Friday, May 22, 2015

Roger Reynolds: On Space and Collaboration


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


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

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

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

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


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


—Ethan Hayden

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Bernard Rands: An Inexhaustible Phenomenon


Bernard Rands during a rehearsal at JiB 2014
Last year, the Chicago-based, English-born composer Bernard Rands celebrated his 80th birthday.  To honor this milestone, the Boston Symphony Orchestra commissioned a new work, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, which featured pianist Jonathan Biss.  Rands shows no signs of slowing down—the concerto is just one of over a hundred of his published works, and later this year, he'll see the premiere of another new concerto, for English Horn and orchestra, which is being written for Robert Walters and the Cleveland Orchestra.

Rands is no stranger to orchestral composition—he was the composer-in-residence at the Philadelphia Orchestra for seven years (1989-1995), and before that, he became widely known for his two Le Tambourin suites (1984), composed for the same organization.  This work, eventually awarded first place in the Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards, took inspiration from six paintings and drawings by Vincent van Gogh.  For its six movements, the composer tried to translate the visual elements of six of the Dutch artist's works, without creating any direct narrative allusions.  "I didn’t want to do another Pictures at an Exhibition.  That’s not the intention.  I analyzed those paintings and drawings to the nth degree in terms of everything that constitutes a visual art activity.  That is:  form, color, density, harmony of colors, counterpoint of movements—the same terminology we use in music."  Elaborating on what he found so stimulating about van Gogh's work, the composer enthusiastically explained to New Music Box,
You don’t see sunflowers like that!  […He] painted to see the world in his mind, not the world as it is, or in the reality of normal observation.  The world in his mind made him so different, and made the paintings so different from anybody else’s.  When you think of that in terms of the sonic domain in which we work:  what is the sound in my mind, not what it ought to be but what is in my mind.  […It] has to leap off the page and be something other than what’s technically possible.
Rands's preoccupation with van Gogh did not end with the Le Tambourin suites, but continued into what is perhaps his most large-scale work, the two-act opera, Vincent (1999).  With a libretto based on Van Gogh's letters by J.D. McClatchy, the opera aims to place the artist "in contexts which were his real experiences, thus revealing his complex character—that of genius artist, religious fanatic, alcoholic, epileptic, unstable of temperament, resulting in behavior ranging unpredictably between kindly affability and violent aggression."  Premiered by the Indiana University Opera School in 2012, the work displays Rands's characteristically colorful orchestral writing alongside his keen knowledge and skill in composing for voice.


It is perhaps Rands's vocal works that have become the most widely celebrated.  His 1991 choral cycle, Canti d'Amor, which sets texts from James Joyce's "Chamber Music," was recorded on the Grammy-winning Chanticleer album Colors of Love.  His trilogy of works for solo voice and orchestra, Canti Lunatici (1980), Canti del Sole (1983), and Canti dell'Eclisse (1988), have been widely performed, with the middle work winning the 1984 Pulitzer Prize.  In a unique act of compositional imagination, each of these three works exist in two different forms, a chamber and orchestral version.  However, the chamber versions are not merely reductions, as the composer explains,
The vocal line remains absolutely the same in the chamber and orchestra versions, but they’re not the same pieces. […]  Let’s say in the chamber version, before there’s any intention to make an orchestra version, you have a five-note chord, which is perfectly fine for an orchestra.  But what if you add one more note to that chord?  Where does it go?  Does it go here?  There?  […]  If you add two, where do they go?  And, if you add more, and you start to change the harmonic implication, you’ve got a very different environment for the voice to perform exactly as it would in the other version, but now we have an extension of the juxtaposition of differences that are very important.
van Gogh's Agostina Segatori Sitting
in the Café du Tambourin
, the namesake for Rands's 
Le Tambourin suites
Rands's history with June in Buffalo stretches back to before David Felder restarted the festival in the mid-1980s.  Before reigniting the festival, when Felder was teaching at Cal State Long Beach, he started a summer program for West Coast artists called the Summer Composers Institute, which brought together young composers with emerging performers and ensembles and gave them a chance to work with faculty composers, one of the first of which was Bernard Rands.  Rands was quick to offer Felder his support when the latter restarted June in Buffalo, and since then, Rands has been an important figure in the festival's history, being a faculty composer more than ten times, and seeing nearly thirty performances of his works at the festival.  These include the world premiere of Rands's Interlude, which was commissioned for the festival's 25th anniversary in 2000, and three performances of Canti Lunatici (in 1991, 2002, and 2014—the latter at a portrait concert which also featured Steven Beck playing Rands's Piano Preludes).  Several of the composer's "Memo" series of solo works have been heard at the festival, including Memo 1 for contrabass in 2000, Memo 7 for soprano in 2002, and Memo 4 for flute in 2006.  Rands's virtuosic orchestral compositions have been featured many times at the Buffalo Philharmonic's festival-concluding concerts, including a 2010 performance of the second La Tambourin suite, and last year's presentation of "…where the murmurs die…" (both conducted by JoAnn Falletta).  This year, the festival's mid-week Performance Institute concert at Kleinhans Music Hall will feature two of the composer's works, Memo 4 and Walcott Songs, played by Performance Institute students and faculty.

Rands with the Slee Sinfonietta and Jerry Hou
after the JiB 2014 performance of Canti Lunatici
Thinking back to the aforementioned Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, the Boston Globe writes that Rands's music brings "tonal and non-tonal elements into a fusion that is firmly enough based in musical tradition to be inviting, yet unpredictable enough in the deployment of those tools to convey a sense of modernity."  This dichotomy between tradition and innovation, singable and spiky, lyrical and dramatic, is key to Rands's work, as he explains:
It so happens that one of the fundamental principles of my own aesthetic position is the juxtaposition of opposites.  […]  These two [the non-tonal and the tonal] are interacting all the time, whether it’s a harmony or a rhythmic cell, a timbre or a gesture.  Music has always been that way.  Otherwise, we would have used up its resources a long time ago.  But it seems to be an inexhaustible phenomenon.
As a composer, Rands seems yet to use up his musical resources, and is himself an inexhaustible phenomenon, still creating new, intriguing music into his eighth decade.


