctorate, with composer David Felder, University President Satish K. Tripathi, and SUNY Trustee Eunice Lewin on stage. Photo by Irene Haupt.
The Center’s upcoming 80th birthday concert features performances by Ensemble Signal of three Wuorinen works for instrumental soloist and large ensemble: Megalith (with piano soloist), Spin 5 (with violin soloist), and Iridule (with oboe soloist). Megalith will feature UB Associate Professor Eric Huebner as piano soloist, while the other works will feature highly regarded guest soloists: Olivia De Prato (violin)—known to Buffalo audiences for past appearances with Signal and the MIVOS Quartet, and Jacqueline Leclair (oboe)—known to Buffalo audiences for past appearances with Signal and the Slee Sinfonietta. Iridule was in fact written specifically for Leclair, and the composer has made audio of her performance available on his website here.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Ensemble Court Circuit: Building International Relationships

Since its foundation in 2006, the Center has functioned as a key pillar of support for European new music ensembles touring in the US through its visiting artist series and annual June in Buffalo Festival. During its twelve years of existence, the Center has created an extensive network of partnerships, with Arts Council Norway, Central Arts Council (Finland), Embassy of France in the United States, FACE (French-American Contemporary Music), Swedish Arts Council, the University of Pittsburgh, and others. This has resulted in a formidable lineup of visiting artists, with many of the most in-demand European new music ensembles conducting residencies at the Center: ensembles Surplus (2010), Linea (2011, 2013, 2016, 2017), Court-Circuit (2011, 2013, 2014, 2018), Interface (2012), Norrbotten NEO (2012, 2014), Son (2013), Uusinta (2016), Cikada (2017), and the Arditti String Quartet (2007, 2010, 2014, 2016, 2017).

Ensemble Court Circuit at June in Buffalo 2014
 In the near future, this programming will continue in the form of Ensemble Court-Circuit’s residency at the Center in April. The Ensemble will conduct a workshop with the Center’s graduate composers on April 16 (to be discussed in a future blog post) and give a concert of works by established French and American composers. The ensemble’s activities in Buffalo are part of a larger US tour including visits to NYC (Roulette), Massachusetts (Le Laboratoire, Cambridge & Clark University), and Pittsburgh (Music on the Edge/University of Pittsburgh/Andy Warhol Museum); the touring program includes Center artistic director David Felder’s partial [dist]res[s]toration, as well as works by Sean Shepherd, Christophe Bertrand, Philippe Hurel, Philippe Leroux, John Aylward (world premiere), Helmut Lachenmann, and Ludwig von Beethoven. The tour is supported by l’Institut Français, part of the Office of Exports and Cultural Services of the Embassy of France in the United States, and the East Coast Contemporary Ensemble, who will play alongside Court-Circuit at the concerts in NYC and Massachusetts.

Court-Circuit writes that their tour is “both the opportunity to integrate American and French composers in the same concerts and to work with young university student composers.” Face to face encounters between artists are uniquely generative for artists’ growth, and the opportunity for young American composers to work with an ensemble of this caliber is as rare as it is invaluable. New music specialist performers may be able to provide special insight into innovative compositional projects—encouraging promising new directions, while pointing out possible practical problems. The ensemble recognizes the importance of this endeavor, based on past experience: “All know how well French composers are welcomed in the United-States and the relationships built between musicians from both countries are a real artistic and personal asset that Court-circuit wishes to protect and reinforce.”

Ensemble Court-Circuit at June in Buffalo 2014
Ensemble Court-Circuit’s concert at the Center for 21st Century Music is on April 17 at 7:30 in Slee Hall. For details about tickets, visit Slee Hall’s website.


Sean Shepherd, The Birds are Nervous, the Birds have Scattered, for clarinet, violin, piano

Christophe Bertrand, Sanh, for clarinet, cello, and piano

David Felder, Partial [dis]res[s]toration, for ensemble

Philippe Leroux, Continuo(ns), for ensemble


Flute: Jérémie Fèvre
Clarinet: Pierre Dutrieu
Violin: Alexandra Greffin-Klein
Cello: Frédéric Baldassare
Piano: Jean-Marie Cottet
Conductor: Jean Deroyer

Friday, March 2, 2018

MIVOS Quartet: A Decade of Reimagining the String Quartet

In advance of the upcoming June in Buffalo Festival, Edge of the Center will introduce resident ensembles featured at this year’s festival. Planning for the festival is in full swing—most recently, applications from potential participant composers have been
arriving from all over North American, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

We kick off our series of profiles by introducing the MIVOS Quartet as a resident ensemble at this year’s June in Buffalo Festival. The ensemble will be known to Buffalo audiences from appearances at the Center last year and in 2014. At this year’s festival, the quartet will perform masterworks of modern string quartet repertoire by senior composers as well as hot-off-the-press new works by participant composers.

