Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Josh Levine: Imagination and Memory

June in Buffalo has been an international festival since its inception, attracting composers, performers, and other artists from around the world.  Its aesthetic has always been a broad one, where one is likely to hear American experimentalists programmed alongside the European avant garde.  It is for this reason, that Josh Levine makes a perfect addition to the JiB faculty, as he is an American composer with significant international ties, and a broadly cosmopolitan aesthetic.

Josh Levine
While he was born in Oregon, Levine originally trained as a classical guitarist in Basel, Switzerland.  He continued his musical studies in the same country as he switched to composition, studying with Balz Trümpy.  He later studied at the Paris Conservatory with Guy Reibel, and worked at IRCAM, later returning to the US to earn his PhD from UC San Diego, where he studied principally with Brian Ferneyhough.  Since then, his music has been internationally recognized and has received several awards, including First Prize and a Euphonie d'Or at the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition.  His works have been commissioned by widely-recognized soloists including Aiyun Huang, Marcus Weiss, and Jürg Wyttenbach, as well as ensembles such as the soundSCAPE Trio, Calliope Duo, Ensemble Contrechamps, and Les Solistes de l’Ensemble Intercontemporain.  He currently serves as Assistant Professor of Composition at Oberlin.

For Levine, music is a locus where the unity of imagination and memory can be found.
The musical work is, for me, a site where the irrational and the rational, the sensual and the conceptual, and, most basically, sound and silence, spar and dance and transcend their seeming dichotomies.  Through ever-evolving interpretations of recurring musical materials, I explore the unity of memory and imagination—remembering as an act of imagining, and imagining as an act of remembering.  My composing is inspired by movement and the contemplation of change, whether in the physical world or in the psyche.
Despite the abstractness of such conceptual imagery, Levine's music is dynamic and rooted in the concreteness of the physical gesture.  "The physicality of musical performance and our emotional identification as listeners with its energy, gestures, and implicit drama are among its further driving forces."  His early work in the field of electroacoustic music led to an interest in temporal fluidity and harmonic nuance, as well as an attention to detail that seeks to bring "a richer resonance to every moment."  Such temporal and timbral examination can be heard in Levine's recent acousmatic piece, Oneirograph, which uses violin samples as its source material, but pulls open these sounds, finding vast resonant soundscapes within.  The piece's title refers to an instrument for measuring dreams—dreams, of course, being another site in which the divisions between memory and imagination become suspect.

This year's festival will see the performances of three of Levine's pieces.  The Slee Sinfonietta will present two of these.  The first, Four places, many more times (2011), is a percussion quartet which revolves around twelve specially tuned metal pipes.  Continuing Levine's interest in flexible perceptions of time, the composer describes the work as a series of "'sound objects' [which] shift and spin through space and different time zones in a kind of timbral kaleidoscope."  The second, Former Selves, for solo guitar, ensemble, and electronics features JiB special guest Magnus Andersson.  Approaching the idea of memory from a different angle, this work incorporates elements from several of the composer's earlier works, both as musical gestures articulated by the performers, as well as samples which are transformed by the electronics—even to the extent of incorporating recorded material from the piece's own 2007 premiere.  Levine describes the relationship between the soloist and ensemble:  
[The ensemble's music moves in largely homophonic blocks, like forms emerging from a void and receding again for no apparent reason.  The guitar does not participate in their creation, but passes between them.  As the homophony gradually unravels, the guitar in its turn begins to find openings into the ensemble, eventually (re)discovering there the full sound of its voice.
Levine, Former Selves (2007)
Finally, the Uusinta Ensemble will open their program with Levine's Glimpses (1986), an earlier work which reverses the play of memory found in Former Selves:  rather than pulling from previous works, Glimpses consists of material that would preoccupy the composer for years to come—that is, musical ideas that would be continuously remembered.  "The listener 'glimpses' moments of parallel musical narratives, aural images whose incompleteness leaves their possible pasts and futures to the imagination.  Much of the material is heard again in new contexts, but it rarely seems the same."  This work also features Andersson on guitar, who whispers a description of this material during the work's own performance, referring to them as "points of embarkation on a bankless river."

As a guitarist himself, it is no surprise that Levine's work often emphasizes that instrument, and as a performer, Levine has performed with the likes of Ensemble Contrechamps, the Basel ISCM Ensemble, the Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain, SONOR, and members of the sfSoundgroup.  He has recorded works by Mark Applebaum and Kristian Ireland on the Innova label.