—Ethan Hayden

Friday, May 15, 2015

Irvine Arditti: The Practicality of the Impossible


Irvine Arditti during a JiB 2014 composer workshop
Few performers have had a more significant impact on the contemporary music scene than Irvine Arditti.  As the founder of the Arditti Quartet, he has worked with some of the world's most adventurous composers, commissioning hundreds of works, and recording over 180 CDs.  Some of the most important string quartets of the past forty years have been composed for the Ardittis, including works by Brian Ferneyhough, Helmut Lachenmann, and Harrison Birtwistle just to name a few.  The Ardittis are partly responsible for revitalizing the genre itself, which, along with the symphony, had fallen out of favor with many post-war composers.  They even convinced modernist stalwart Karlheinz Stockhausen to write a string quartet (albeit, one that required four helicopters).

Working closely with composers is of great importance to Arditti.  His introduction to the new music world happened at age 12, when he met Messiaen and Xenakis at the English Bach Festival.  Just a few years later he was studying at the Darmstadt summer courses, with the likes of Stockhausen and Boulez.  For Arditti, working with composers is a key part of the adventure.  "I love the idea of going to the limit of what you can do," he says.  "With the music I and my quartet play […] it’s all to do with getting inside a living composer’s mind.  There is no performing tradition.  We have to create it, we have to turn these very odd-looking marks into music which has never been heard before."

Perhaps the most well known account of Arditti's virtuosity has to do with John Cage's Freeman Etudes.  The famously difficult piece has been called "impossible" by James Pritchett, who compared its requirements to "a track and field athlete who must run, jump, and throw, but do so in rapid succession, and, at the same time, to have a dancer's control of the body, so that the feet always land in precise locations, the arms and legs bent at precise angles."  Cage, who used star maps and the I Ching to determine most of the work's musical material, originally composed the work for a virtuoso violinist, who, upon seeing the first completed etudes, deemed them "quite unplayable."  Discouraged by this verdict, Cage abandoned the project, until they were picked up years later by Arditti, who was not only able to perform the piece, but performed it faster than the notated tempo(!), inspiring Cage to complete the project.   In fact, Arditti—following Cage's performance note that the piece should be performed in "as short a time-length as [the player's] virtuosity permits"—has continued to increase the piece's tempo with each performance (see a recent performance below).  With regard to the etudes' difficulty, Cage said, "These are intentionally as difficult as I can make them, because I think we're now surrounded by very serious problems in the society, and we tend to think that the situation is hopeless and that it's just impossible to do something that will make everything turn out properly. So I think that this music, which is almost impossible, gives an instance of the practicality of the impossible."  Or, in Arditti's words, "Nothing is impossible if you rehearse it enough."


Arditti has been an important presence at June in Buffalo for many years, both as a soloist and as part of the Arditti Quartet.  In 2007, the Ardittis were a resident ensemble at the festival, workshopping student pieces and presenting a concert of works including Roger Reynold's Ariadne's Thread, David Felder's Stuck-Stücke, and Lachenmann's String Quartet No. 3 "Grido", all of which were composed specifically for the quartet (indeed, the latter takes its name from the name of the quartet's members—the "i" in "Grido" is for "Irvine").  In 2010, the quartet returned for two sessions of student workshops, as well as another evening concert of exciting music, including Reynolds' Not Forgotten, Felder's Third Face, Xenakis's Tetras, and Feldman's early quartet, Structures (1951).  That same year, Arditti performed Reynolds' Aspiration with the Slee Sinfonietta, another work composed for the violinist.  In 2011, Arditti returned as a special guest to play two works on a chamber music concert:  Hilda Paredes's Memoriam Thomas Kakuska and Salvatore Sciarrino's Sei Caprici—the latter, an extraordinary tour de force and study in extended string techniques, made a particular impression on the young composers present, with both the work's inherent virtuosity and Arditti's bold performance acting as a demonstration of the amazingly extensive sound-world of the violin.

Arditti performs Paredes's Señales with SIGNAL at JiB 2014
Arditti returned as a soloist in 2013, performing two works for large ensemble and violin with SIGNAL:  Augusta Read Thomas's Carillon Sky and Ferneyhough's Terrain (the latter, another work composed for Arditti, which the Guardian has referred to as an "uber-concerto").  Also at JiB 2013, Arditti became one of the few non-composers to give a morning lecture (a small group that also includes Tonmeister François Eckert), taking the opportunity to demonstrate several extended string techniques and discuss strategies for composing for violin.  Finally, last year saw Arditti performing Paredes's Señales with SIGNAL, in addition to presenting a full solo recital which included classic works, including the Sei Caprici and Donatoni's Argot, alongside more recent compositions like Martino Traversa's Red (2012) and Toshio Hosokawa's Elegy (2007).

This anniversary year, Arditti will return for another solo recital of adventurous string music, including Ferneyhough's labyrinthine Unsichtbare Farben and Reynolds' Kokoro (both dedicated to the violinist), as well as Feldman's For Aaron Copland and Elliott Carter's famous Duo for Violin and Piano—definitely not a performance to miss.  As Tom Service has noted, "Any Arditti performance is not just an interpretation, but a performance informed by decades of the subtle oral tradition of working with the world's greatest composers.  They are living, breathing music history."  Indeed, and not just a living history, but a demonstration of the "practicality of the impossible."