The quartet has an ambitious programming history at the Center. At last year’s June in Buffalo, the quartet gave a riveting account of Brian Ferneyhough’s superlatively difficult and rarely performed Second String Quartet, while introducing American audiences to the music of Norwegian composers Henrik Hellstenius and introducing Buffalo audiences to the music of Jeffrey Mumford. On top of this, the quartet also gave top-notch performances of works by the festival’s participant-composers. Their invitation to last year’s June in Buffalo was in part a result of the stellar performances the quartet gave on the Center’s guest artist series in 2014. Following a workshop with Center graduate composers, the quartet played a concert including Center artistic director David Felder’s first string quartet Third Face, as well as the relentless, challenging String Quartet no. 3 (“Grido”) by Helmut Lachenmann, and recent works composed specifically for MIVOS by Martin Stauning and Taylor Brook. This publication wrote about that concert here.

In 2018 MIVOS celebrates ten years of existence, a surprisingly short time span given the group’s development of boldly individual approaches to programming, as well as their appearances at the world’s most prestigious new music festivals, such as the New York Phil Biennial, Wien Modern (Austria), the Darmstadt Internationalen Ferienkurse für Neue Musik (Germany), Asphalt Festival (Düsseldorf, Germany), HellHOT! New Music Festival (Hong Kong), Shanghai New Music Week (Shanghai, China), Edgefest (Ann Arbor, MI), Música de Agora na Bahia (Brazil), Aldeburgh Music (UK), and Lo Spririto della musica di Venezia (La Fenice Theater, Italy).

MIVOS’s programming is remarkable within the new music world in a number of respects, particularly in their advocacy for emerging composers and their expansion of the string quartet’s possibilities in duration, technology, and new approaches to composer-performer relationships. The quartet emphasizes the work of emerging composers through a number of avenues: annual open-call competitions (MIVOS/Kanter and I Creation MIVOS) resulting in performances of winning works, collaboration with emerging composers through residencies at festivals like June in Buffalo and university music departments, and commissions for new works.

Perhaps in part because the string quartet as a medium is associated with the conventions of a certain (primarily classical-period) repertoire, MIVOS has sought to expand the medium’s parameters in a number of ways. Challenging normative durational frames for chamber music, the quartet has commissioned multiple concert length works, and the group has also sought to widen the medium’s technological parameters. Work with electronics, often of an interactive nature, has become a mainstay of the group’s practice.

MIVOS also reconfigures normative composer-performer relationships. Augmenting their roles as performers, the quartet has performed works involving notational indeterminacy and improvisation, and quartet members have written works for the group (recently, works by violist Victor Lowrie and cellist Mariel Roberts were featured on a Miller Theatre Pop-Up Concert). The ensemble has also sought to expand notions of who is a composer, for instance, through commissioning hybrid composed/improvised works by improvising musicians and collaboration with spoken word artists like Saul Williams.

At the Center, we greatly look forward to MIVOS’s upcoming visit; we believe that their stellar track record with both established repertoire and new works suggests exciting prospects for their collaborations with composers at June’s festival. Be sure to check out footage of the group in action: MIVOS has released five albums—including two albums devoted to notated works—and has appeared on numerous other recordings as well. The internet thankfully offers ample documentation of their performances: the group’s Soundcloud page embedded above is a great place to start; be sure to also check out the plentiful videos available on Youtube and Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Aaron Cassidy: Composing Physicality

The Center for 21st Century music is delighted to welcome PhD alumnus Aaron Cassidy for a guest lecture and masterclass on Friday, February 16. Currently Professor of Composition at the University of Huddersfield in England, Cassidy serves as Director of its Centre for Research in New Music. After completing his PhD at UB in 2003 under the tutelage of David Felder, now artistic director of the Center for 21st Century Music, Cassidy has gone on to notable successes not only as composer, but also as a pedagogue and arts administrator.