As a dedicated teacher, Levine takes great joy in hearing the different approaches the students embrace in their own music.  As he explains:
I love it when a student comes in to the lesson, puts the music on the music stand, and it may be—in fact, it's almost surely going to be—in a style, or with a particular aesthetic orientation that doesn't correspond to what I personally would write.  But it's so fascinatingly done—it explores in such a beautiful way certain ideas, instrumental colors, or sounds that I've never quite explored in that way, and yet that I can empathize with and communicate with both through the score and through my personal relationship to them.
There is perhaps no better place for Levine to encounter the varied aesthetic orientations of young artists than at June in Buffalo, and we are excited for the composers who will learn from their dialogues with him, as they reckon with their own imaginations and memories.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Dal Niente: Young Punks and Established Masters

Ensemble Dal Niente
This year, among the resident ensembles at the June in Buffalo festival will be a Chicago-based ensemble the New York Times has called a "superb contemporary-music collective", Dal Niente.  The ensemble's evocative name ("from nothing") comes from Helmut Lachenmann's Dal niente (Interieur III), a work whose "revolutionary style" has served as an inspiration to its members.  The name also refers to the group's humble beginnings:  initially formed as a collective of graduate composers at Northwestern University, the ensemble's introduction to the international music community was quickly boosted during their Darmstadt residency in 2012, at which they became the first ensemble to be awarded the prestigious Kranichstein Music Prize.  Since then, Dal Niente has made it their mission to present new works in ways that "redefine the listening experience and advance the art form", through "immersive experiences which connect audiences with the music of today."  They have been quite successful with the latter, as the Chicago Tribune has described them as "a model of what contemporary music needs, but seldom gets, to reach and engage a wider public."

Dal Niente are nothing if not active, and have built a reputation for exciting and prolific programming.  Some recent projects include "Canciones", a three-week tour of Latin America, including stops in Colombia, Mexico, and Panama which featured four world premieres, as well as the Chicago premiere of Georg Friedrich Haas's in vainwidely recognized as one of the early masterpieces of the 21st century.  The ensemble's varied concert series have included Proximity Portraits, which seek to introduce local audiences to international composers whose music is rarely performed in the group's native Chicago (a series which has thus far featured music by Andriessen, Ligeti, Stockhausen, and Claude Vivier), and Punks, a project which "celebrates composers whose independent spirit has led to musical experiences that are uniquely original and ambitious in reinventing the art form."  The latter series has featured music by Raphaël Cendo and Natacha Diels, and a collaboration with Greg Saunier of the band Deerhoof, who arranged the Deerhoof Chamber Variations for the ensemble.  This latter collaboration eventually led to the ensemble's most recent project, a collaboration with Deerhoof for a recording of Saunier's Variations, as well as a new work composed by Marcos Balter.

Dal Niente is known locally for their Hard Music, Hard Liquor series, which features music that requires extreme virtuosity from its performers.  Other recent projects include the audio/video concert Coming Togetherwhich featured works by American composers enhanced with live video art by the new media artist Alejandro Acierto.  One of the centerpieces of this program is Assemblage by trombonist/improviser/composer George Lewis, which can be seen below:

At June in Buffalo, Dal Niente will perform a program that will feature works by faculty composers, including Chinary Ung's Singing Inside Aura and Winternacht by Hans Abrahamsen.  No stranger to the former's music, the ensemble performed the Chicago premiere of Schnee in 2014, which Ensemble Signal will present at this year's JiB (for more on that performance, see our profile on Signal).  The program will also feature David Felder's Rare Air, for bass clarinet, piano, and electronics.  The four-movement work, originally composed for Jean Kopperud's Rated X project, is a collection of miniatures that feature an exotic menagerie of virtuosic extended techniques that create a strange-but-enticing sonic environment.  Finally, the ensemble will present Joshua Fineberg's Paradigms, for ensemble and electronics.  This latter piece is based on compositional models, as the composer explains:
I recorded several passages of instrumental music [which] were then analyzed; not, however, in the ordinary manner […].  Instead, I sought to extract the essence of the color, sound and motion not of these passages in their abstract existence, but of their realization.  To find a model in which each individual instrument playing in a precise way is fused together in one global timbre.  This global timbre then, once understood, could serve as my new model, to be re-interpreted, re-evaluated and again transformed into a new musical structure.
Dal Niente has made educational outreach an integral part of its mission, and have participated in composition workshops and masterclasses at a number of colleges and universities.  Since their formation in 2004, the ensemble has developed a particular skill for helping composers realize their visions, whether they be young punks or established masters.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Chinary Ung: Voices, Oracles, and Spirals

This week, we continue our profile series on June in Buffalo faculty artists with Chinary Ung, a composer the Center is excited to welcome to the festival for the first time.