—Ethan Hayden

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Harvey Sollberger: A Music that Forgets


Harvey Sollberger performs at JiB 2010
There is a certain modesty to much of Harvey Sollberger's recent music, a conscious avoidance of the heavy teleological force and "storming of existential heights" characteristic of much 19th century music.  Instead, Sollberger's music is, as he describes in his Essay Before a (Non-)Sonata, "a music that does not presuppose a fixed narrative that transports you invariably from Point A to Point Z; it's, rather, a music that has no agenda, that doesn't want to […] convince you of anything; a music that forgets—and must reinvent itself, sometimes obsessively—as it goes along."*  Rather than profound declarations of humanity's power, Sollberger prefers evoking "an occluded vision of something we catch a glimmer of or intuit the shape of but can't quite make out."  This is a post-quantum-theory music, a music that embraces uncertainty, that is content to gaze at the Real and receive only an "occluded vision".  Of course, as any fan of Monet or Pissarro can tell you, it is often the occluded visions that are the most arresting.

Sollberger's history with June in Buffalo extends back many years.  He was one of the core group of composers who immediately lent their support when David Felder restarted the festival in 1986, and he has played a significant role ever since—both as a composer and a performer.  In 1993, he conducted the June in Buffalo Chamber Ensemble while they performed his piece, The Advancing Moment, and in 1996 he conducted an early performance of Felder's Inner Sky.  In 1998, he guest-conducted the New York New Music Ensemble in a program that included works by Davidovsky, Ken Ueno, and Christian Carey, and conducted the same ensemble the following year for a performance of Wuorinen's New York Notes (the program also featured Sollberger's flute/clarinet duet, To the Spirit Unappeased and Peregrine).  Sollberger has premiered several important works at June in Buffalo, conducting the first performance of Roger Reynolds' On the Nature of Things in 1996, and David Felder's In Between in 2000 (with the JiB Chamber Orchestra).  He has continued to be a reliable fount of exciting music throughout the 2000's:  in 2006 he performed his flute solo Riding the Wind I, and performed the first in another series of flute works, New Millennium Memo I, at a special anniversary concert at JiB 2010.  The week of this year's festival, Edge of the Center will publish an essay by Sollberger, called "Buffalo's Third Wave", celebrating the festival and its history.

Sollberger's most recent works, including Mural for piano four hands and Soli e Scherzi for flute and piano (both 2014), embrace a new formal strategy the composer calls "Field form."  Put simply, these pieces are circular and "can be entered and left at many different points," allowing the performer to begin at any location, and continue through the material until they return to the point at which they began.  Existing in such a "Mobius space" these works lack the traditional teleological markers 'beginning,' 'middle,' and 'end.'  As the composer explains, "What's 'center' in one performance becomes 'edge' in another," (or conceivably, the 'edge of the center' in yet another).  This seemingly simple formal strategy creates significant compositional challenges however, since while these pieces lack 'beginnings' and 'endings,' they are not without development.  Sollberger still deftly crafts the moment-to-moment evolution of his material, aiming to compose music that has a gas-like evanescence, with "the potential to assume the many forms and shapes of a cloud."


For those who are familiar with the composer's earlier music, terms like "evanescent", and "gas-like" might not be the first terms that come to mind.  At this year's June in Buffalo, NYNME will perform The Advancing Moment (1993), a piece which Jeremy Eichler of the New York Times described as featuring "tough, aggressive gestures," writing that the work "pitted groups of instruments against each other and built into a kind of pummeling fanfare, full of menacing extremes of pitch and volume."  Fellow JiB faculty composer Roger Reynolds has written of Sollberger's "rhythmically craggy and motivically kaleidoscopic music of high expressive energy and gestural force."  This is not just evident in the earlier, more "menacing" pieces, but also in his more recent work.  Take, for example, New Millennium Memo II for solo flute (see above), in which the composer maintains the aforementioned 'expressive energy' and 'gestural force' through subtle shifts in timbral coloration, graceful developmental variations, and quick agile melodic fragments that are as rhythmically complex as they are effortlessly performed (by the composer himself).  It is clear that Sollberger's style and technique is in a continuous state of evolution and reinvention, developing and varying in much the same way his musical material does.


Attendees of this year's festival will be treated not only to NYNME's adroit performance of The Advancing Moment, but also to a unique Harvey Sollberger solo recital at Pausa Art House.  The event will feature the composer performing works for solo flute and solo accordion(!).  Indeed, Sollberger recently returned to the accordion, an instrument he had once studied, but with which he hadn't worked closely since 1956.  His accordion repertoire, however, doesn't feature the spiky modernism composed by himself and his contemporaries, instead leaning heavily on polkas, waltzes, folk tunes, and especially Neapolitan song repertoire.  It is perhaps this recent addition to Sollberger's musical life, more than anything else, that presents the composer as an artist with the "potential to assume the many forms and shapes of a cloud."  He embodies the idea of the music that forgets—not in the sense that he is stricken with any sort of musical amnesia (indeed, quite the opposite), but rather that he, throughout his career and continuing into the future, seems to be driven by a need to reinvent himself, sometimes obsessively—as he goes along.


—Ethan Hayden


*Sollberger, Harvey.  "Essay Before a (Non-)Sonata" preface to Mural.  (American Composers Alliance, 2014).  (emphasis added).