His compositions have been performed, commissioned, and recorded widely. Many of the world’s most highly regarded new music specialist ensembles have performed his works: ELISION, Ensemble SurPlus, Ensemble Musikfabrik, EXAUDI, Ictus Ensemble, ensemble recherche, Talea Ensemble, and Kairos, Diotima, and JACK string quartets. Since his doctoral student days at UB, Cassidy’s music has been presented and commissioned by prestigious cultural institutions, most notably the Bludenz and Donaueschingen festivals and PRS Foundation’s 20×12/London Cultural Olympiad 2012 project; the latter project received mainstream press coverage reaching far beyond the art music scene. Much of Cassidy’s output has been released on CD, including on a portrait CD on NEOS, with additional works on the NMC, HCR, and New Focus labels.

As Professor at the University of Huddersfield, Cassidy has played a key role in building its Centre for Research in New Music (CeReNeM), of which he is now Director, succeeding Liza Lim in 2017. From its beginnings in 2006, the Centre has grown to be a major presence in the international new music scene, including running its own record label, a peer-reviewed journal, and an international research network. Cassidy has played a crucial role here, for instance in curating a concert series with guest artists and ensembles in residence, running the post-graduate seminar and lecture series, organizing symposia, and cultivating partnerships with Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Electric Spring, and universities across the globe. The video below gives a brief impression of CeReNeM’s activities.

Over the past two decades, Cassidy’s music has methodically and exhaustively explored what it means to make music when:
1.     The primary content of musical sound is closely bound up with the physical process of producing that sound (“the way in which a sound is made, and the sound it makes, are fundamentally intertwined”).
2.     The physical process of making a sound (bowing, fingering, embouchure, etc.) is fragmented into its component parts, which are “decoupled,” or treated temporally and morphologically independently of each other.
In this music, the notated score does not codify a sound object as much as it initiates unpredictable collisions between independent layers of instrumental or vocal sound production.
This is music that takes delight in the embodied, live nature of musical performance; it is written as much for the performer as the listener.

Cassidy's The Crutch of Memory for solo bowed string instrument

In this project, a key challenge for the composer is how to best communicate musical substance to the performer. Over the past two decades, Cassidy has refined his approach to notation in a variety of ways, above all by seeking out a notational image that prioritizes the physicality of performance.
In early works, Cassidy strove to move beyond descriptive notations—conventional Western notations describing an ideal sounding result—towards prescriptive notations (AKA tablature) specifying physical actions. While his 2002 UB PhD dissertation String Quartet notates fingering in traditional Western pitch notation, his 2004 work The Crutch of Memory created a prescriptive tablature notation diagramming hand position, finger spacing, and fingerings independently. In the latter piece, pitch results from interaction between these autonomous physical phenomena; as such, it could not be notated in another way.

Having more overtly foregrounded music’s physical process of production, Cassidy then moved to simplify the visual layout of his scores. While most of his early works notated different layers of physical motion on separate staves, the composer writes that “in the Second String Quartet these movements are compressed onto a single, multi-coloured stave…My goal with the notation of Second String Quartet was to maintain the same level of gestural independence in the physical, choreographic, sound-production component of the work while developing a much more unified, integrated approach to the notation of that physical material.” As a solution, Cassidy arrived at “a multi-coloured stave that indicated the complete length of the string…[with] all indications of movements of both left and right hands are given graphically.” Color is used to distinguish between left (black) and right (red) hands; other parameters like bow pressure and finger pressure are shown graphically via line thickness and line darkness, respectively.

Cassidy, Second String Quartet, excerpt from second violin part

At this point, Cassidy had discarded conventional descriptive notations for pitch and volume; in the quartet, pitch is a resultant of hand position, finger spacing, and fingering, while volume is a byproduct of bow pressure and movement. However, in the domain of rhythm, the Second String Quartet’s notation was more conventional, with its basis in sequences of regular impulses, albeit whose speed changes frequently.

Frustrated by the limitations of this approach to notation, Cassidy began to investigate alternatives. A recent talk unpacks his process of arriving at what he calls a “non-geometrical rhythm,” a rhythm based not on regularity, but upon tactile physicality of gesture:
In my rethinking of my rhythmic language over the last few months and years, I’ve tried to force myself to really return to first principles, to thoroughly interrogate what the most fundamental characteristics and properties of rhythm actually are. For me, ‘beat’—and, even more so the repetition of beats through ‘pulse’—is actually only a fairly small subcomponent of rhythm. It is true that rhythm is about pattern, repetition, and regularity, but it’s also about speed and slowness, and compression and dilation, about waves and clouds, about stasis and absence, and about vibration and dissipation.
The research is still in its early stages, but these inquiries may turn out to be hugely consequential for the entire field of notated music, opening up entirely new avenues of compositional research. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, composers have sought out meaningful notational representations of non-geometrical rhythms, but with highly limited success; as his talk outlines, Cassidy’s attempt to build a rhythmic language from first principles steers clear of many of the pitfalls of earlier notational methods.