Chinary Ung playing the roneat-ek
Chinary Ung was born in Takéo, Cambodia, where he studied traditional Khmer music and was a member of the first graduating class of Cambodia’s National Music Conservatory.  There he became a skilled performer on the roneat-ek, a boat-shaped xylophone of the Pineat tradition (used in the ceremonial music of Cambodian royal courts and temples).  Ung moved to the US in 1964, to study clarinet with Charles Russo at the Manhattan School of Music.  Ten years later, he graduated with a DMA in composition from Columbia University, where he studied with Mario Davidovsky and Chou Wen-chung.  Since 1995, he has taught at UC San Diego, where he is currently a Distinguished Professor of composition.

Ung has received a number of prestigious honors and awards, including those from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Kennedy Center and the Guggenheim, and the Koussevitzky, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations.  In 1989, he became the first American to win the celebrated Grawemeyer Award for music composition.

Ung has developed a reputation for his organic blend Western harmonic techniques with Eastern melodic accents.  The New York Times has said his music bears "an exotic, winding and at times gracefully ornamental character, and its dense textures dance between tonality and atonality.  Those who feel terror at the mention of multi-culturalism might listen to some of Mr. Ung's pieces.  They show that disparate musical traditions can be combined compellingly."  Attendees at June in Buffalo will hear such qualities in a number of performances, such as when Uusinta Ensemble performs 2004's Oracle for pierrot and percussion, a work which takes inspiration from the titular Nechung Oracle consulted by the Dalai Lama before his exile from Tibet (listen here).  

Chinary Ung, Spiral XI: Mother and Child, manuscript
One dramatic feature of Oracle that is common to Ung's music is that of performers vocalizing while playing their instruments.  His wife, violist Susan Ung, has become an expert in this skill.  The composer explains his frequent employment of this technique:
As a child growing up in a small village surrounded by rice fields, I was exposed to this practice as a part of folk music, and would later hear the music of other cultures share this approach.  In contemporary Western music, however, vocalization was most often used as a special effect.  I would eventually seek to incorporate vocalization in a more comprehensive manner that was integral to the work while reflecting a similar timelessness and cultural resonance as in the folk music I remembered.
Susan Ung will join Dal Niente for a JiB performance of Ung's Singing Inside Aura (2013), a piece which require the viola soloist to vocalize throughout.  The composer Adam Greene describes the piece:
[Singing Inside Aura's] notated tempo, forty-three beats per minute, suggests ritual or ceremony, when indeed a strict pulse is audible.  The ensemble texture is gossamer, threads combining into fabric.  […]  The viola and voice parts are inextricable and largely heterophonic, that is, much of the time they’re varied versions of the same melodic line.  That line or double line—matched, on occasion, in some of the ensemble instruments as well—is complex in its detail but as a result flexible and organic, like speech or improvisation.
Speaking/singing performers also appear throughout Ung's Spiral series, a collection of solo, chamber, and orchestral pieces that currently consists of fourteen works.  2007's Spiral XI: Mother and Child, for solo viola can be heard below, in a performance by Susan Ung.  For the composer, according to Greene, "the Spiral series he viewed the concept of the spiral primarily as a means of describing technical processes he had developed for dealing with pitch and large-scale form."

At June in Buffalo's final concert on June 12, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Water Rings "Overture" (1993), a work marked by its expert use of instrumental color and skilled orchestration.  Ung has perhaps been most widely recognized for his orchestral writing—the Grawemeyer being awarded to him for his 1986 work Inner Voices, commissioned by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts for Dennis Russell Davies and the Philadelphia Orchestra.  This earlier piece was described by the NY Times as "[overlaying] a richly colored backdrop of 1960's-style orchestral sound color, flecked with exotic percussion, with Cambodian-flavored melodies, most strikingly from the violas.  […It's an] evocative and engaging and a genuine contribution toward the serious fusion of Eastern and Western musical traditions."

These qualities are still present in more recent works, such as Water Rings, as the BPO's JiB audience will no doubt be able to recognize.  We look forward to hearing not only his music, but his insights into composition, orchestration, as well as voices, oracles, and spirals.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ensemble SIGNAL: Popups and Canons

UB's spring semester opened with Ensemble SIGNAL's residency at the University's new Creative Arts Initiative—a residency that included a masterclass, an open rehearsal, a discussion on artistic entrepreneurship, and Performance in the Dark, a concert of works by Steve Reich and Georg Friedrich Haas (read more about it here).  That was just the first of two non-consecutive weeks of SIGNAL's residency, and the second week took place earlier this month, bookending the semester with exciting events featuring the NY-based ensemble.