Saturday, May 9, 2015

This Week: Music in Buffalo's Historic Places


Common Council Chambers
The Music in Buffalo's Historic Places series continues next week with a concert by Yuki Numata Resnick at the Common Council Chamber in Buffalo's City Hall.  The series, curated by UB piano professor Eric Huebner, features UB faculty performers, alongside the occasional visiting artist, in spaces of civic and architectural importance.  For Huebner, the idea was "to create a musical program that corresponded in some way with the architecture."  Below is an excerpt from the event's press release, which is available here:
Music in Buffalo’s Historic Places presents violinist and University at Buffalo Assistant Professor Yuki Numata Resnick in a free noontime concert of solo and duo works by Antheil, Bach, Bartok and Honegger in the magnificent Common Council chamber at Buffalo's City Hall. She is joined by cellist and UB associate professor Jonathan Golove as well as by her husband, trumpeter Kyle Resnick.
The Common Council chamber is one of Buffalo’s most revered civic spaces. Officially opened in January of 1932, it is widely regarded as one of the finest city council chambers in the country. The chamber features a beautiful stained glass sunburst, inlaid walnut woodwork and is ringed by stone pillars representing the virtues council members were expected to maintain.
Yuki Numata Resnick
Yuki Numata Resnick was appointed assistant professor of music at the University at Buffalo in the fall of 2013. She is a highly sought after soloist and chamber musician who has performed internationally and with ensembles such as Alarm Will Sound, Enemble Signal, Wordless Music Orchestra, and the Talea Ensemble. A committed advocate of the music of our time, Yuki has premiered dozens of new works in recent years and is actively involved in the commissioning of new music for violin. She has also been engaged in a multi-year exploration of the music for solo violin by J.S. Bach and frequently seeks to link Bach’s music with the music of more recent composers.
The noontime program opens with Arthur Honnegger’s beautiful Sonatina for violin and cello composed in 1932, the year City Hall was officially opened. The neo-classical work, traditional in sound and structure, isemblematic of how composers in the 1920s and 30s often looked back to older musical forms to help organize their music in much the same way the architects of Buffalo’s City Hall might have looked at ancient Roman architecture to inspire the design of the Common Council chamber. The program continues with two modernist works from 1931: a selection of Béla Bartók’s Duos for two violins, here played in a version for violin and trumpet and George Antheil’s Sonatina for violin and cello. The program concludes with J.S. Bach’s B minor Partita for solo violin.
This concert is made possible by the generous support of the Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music and by the City of Buffalo.
The full program is available here.  Don't miss this exciting event, a continuation of an always-exciting series!

May 14, 2015
12:00pm
Common Council Chamber, Buffalo City Hall


Next week, we'll continue our series on June in Buffalo faculty composers and resident ensembles with a profile of composer Harvey Sollberger…

Friday, April 24, 2015

June in Buffalo Performance Institute Participants Announced!


The Center is excited to announce the young performers who will be featured at this summer's June in Buffalo Performance Institute.  After receiving a very large number of applications representing students of exceptional skill and musicality, the following performers will be joining us for the second JiB Performance Institute, bringing to life many new and exciting works of cutting-edge music:


Ross Aftel and Nicholas Emmanuel rehearse at the
2013 June in Buffalo Performance Institute
Flute:
Wayla Chambo (University of North Texas)

Clarinet:
Pei-Lun Tsai (University of Missouri,
Kansas City)
Michael Tumiel (Eastman School of Music)

Trumpet:
Samuel Wells (Indiana University,
Jacobs School of Music)

Percussion:
Joe Desotelle (The Juilliard School)
Max Fahland (George Mason University)
Piano:
Hangyu Bai (University at Buffalo)
T.J. Borden performs at the
2013 Performance Institute
Nicholas Emmanuel (University at Buffalo)
Ben Havey (SUNY Purchase)
Adam Scherkin (Royal College of Music, London, Ontario)
Bryndis Schilling (UMass Amherst)
Anna Whistler (UMass Amherst)
Mayuko Yamashita (New York University)

Violin:
Mia Detweiler (University of North Texas)

Cello:
Sarah Bish (UMass, Amherst)
T.J. Borden (University of California, San Diego)



Join us in June to hear these performers premiere new works by emerging composers and play other adventurous works from the vast repertoire of contemporary music!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

June in Buffalo Participant Composers Announced!


The Center is excited to announce the emerging composers whose work will be featured at this summer's June in Buffalo festival.  After receiving a very large number of applications representing students from eleven countries, twenty-one US states, and more than three dozen universities, the following composers will be joining us for our annual festival of new and adventurous music:


Participant composers at JiB 2013
Iddo Aharony, University of Chicago
Can Bilir, Cornell University
Shuyue Cao, Mannes College
Tyler Capp, University of Missouri, KC
Matthew Chamberlain, University at Buffalo
Niki Charlafti, New England Conservatory
Weijun Chen, University at Buffalo
James Chu, Peabody Conservatory
Steven Crane, University of Minnesota
Lisa Eleazarian, Illinois State University
Louis Goldford, Indiana University
Elliot Grabill, New York University
Paul Hembree, Univ. of California, San Diego
Travis Huff, East Carolina University
Student composers in a masterclass with Steven Stucky
Ryan Jesperson, University of Missouri, KC
Texu Kim, Indiana University
Ying-Ting Lin, University at Buffalo
Zane Merritt, University at Buffalo
Fernanda Navarro, UC San Diego
David Nguyen, UI Urbana-Champaign
Timothy Page, University of Chicago
Ori Talmon, Univ. of California, San Diego
Liliya Ugay, Yale University
Stephen Yip, Rice University
Hangrui Zhang, University of Cincinnati
Tiange Zhou, Yale University

Join us in June to hear new works by each of these young musicians!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Slee Sinfonietta: American Mavericks


This week marked the beginning of a city-wide festival called Ives:  An American Maverick, which celebrates the music of the country's earliest experimental composer.  Beginning with a masterclass at UB led by vocalist William Sharp, the festival will feature two Ives portrait concerts by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, choral arrangements of Ives's songs presented by the Harmonia Chamber Singers, and presentations at the Burchfield Penney and Erie Public Library.