Cassidy, The Wreck of Former Boundaries, excerpt from clarinet and electric lap steel guitar parts

These rhythmic researches bore fruit in his recent work The Wreck of Former Boundaries for ensemble and electronics, commissioned and premiered by his long-time collaborators ELISION. This 35-minute work—two years in the making—will be the subject of Cassidy’s artist talk at the Center. Interweaving electronics and instruments, notation and improvisation (the astonishing improvising trumpeter Peter Evans joined ELISION for the project), the work both extends lines of inquiry opened two decades ago and opens new possibilities. At the Center, we greatly look forward to hearing about Cassidy’s exciting latest work.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Musical Feast: UB in the Community

The Center for 21st Century Music is delighted to co-sponsor the next concert in the “A Musical Feast” series, featuring UB music performance faculty in virtuosic solo and chamber works by György Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, Stuart Saunders Smith, and the Center’s artistic director, David Felder. A highlight of the February concert will be Felder’s Coleccion Nocturna for clarinetist (doubling bass clarinet), piano and 4-channel tape, a work inspired by the composer’s lifelong engagement with the poetry of Pablo Neruda.

The February 2 concert continues a long-standing partnership between “A Musical Feast,” the Center for 21st Century Music, and UB’s music department. The concert series has served as an important liaison between the city of Buffalo and UB’s composers and performers. Notable past collaborations include a concert celebrating the birthday of Center artistic director David Felder and a staged reading of a new production of Faust with music by Center PhD alumnus Nathan Heidelberger (the latter sponsored by UB’s Creative Arts Initiative).

Jean Kopperud
The concert features four UB music faculty members—Jean Kopperud (clarinets), Eric Huebner (piano), Tiffany Du Mouchelle (soprano), and Megan Kyle (oboe)—who will be joined by Stephen Solook (percussion). Jean Kopperud is a veteran of the New York City new music scene, where she was a member of The New York New Music Ensemble, Omega, Ensemble 21, and Washington Square Chamber Players. Over the course of her long and distinguished performing career, she has often received rave reviews from the press, being called “absolutely smashing,” “superhuman,” “magnificent,” “unforgettably visual,” “staggering,” “sensational,” “dazzling,” “wonderful,” and “the total clarinetist.”

Pianist Eric Huebner is also active in New York City, in both historical and contemporary art music. In addition to teaching at UB, he currently serves as pianist of the New York Philharmonic and as adjunct faculty at the Juilliard School. In the city, he has played at Carnegie’s Zankel and Weill Recital Halls, Miller Theatre, Merkin Hall, (le) Poisson Rouge, and Roulette, and with ensembles including the International Contemporary Ensemble, Talea, New York New Music Ensemble, American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Manhattan Sinfonietta, So Percussion and the American Modern Ensemble; from 2011-12 he was a member of the award-winning chamber ensemble Antares.

Aurora Borealis Duo
The concert also showcases UB’s newest music faculty members. Tiffany Du Mouchelle currently serves on UB’s music faculty, where she serves as director of the voice program. Particularly renowned for her opera and music-theatre work, she has received the Richard F. Gold Career Grant for American Opera singers, and has given world, modern, continental, and regional premieres of works by Stockhausen, Dusapin, Reynolds, Seckendorff, and Botelho.

Du Mouchelle and percussionist Stephen Solook arrived in Buffalo in 2015 following doctoral studies at the University of California San Diego. Together they founded Aurora Borealis Duo, an ensemble committed to performing and commissioning music for soprano and percussion; one or both of them has performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Eighth Black Bird, the International Contemporary Ensemble, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Joseph Alessi, Bob Becker, David Krakauer, Steven Schick, and Lucy Shelton. As members of the non-profit organization Cultures in Harmony, they have traveled to perform, teach, and lead workshops in Cameroon, Egypt, Mexico, and Papua New Guinea.

Megan Kyle

Oboist Megan Kyle joined UB’s music faculty this past fall. She has performed with classical ensembles such as Erie Chamber Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Symphoria, Omaha Symphony, and New World Symphony, and new music ensembles such as Null Point, Wooden Cities, and Parvenue. In addition to UB, she also teaches oboe and English horn at Houghton College and SUNY Geneseo.

