Friday, September 2, 2011

Some of the many opportunities provided by the composition program at UB...

Following up on our series of posts by recent and soon-to-be graduates of UB’s composition program, we invited Robert Phillips to share some of his thoughts on his time at UB. Robert is currently finishing up his PhD in composition and working on multimedia and chamber music works with musicians in London, Montreal, Stockholm, Paris, San Diego, and the Buffalo area. He attributes much of his artistic and professional growth as a composer to opportunities he received while studying at UB.

Robert Phillips
photo by Megan Metté

Robert says, “I grew tremendously as an artist through the generous opportunities presented by the composition program at UB. I received incredible professional support there and have a long list of projects for which I relied on help from UB and The Center for 21st Century Music, which I’m terribly grateful for. Some of the most exciting sponsorship I ever received was the help traveling to Madison, Wisconsin, to rehearse and record Mapuana mai kekahi (scent of another), before The Nonsense Company toured it throughout the U.S. Shortly after, the Center helped me fly to Amsterdam to oversee Mapuana’s performance in the International Gaudeamus Musikweek Composer’s Competition by the Ear Massage Percussion Quartet. David Felder and the Center’s support were instrumental in bringing forth a complex work involving lap steel guitars, Hawaiian records, ukuleles, Tibetan singing bowls, and all sorts of bizarre, but carefully chosen miscellany, to many locations in the U.S. and to festivals and concert halls in Europe.

“Also, studying at UB helped me to grow as an electronic music composer, primarily through working in the Lejaren Hiller Music Studios with Cort Lippe. He has a very sophisticated mind for manipulating and working with samples and sound synthesis, and part of the culmination of working with him was a recent piece of mine involving cut-up a cappella samples of vocalist Gucci Mane, entitled gucci might be, which was recently selected for opening night performance at the Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium. It was a great pleasure to diffuse the piece live over 16 speakers placed strategically over the Wychwood Theatre and participate in such a dynamic and exciting sound environment, and have some of the U.K.’s and Canada’s top electroacoustic composers in the audience.

“Some of my greatest pleasures during my time at UB have been while working with the incredible performance faculty. Clarinetist Jean Kopperud was able to do things that very few clarinetists are able to do, and she did them with a grace and artistry that exceeded my compositional fantasy. Trumpeter Jon Nelson was also a lot of fun to work with and was able to immediately apply powerful interpretive rigor to some very iconoclastic brass music I wrote. Perhaps most recently, I got to work in the Slee Recording Studios with one of my favorite singers, Tony Arnold, who was able to affect incredibly delicate vibrato shadings and was a tremendous compositional inspiration (you can listen to In der Luft, da bleibt deine Wurzel, a selection from heterogeneous blends, with Tony Arnold, here until Robert's website is up and running).

“One of the greatest things about the University at Buffalo is all of the incredible musicians that are constantly visiting. I’ve had many happy surprises walking the stairs of Baird Hall and bumping into one of the world’s top performers who happened to be stopping by, and I attribute much of my growth as a composer to having worked with so many renown ensembles that have come through and given workshops and master classes. Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to work on a studio project with the JACK Quartet through resources provided by the Mark Diamond Research Fund. The four of them were some of the most engaging and sensitive performers I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with, and they were surprisingly adept at negotiating a complex work that borrows an aesthetic strangely adapted from turntable practice and requiring delicate glissando motion. The piece, Ohr, will be finished this fall and feature material for live electronics and digital turntables.

“Best yet, some of the ensembles that have come through have resulted in exciting possibilities for collaboration – last year Pascal Gallois, Rohan de Saram, and Magnus Andersson spent some time here offering a workshop with student composers and giving a concert which lead to a handful of commissions for me. One of the projects will be the largest I’ve ever been able to work on, and I’m really looking forward to learning from these performers and exploiting their sophisticated musical personalities after they did such an incredible job with my recent trio, Larghetto Rubato (available here).  

“Working and studying with David Felder has been hugely influential in helping me develop my personal style. He approaches composition lessons with profoundly open ears, and has a strong desire to hear the student’s unique voice emerge over time. This skill requires deep patience and sensitivity and is very rare in a composition teacher – its effect has served to purge my music of some of the clichés common to composers today and strengthen the unique characteristics of my own sonic imagination. In this respect, I feel UB is incredibly unique as an academic institution in that I didn’t so much learn a craft, like ‘composition,’ but rather, made seminal discoveries about myself as a musician and as an artist.”

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