The festival will conclude next Tuesday (4/14) with a performance in Lippes Concert Hall by the Slee Sinfonietta, the Center for 21st Century Music's resident chamber orchestra.  Conducted by the extraordinarily skilled Brad Lubman, the Sinfonietta's program will feature two key works by Ives, "A Set of Pieces" for chamber orchestra, and the widely-regarded Three Places in New England, Ives's first orchestral set.  Capping of a week of programs focusing on Ives and his work, the Sinfonietta's program also begins to move beyond the work of Ives, to the next generation of composers who were so influenced by him, including works by Lou Harrison, Carl Ruggles, and Conlon Nancarrow.

Lou Harrison
Harrison was a prolific composer who became known for his experiments with just intonation and non-Western instruments (especially Gamelan instruments, and some new instruments designed and built to his own specifications).  Harrison had a close and productive relationship with Ives, editing and preparing several of his pieces for performance.  Writing to Ives in 1936 to request some scores for study and performance, Harrison received a whole crate of the composer's music, which he lived with and studied closely for the following decade.  In 1946, Harrison conducted the premiere of Ives's Third Symphony, a work he had edited from the original manuscript.  The performance won Ives the 1947 Pulitzer Prize, whose prize money he insisted on splitting with Harrison (accompanied by a note with a characteristic Ivesian bite:  "Prizes are for mediocrity, now please take half of it.").  The Sinfonietta will feature Harrison's memorial piece to the elder composer, 1963's At the Tomb of Charles Ives for trombone, two psalteries, two dulcimers, three harps, tam-tam, and strings.  The work (premiered and recorded by Lukas Foss) features string instruments retuned to Harrison's Free Style intonation system, a complex experimental gamut based on pure intervals.

Portrait of Carl Ruggles by Thomas Hart Benton
One of Harrison's great unfinished projects was a book about the music of another composer featured on Tuesday's program, Carl Ruggles.  (Harrison only completed a short essay on the composer, which was published in a 1946 issue of View).  Ruggles composed a stark body of just a few dissonantly contrapuntal works in the Ultramodernist style.  The composer shares a number of characteristics with Ives:  both were regarded initially only by a small circle of fellow experimenters, both were constantly revising their works—a quality the prolific Harrison described as "never wanting anything finished"—and both were highly influenced by the American transcendental poets of the nineteenth century.  This is a feature most evident in the work the Sinfonietta will present next week, Ruggles' Vox clamans in deserto for soprano and chamber orchestra, which sets texts by Robert Browning and Walt Whitman, and which will be sung by Julia Bentley.

The last composer featured on the Sinfonietta's program is Conlon Nancarrow.  While never a close associate of Ives like Harrison and Ruggles, Nancarrow continues the very Ivesian tradition of experimental composition in isolation.  An American composer who spent most of his life in Mexico City to avoid anti-communist activity in the U.S. (he fought with the Republican Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War), Nancarrow composed an extensive series of works that experimented with highly complex rhythmic canons and isorhythms.  Composing in exile, the majority of his works were written for player piano, one of the few instruments that could perfectly execute his jazz-inspired rhythmic complexity.  Like Ives, Nancarrow's work was only recognized towards the end of his life, when younger composers like Peter Garland and Charles Amirkhanian began publishing scores and recordings of his work.  This late fame led him to receive a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" and a number of commissions for non-mechanized instruments, including his Piece No. 2 for small orchestra (1986), which the Sinfonietta will perform next week.

The Slee Sinfonietta reads a work by Dan Bassin,
who has also conducted the ensemble
This concert is just the beginning of what is a busy and exciting spring for the Sinfonietta.  The day after next week's Mavericks concert, the ensemble will conduct a reading/recording session of a new work by UB Ph.D. candidate Chun Ting Pang called Living Dust.  (A skilled composer, Pang himself has had an eventful year, which you can read more about here). This continues a long tradition of the Sinfonietta reading dissertation works by accomplished graduate composers.

The Sinfonietta will wrap up its concert season with two performances at June in Buffalo.  The festival will see chamber works by student composers played by members of the ensemble, followed by a performance of David Felder's Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux by a large ensemble combining the Slee Sinfonietta with New York's SIGNAL Ensemble, in what is sure to be an exciting concert.  As the Center's resident chamber orcehstra, the Sinfonietta has performed at every June in Buffalo since 2000.  At their first JiB concert, the Sinfonietta performed works by Bernard Rands, Roger Reynolds, and Augusta Read Thomas (all of whom will return to the JiB faculty this year) including a world premiere work by each of these composers, commissioned especially for the festival.  The concert featured three different conductors, with Harvey Sollberger, Brad Lubman, and Magnus Mårtensson each leading the ensemble on a different piece.  

The Sinfonietta was conceived, formed, founded, and programmed by Artistic Director David Felder from 1996 to the present.  It was one of the Center's first programs to be funded by Robert and Carol Morris, and the ensemble has been supported by the Morrises since its inception in the late 1990s.  Since then, it has played a key role both in June in Buffalo and at the Center throughout the years.  We're thrilled that this year's festival continues the tradition of adventurous new music being presented by the Center's house ensemble!

Slee Sinfonietta
Ives and Beyond

Brad Lubman, conductor
Julia Bentley, mezzo-soprano
Works by Ives, Harrison, Ruggles, and Nancarrow

Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall
7:30pm
$15/$10




—Ethan Hayden

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Augusta Read Thomas: The Whole is Other


The German psychologist Kurt Koffka famously summarized Gestalt theory with the phrase, "the whole is other than the sum of its parts."  Koffka emphasized that in Gestalt psychology, the whole has an existence which is unique, independent of its component elements.  While we can recognize the various parts of, say, the sound of a bell (quick attack, long sustain, inharmonic timbre), our experience of the whole bell sound is entirely separate from our awareness of its individual features.  The whole is other than the sum of its parts.