“A Musical Feast”
Friday, February 2, 2018, 8pm
Burchfield Penney Art Center
Artistic Director: Charles Haupt
General Manager: Irene Haupt

Tickets: $10 members/$20 not yet members/$5 students

Coleccion Nocturna, for clarinet, bass clarinet, piano and 4-channel tape (1983)
David Felder
Jean Kopperud, clarinet
Eric Huebner, piano              

The Lilies of the Field (2013)
Stuart Saunders Smith
Tiffany Du Mouchelle, soprano
Stephen Solook, vibraphone

Dmaathen (1976)
Iannis Xenakis     
Steve Solook, percussion        
Megan Kyle, oboe

Études for Piano (Book 2) (1988-94)
Glamb Borong
Der Zauberlehrling
En Suspens
L’escalier du diable
Coloana infinită
György Ligeti
Eric Huebner, piano                                              

Eric Huebner

Friday, December 1, 2017

A Creative Incubator: The Composers’ Workshop Band

This semester, the Center for 21st Century Music’s graduate composition seminar focused on the crucial but often pedagogically underemphasized activity of composer-performer collaboration. Eight graduate students worked with “The Composers’ Workshop Band” to rehearse compositions:

Daniel Gostelow
Igor Coelho A. S. Marques
Jessie Downs
Alex Huddleston
Tomek Arnold
Kenneth Tam
Derick Evans
Brien Henderson

The band presents its first concert Friday, December 8, at 2pm, in Baird Recital Hall (250 Baird). The event is free and open to the public.

SUNY Distinguished Professor David Felder
The Composers’ Workshop Band is a project initiated by SUNY Distinguished Professor David Felder, with the great help of ensemble manager Hanna Hurwitz, conductor Edo Frenkel, and ensemble members:

Emlyn Johnson - flute
Michael Tumiel - clarinet
Steve Solook - percussion
Rosy Moore - harp
Hanna Hurwitz - violin
Daniel Ketter - cello
Megan McDevitt - bass

The Center congratulates them all for their stellar efforts bringing this unique project to life. The Band is a truly exceptional artistic endeavor, as opportunities for extended, in-depth composer-performer collaboration are rare, both in educational institutions and in the broader professional new music world. Very often in the new music world, intensive contact between composers and performers is possible only in final rehearsals, preventing meaningful long-term dialogue and relationship building. For young composers, this creates a difficult situation where the possibility of changing pieces in response to performer feedback is somewhat limited; in turn, seeking to avoid risk, composers in this predicament often end up neglecting musical possibilities that might lead, longer term, to the creation of new performance practices. This is why a project like the Band is so important, particularly for the young composers participating in the project, who have been given an ideal incubator to help them hatch musical ideas that might not be welcome in certain professional situations but that in the long run might lead to important compositional breakthroughs and influential new performance practices. The new music specialists who make up the Band have optimal skills and experience to assist the graduate composers in this endeavor.

As an educational framework, the Band overcomes a common limitation of much composition pedagogy. Frequently composition teaching focuses primarily on the creation of a score; upon completion of a score, the musical work is seen as finished. However, in a performing art like music, the piece’s reality is in live performance, and the task of translating score into performance is a complex and challenging one, particularly in new music where one cannot meaningfully depend upon conventionalized interpretive rules, as is the case in standard repertoire classical music. In addition to mastering “compositional technique” in a more orthodox sense, successful composers must also learn rehearsal technique, and how to best communicate their ideas through notation and performance instructions. Creating meaningful performance practice for one’s compositions means creating a multi-tiered strategy distributed between these four aspects of a piece.

Composition students at the Center are extremely fortunate to have numerous opportunities available to help them hone their ability to translate musical idea into performance reality. Between special projects like the Composers’ Workshop Band, guest performer residencies at the Center, and June in Buffalo, the Center’s graduate programs provide ideal circumstances for emerging composers to mature artistically. David Felder’s renowned pedagogy, with its astute emphasis upon students’ ability to mediate between conception and performance, is an enormous asset in this respect as well. It is thus no accident that numerous graduates of the Center have gone on to make music that asks ambitious questions about the nature of music’s performance, questioning conventions of performative possibility, instrumental and electronic technique, notation, and more.

Friday, November 3, 2017

David Felder’s Jeu de Tarot

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

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

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

from Jeu de Tarot, movement 2: The Fool

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

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

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Ensemble Linea: Musical Ambassadors

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Eric Moe: Expanded Virtuosity

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bernard Rands Honored with SUNY Honorary Doctorate

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

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

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

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

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

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