SIGNAL's Bill Solomon performs a
solo kalimba micro-concert
The second week began on May 2, with "popup concerts" at various locations around UB's North Campus.  Consisting of 15 'micro-concerts' in a span of 30 minutes, each popup concert featured one or two of the ensemble's musicians playing brief (3-15 minutes) unannounced lunchtime concerts around the campus.  The following day featured a workshop performance of the minimalist classic In C by Terry Riley.    For this event, the ensemble invited anyone able to read music and play an instrument to sit in with them through a reading of Riley's work, introducing UB students and community members not only to the famous piece's challenging form, but also to the excitement of playing alongside some of the most skilled new music performers.  The residency concluded with a celebratory concert of works by Steve Reich.  SIGNAL have long been renowned for their interpretations of Reich's music, especially their Harmonia Mundi recording of Music for 18 Musicians (which received a Diapason d’or in June 2015 and appeared on the Billboard Classical Crossover charts in May 2015).  This concert featured several of the composer's "hits" (1972's Clapping Music, and 1985's New York Counterpoint), as well as two recent works:  Radio Rewrite (2012), based on themes from two Radiohead songs, and Quartet (2013) for two vibraphones and two pianos.

But SIGNAL is not finished yet!  The ensemble will be back next month as one of the six resident ensembles at June in Buffalo.  At this year's festival, they will perform a concert of works by JiB participants (June 7, 4:00pm, Baird Recital Hall), taking their experience collaborating with renowned composers to JiB's young artists, helping them articulate their musical visions and offering authentic interpretations of their works.  SIGNAL will also perform an evening concert (June 10, 7:30pm, Lippes Concert Hall), which will consist of a single large-scale work:  Schnee by Hans Abrahamsen.  The Danish composer—who will be on the composition faculty at this year's festival—composed Schnee ("Snow") in 2008, and the work has since been called a "hidden gem" by the New York Times.  The piece has its roots in 8 Canons, a collection of Bach arrangements which used repetition and slow durations to open up a new way of looking at time in these often taken-for-granted works:
I became totally absorbed into this music and arranged them with the intention of the music being repeated many, many times, as a kind of minimal music.  Obviously, I didn't know which durations Bach had in mind, but by listening to his canons in this way, a profound new moving world of circular time was opened to me.  Depending on the perspective on these canons, the music and its time can stand still or move either backwards or forwards.
One of these arranged canons, Kanon zu acht Stimmen, BWV 1072, can be heard below in Abrahamsen's arrangement.

Schnee emerged through a similar idea, and, using the Bach arrangements as a model, Abrahamsen composed a pair of two large-scale canons for nine instruments divided into two halves (piano and 3 strings, piano and 3 winds, with percussion in the middle).
In my own work, an ongoing idea has persisted, of at some point writing a work consisting of a number of canonical movements that would explore this universe of time.  […]  In Schnee, a few simple and fundamental musical questions are explored.  […]  Can a phrase be answering?  Or questioning?  [Schnee's] two canons are identical like a painting in two versions, but with different colors.  And where the first one does not include the space, the second one does, as well as containing more canonical traces.

The piece soon expanded into ten canons which gracefully unfold over the course of an hour.  The airy, ghostly music begins with whispering, feather-soft gestures, and reduces itself from there as the piece develops.  The performers are told to detune their instruments between movements, moving lower and lower as the piece progresses, creating stranger and more otherworldly sounds.  The work's frigid title makes reference to Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen", and many of the sparse melodies have a frosty lightness to them, sounding almost like snow falling gracefully downward.

Brad Lubman
SIGNAL is directed by Brad Lubman, who is a special guest at this year's festival.  Lubman has played an important role in contemporary music for the past twenty years, acting not only as the founding co-Artistic and Music Director of SIGNAL, but also as a frequent guest conductor of many of the world's leading ensembles (including Ensemble Modern, London Sinfonietta, Klangforum Wien, ASKO Ensemble, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, WDR Symphony Cologne, Finnish Radio Symphony, and the Center's own Slee Sinfonietta). Currently on faculty at the Eastman School of Music, Lubman is known for his versatile conducting technique and skilled realizations of contemporary and classical works alike.

We're excited that Brad Lubman and SIGNAL will be returning to this year's festival (for more on the long, productive relationship between the ensemble and June in Buffalo, see last year's profile).  Whether realizing classical minimalist works with UB students, premiering new works by emerging composers, or articulating the delicate subtleties of wintery canons, SIGNAL is always a reliable source for strong, proficient performances.

Monday, May 2, 2016

JACK Quartet Returns for Composer Workshop

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

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

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

Monday, April 18, 2016

Slee Sinfonietta: On Mobiles and Dances

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ensemble Linea in Residency at the Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 28, 2016

Checking in with Leah Muir & Nora Ponte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 21, 2016

Visiting Composers: Marc Satterwhite & Bernard Rands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Joshua Fineberg: An organic architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Ethan Hayden

Monday, March 7, 2016

Uusinta Ensemble: JiB's 'newest' resident ensemble

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Awards, Commissions, Performances: Recent Composer Activities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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