Augusta Read Thomas at Jib 2010
This concept is key to Augusta Read Thomas's music, because throughout her oeuvre, the composer is attempting—and succeeding—at something impossibly contradictory:  a music which is at once intricately crafted with meticulous precision, but which sounds spontaneous and improvisational.  Thomas's music is incredibly detailed, constructed from a keen awareness of instrumental technique, tonal and timbral nuance, and a harmonic sophistication matched by only a small handful of contemporaries.  These are the "parts" of her music, manifested through explicit notation and attention to detail.  "One of the things that interests me a great deal is for the music to be very nuanced.  So the notations are extremely specific, and I think that lends itself to a clear and crisp execution of the piece," Thomas says in an interview with New Music Box.  "Yet on the other hand, I want the pieces to sound really spontaneous—'There it goes!  The orchestra’s playing, and the train has left the station!' [It] almost sounds as if they’re improvising."  Herein lies the contradictory "whole" of Thomas music—the effect of unplanned animation, whimsical energy, vibrant organicism.  While a listener may be aware of the careful, deliberate construction of Thomas's music, the experience is one of flowing caprice, a music of sudden shifts that are both unexpected and inevitable.  The whole is other than the sum of its parts.

Few composers have managed to successfully achieve this tightrope-walk of carefully-composed spontaneity.  Debussy comes to mind, and Thomas's music certainly maintains a Debussian finesse, heard in the intricate diaphanousness of 2010's Jubilee for orchestra or the refined lyricism of 2005's violin concerto, Carillon Sky.  But her music also often features a ferocious dynamism, as colors and shapes collide with one another with a forcefulness that calls to mind Varèse's sinewy harmonic intersections (see for example, her early orchestral piece, Words of the Sea).  Throughout her work, however, remains this ("Koffka-esque"?) distinction between whole and part that the composer herself is well aware of:  "If I could try to describe the way I think of music, I would draw a big circle.  Then inside of it, I would put a lot of words, such as counterpoint, harmony, rhythm, harmonic rhythm, pitch, flow, flux, density, tessitura, balance, and so on and so forth. For me, it’s a big huge gestalt.  […]  They’re all connected with this beautiful web, and so while I could talk about rhythm independently, or I could talk about harmony independently, for me, they instantly plug back into that gestalt."


Augusta Read Thomas is one of the hardest working composers active today.  Just this year, she has already had four pieces premiered (including Selene, premiered last month by friends of the Center JACK Quartet and Third Coast Percussion, and the orchestral ballet EOS: Goddess of the Dawn premiered by the Utah Symphony in February) with two more upcoming this month (including the Parker Quartet's premiere of Helix Spirals next week at Harvard).  She spends eight to ten hours a day composing—an activity she typically does on her feet, standing at large draft tables, as she describes in the video below.  Her prolific work schedule has resulted in an impressively expansive catalog of works, and has made Thomas one of the most frequently-performed living composers.  She has been recognized by both the American Academy of Arts and Letters (inducted in 2009) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (inducted in 2012), and, most recently, she won the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra's Composer Award for 2015-16, the oldest award of its kind in the nation (previous winners have included William Schuman, Walter Piston, and Morton Gould).  It would be entirely forgivable if such an active composer had no time or interest in teaching, but Thomas is very passionate about teaching, an activity she sees as a "natural extension of [her] creative process."  She currently teaches at the University of Chicago, where she is one of seven University Professors, and regularly teaches at the Tanglewood Music Center during the summer.  Next year, she will be spearheading the Ear Taxi Festival, which celebrates Chicago's strong new music scene.


We are thrilled that Augusta Read Thomas will be joining us during this anniversary year at June in Buffalo.  The composer has been an invaluable member of the JiB faculty over the years, regularly presenting new and exciting works, and providing sharp insights and guidance to young composers.  Perhaps the most affecting aspect of Thomas's relationship with the festival is that she was once herself one of those emerging composers who came through the festival as a student, before returning years later as a member of the faculty.  "I first came to June in Buffalo in 1988, while I was a student of Jacob Druckman at Yale.  I had a great time.  It was enriching in terms of learning the music of others, hearing beautiful concerts, and having lots of time for informal discussions about music.  I loved it!  I went back at least once more as a student in the early 1990s."

Thomas has high praise for the festival, pointing out how beneficial it's been to so many emerging composers over the years:  "I think the festival has boosted the careers of lots of students—and there have been many over the years (30 years times 25-30 students each year).  It's really been something that's helped a lot of composers, even if it's just one recording or one connection made—a composer can meet someone they'll know as a colleague for the rest of their career.  There are all kinds of things like that which are difficult to put a finger on, but which are part of the culture of the festival."

Augusta Read Thomas rehearses Aureole with
the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at JiB 2013
June in Buffalo has seen some great performances of Thomas's works over the years.  In 2002, she came to the festival as a special guest, where her Rumi Settings were performed by Movses Pogossian and Jonathan Golove.  Stephen Gosling of the New York New Music Ensemble has given two stunning performances of her Six Piano Etudes (one in 2006, and the other in 2010).  A particularly memorable performance was in 2010, when her violin concerto Carillon Sky was performed by Yuki Numata Resnick, with Brad Lubman conducting the Slee Sinfonietta.  "I remember just being riveted.  I thought it was spectacular and shimmeringly brilliant!" Thomas recalls. The Buffalo Philharmonic's festival-concluding concerts have twice featured Thomas's work, including a 2010 performance of Terpischore's Dream, and a 2013 performance of the luminous Aureole, both conducted by JoAnn Falletta.  "Being a composer that's written a lot of orchestral music, it's nice to have an orchestral piece done at a festival," says Thomas.  "June in Buffalo is able to feature the music of composers that are writing for orchestra (and electronics and chamber music as well).  The performances that have been given of both faculty and student works have always been at the highest level.  I commend that to the festival and those organizing it.  And David Felder has done a wonderful job as director, so three cheers for David from me!"

This year, we can look forward to two pieces which will be played on the June 5th Performance Institute concert:  1999's Passion Prayers for solo 'cello and six instruments, and 2007's Scat for chamber ensemble, both conducted by Daniel Bassin.  We're thrilled that Augusta Read Thomas will once again bring her work, insight, passion, and musicality to the festival, demonstrating both the parts and the whole of her craft to emerging composers and audiences alike.


—Ethan Hayden

Friday, March 27, 2015

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra: A City and Its Orchestra


"About that music festival I've been thinking of—You know how they talk about April in Paris?  Well, I think we should call it June in Buffalo.  Yeah, why not?" — Morton Feldman*

June in Buffalo is an international festival that attracts some of the most widely-renowned artists from across the world.  But it is first and foremost a festival in Buffalo, and there is perhaps no ensemble more firmly and proudly Buffalo than the city's orchestra.  Founded in 1935, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has been one of the city's most important cultural institutions for eighty years.  The orchestra has become an integral part of June in Buffalo, concluding the festival each year with its Sunday afternoon concert of new orchestral compositions.

The BPO was founded shortly before the Great Depression, during which it was supported by funds from the Works Progress Administration and Emergency Relief Bureau.  Over the years, the orchestra has had some of the most significant artists of the twentieth century serve as music director, including William Steinberg, Josef Krips, Lukas Foss, Michael Tilson Thomas, Maximiano Valdez, Semyon Bychkov and Julius Rudel.  Always actively recording, the orchestra has released a number of significant LPs over the years, including the world premiere recording of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 "Leningrad" in 1946.  In 1977, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas, BPO recorded a successful LP titled Gershwin on Broadway.  The recording made such an impact on Woody Allen, that the director used several of the LP's selections in the soundtrack to his 1979 film, Manhattan.  Under the current direction of JoAnn Falletta, the orchestra has released thirty-two CDs, including a Grammy-winning recording of John Corigliano's Mr. Tambourine Man:  Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (2003).


Lukas Foss
When Lukas Foss took over the BPO's directorship in 1963, the composer/conductor led the orchestra in new, experimental directions.  At his opening night at the baton, Foss programmed Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, a work still considered at that time to be shockingly avant garde.  Foss continued his cutting-edge programming throughout his tenure, which included performances of Stockhausen's Momente, and works by John Cage.  This adventurous spirit continued under the direction of Foss's successor, Michael Tilson Thomas, who premiered some important works by Morton Feldman (The Viola in My Live IV, Voices and Instruments II), and programmed Lutosławski's Concerto for Orchestra and several works by American experimental luminaries Charles Ives and Carl Ruggles.

The orchestra has always had a close relationship with its city.  At the 2012 Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall, the BPO broke the record for hometown fan attendance.  From 1992-96, JiB artistic director, David Felder was the orchestra's Meet the Composer Composer-in-Residence.  During these years, the Buffalo-based composer wrote a number of new orchestral works for the BPO, including Three Pieces for Orchestra, composed for the ensemble's 60th anniversary.  [The first of these pieces, Linebacker Music, was composed in the midst of the early-1990s Buffalo Bills string of successes—a Buffalo composer writing a piece for a Buffalo orchestra, about the city's most beloved pastime].

Charles Ives
The BPO has continued its devotion to new music with its annual EarShot New Music Readings, a program put on in collaboration with the American Composers Orchestra, which presents new orchestral works by emerging composers.  This month, the BPO will return to the work of Charles Ives as it takes part in the Charles Ives: An American Maverick festival.  The week-long festival will include two Ives portrait concerts (April 11 & 12) by the BPO, at which the orchestra will present the composer's Second Symphony, The Unanswered QuestionVariations on America, Henry Brandt's orchestration of "The Alcotts" (from the Concord Sonata) and John Adams's orchestration of Ives's Five Songs.  The festival also includes performances by the Slee Sinfonietta (performing works by Ives, Ruggles, Nancarrow, and Harrison), Harmonia Chamber Singers, a UB masterclass with baritone William Sharp, and presentations at the Burchfield Penney and Erie Public Library.


Eliot Fisk plays Beaser's Guitar Concerto
with the BPO at JiB 2012
The BPO has a long history with June in Buffalo, and the festival has seen a number of significant performances by the orchestra.  One memorable concert took place at JiB 1997, at which the BPO played Feldman's 'Cello and Orchestra (1972), Edgard Varèse's Octandre (1923), and Charles Wuorinen's River of Light.  Notably, this program featured Jonathan Golove (of this year's Performance Institute faculty) playing Feldman's wistful 'cello concerto, and Wuorinen himself conducting his orchestral ballet.  The year before that, the orchestra played a program featuring Felder's Three Pieces, Donald Erb's Solstice, and Toru Takemitsu's Requiem.  The latter piece, composed forty years earlier, was performed in memory of its composer, who passed away earlier that year.  This concert was echoed a decade later at JiB 2009, when the BPO reprised the program, substituting Takemitsu's piece with a related memorial work by their former director:  Lukas Foss's For Tōru (1996) for flute and orchestra.  Other significant performances of recent years have included a 2012 program which included Felder's dynamic Incendio, Fred Lerhdahl's Cross-Currents, Steven Stucky's Jeu de Timbres, and Robert Beaser's Guitar Concerto, which featured a moving performance by world-renowned guitarist Eliot Fisk.

BPO Associate Conductor,
Stefan Sanders
We're thrilled that the BPO will continue its tradition of enriching Buffalo with exciting orchestral performances at this year's festival, under the baton of associate conductor Stefan Sanders.  We can look forward to them wrapping up June in Buffalo with a program featuring the music of the festival's artistic directors past and present:  opening with Morton Feldman's On Time and the Instrumental Factor (1969), and concluding with David Felder's Six Poems from Neruda's "Alturas" (also composed during his BPO residency).  It's sure to be an exciting concert that will conclude a fantastic week of new music from around the world, performed in Buffalo.


—Ethan Hayden

*Quoted in Renée Levine Packer, This Life of Sounds: Evenings for New Music in Buffalo (Oxford University Press, 2010), 143.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Charles Wuorinen: Craft and Communication


Charles Wuorinen
Music critic Michael Steinberg famously observed that the music of Charles Wuorinen manages something which perhaps seemed impossible throughout much of the early twentieth century:  a musical reconciliation of the Schoenbergian and Stravinskian compositional traditions. Indeed, in Wuorinen one can hear both the muscular physicality and quick wit of Stravinsky and the structural rigor and systematic consistency of late Schoenberg, both traditions connected and extended into a dynamic new compositional language.

The first word that occurs to me when I think of Wuorinen's music is craft.  Having composed over 260 works, Wuorinen's output is one based in a meticulous study of past styles, and written with painstaking exactitude.  Works like the third Piano Sonata, Archæopteryx, and Epithalamium require a certain diligent focus and calculated intentionality on the part of the performer, but on hearing such works its difficult not to hear the same diligence on the composer's part.  Wuorinen is famously a composer who wakes each morning and composes for most of the day, and this devotion to craft is clearly audible in his work.  Take for instance, his recent Trio for flute, bass clarinet, and piano (2008), in which snaky, angular lines create tense, constantly transforming contrapuntal webs, which occasionally erupt into sonorous bursts of energy.  The piece virtuosically weaves a narrative through which the ensemble acts both as a trio of independent agents and as a unified body moving together with the agility of a school of fish (listen below).


It is perhaps this devotion to craft that inspired Vera Stravinsky to entrust some of her late husband's unfinished compositional fragments to Wuorinen, which the composer used to construct A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky (1975), a work which contains both a simulacrum of Stravinsky's late style and a clear expression of Wuorinen's own voice.  Indeed, Wuorinen's voice, both through his singular musical output and his lectures and writings, has been one of the most passionate and eloquent advocates for American serialism, most notably in his 1979 compositional treatise, Simple Composition.

Charles Wuorinen conducting at Guggenheim
After receiving acclaim for a number of early works (including his chamber concertos for 'cello and flute), Wuorinen was appointed to a teaching post at Columbia University in 1964.  There, he worked with the now-legendary RCA Mark II Synthesizer at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.  Despite being a ground-breaking piece of equipment which is frequently mentioned in histories of electronic music, the Mark II was used in the creation of only a small handful of pieces, one of which was Wuorinen's Time's Encomium, a thirty-minute electronic tour de force which won the composer the 1970 Pulitizer Prize, making Wuorinen the youngest composer at the time to be awarded the honor.  Since then, Wuorinen has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship, and an induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

One of Wuorinen's significant early achievements was the founding of the Group for Contemporary Music in 1962 with Harvey Sollberger (another JiB faculty composer) and Joel Krosnick.  The first new music ensemble to be based at a university and directed by composers, the GCM quickly received acclaim for its virtuosic performances (including Wuorinen's own skilled piano playing and conducting) and innovative programming (the ensemble premiered significant works by Wolpe, Babbitt, Carter, and Davidovsky).  The  GCM's success inspired the Rockefeller Foundation to fund several similar composer-led ensembles at other universities, including UB's Center for the Creative Associates, an ensemble which regularly included Wuorinen's work in their programming.  The June in Buffalo festival was established in 1975 partly as a way for the Creative Associates to take advantage of Rockefeller funding during the slower summer months, branching out from an innovative ensemble to a widely respected international festival.

Wuorinen speaking at JiB 2013 after receiving his honorary doctorate
We are thrilled that Charles Wuorinen will be joining the June in Buffalo faculty during this anniversary year.  Wuorinen's connection to the festival stretches back many years, and he has been a frequent member of the June in Buffalo faculty.  When David Felder restarted the festival in 1986, Wuorinen was one of a core group of composers who quickly lent their support, and contributed to the festival's revitalization.  At June in Buffalo 2013, Wuorinen was presented with an honorary doctorate by UB, at a brief ceremony preceding a concert that featured a performance of the composer's It Happens Like This by the Slee Sinfonietta.  June in Buffalo has been the site of many exciting performances of Wuorinen's work, including a memorable performance of The Dante Trilogy at June in Buffalo 2003.  This year, we can look forward to the New York New Music Ensemble's performance of New York Notes (1982), and the Meridian Arts Ensemble's performance of Wuorinen's Brass Quintet (read more about the former in last week's interview with Jean Kopperud).

Tom Randle and Daniel Okulitch in Brokeback Mountain
One of Wuorinen's most ambitious projects in recent years has been the 2012 opera, Brokeback Mountain, based on the same Annie Proulx short story that inspired the 2005 film.  The opera, composed for Madrid's Teatro Real, concerns itself with a star-crossed love affair, but unlike traditional operatic subjects, the focus on gay love in an hostile environment (both social and physical—the opera is set in the wild Wyoming mountains) creates a subject matter which, in the composer's words, "has some resonance today, unlike the old-fashioned operatic issues, which are of no interest whatever, in the social context today" (click here to see the composer discuss the opera in detail).  Centered essentially around what Zachary Woolfe calls "a tragedy about the inability to communicate", the opera moves gradually from Schoenbergian sprecstimme to traditional operatic singing, exploring the difficulty of emotional expression.  It seems oddly fitting that an opera about the inability to communicate should be written by a composer with such a strong and fluent compositional voice.  Indeed, it necessitates such a composer, who through years devoted to his craft can eloquently express anything, including the very trials of expression itself.


—Ethan Hayden