Thursday, November 29, 2012

UB composer Robert Phillips helps celebrate the 20th anniversary of Ensemble SurPlus



We’re excited to report that UB graduate composer Robert Phillips will be traveling to Freiburg, Germany, next month to have a piece premiered on the 20th anniversary concert of Ensemble SurPlus. Ensemble SurPlus have been friends of the Center for 21st Century Music and the UB Department of Music since they first performed at June in Buffalo in 2005, and we’ve been fortunate to have them back frequently throughout the years. The University at Buffalo was blessed to have the founder of Ensemble SurPlus, James Avery, on faculty teaching piano and conducting the UB Contemporary Ensemble here in 2007 and 2008, when he brought a wizard-like sense of musical energy to all of the projects he guided and participated in. Since James Avery’s passing in 2009, Ensemble SurPlus has continued to be one of the most dedicated contemporary music ensembles around today, generously devoting time to working with composers, both old and young, and adding pieces to their repertoire after learning them at June in Buffalo or other conferences and festivals, and bringing new music and virtuosic performances to places all around the globe, including, recently, Ecuador, Korea, U.S.A., and Indonesia.

A little more on Ensemble SurPlus from their website:


Ensemble SurPlus at Niagara Falls 
“Ensemble SurPlus was founded in 1992 by the eminent pianist and conductor James Avery (1937-2009). The Ensemble performs chamber music ranging from duos to large instrumental combinations. Its primary objective is to give new or unknown works an optimal performance, regardless of compositional style or technical and intellectual demands. After its formation in 1992 the ensemble was invited in the same year to perform at the International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt. In 1993 it was engaged to give the first performance of a contemporary chamber opera at the Archipel Festival in Geneva, which received enthusiastic critical acclaim. Since that time it has gained increasing recognition on the international scene for contemporary music and has been a frequent guest at festivals throughout Europe (Musica Viva, mehr!klang, Donaueschingen) Asia and North America (June in Buffalo, Stanford University, University of Victoria). In addition to performing in traditional concert settings, SurPlus also welcomes experimental projects, improvisation and Music Theater. A close cooperation with Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart has existed since 1994. Most recently the Ensemble has collaborated in the project “New Music Network” funded by the German Ministry of Culture, working with young people in the German school system in order to educate a young public about new music. The ensemble has also collaborated closely with the Experimental Studio of the German Radio (SWR). Numerous CD productions and recordings (Ferneyhough, Clark, Spahlinger, Mahnkopf, Wolpe with Heinz Holliger) document the great versatility of the ensemble. The ensemble is based in Freiburg, Germany.”


Robert Phillips
photo by Megan Metté
We asked Robert Phillips to talk a little about his upcoming piece on the Ensemble SurPlus 20th anniversary concert, “I am greatly looking forward to the 20th anniversary concert of Ensemble SurPlus on Saturday, December 8th, at the E-Werk Freiburg. They asked me to compose what they referred to as a ‘conceptual’ piece for them, which would involve all 13 players on stage and could be performed without a conductor. Having worked with SurPlus extensively in the past, I knew this project would be a great opportunity to work closely with a large cast of some of the world’s best musicians to workshop and experiment with new musical ideas, extremely flexible frameworks for interpretation, diverse interpretation strategies, and to forego the ordinary start-to-finish through-composing that is my usual method of operation. The piece is titled O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, and is a collection of performance guidelines to work through five J.S. Bach chorales, with each player being given separate indications to interpret, alter, augment, distort, and otherwise navigate through their specific SATB voice-leading designation of the J.S. Bach chorales.

“The concert will be one exclusively of world premieres, with all of the pieces having been written for and commissioned by Ensemble SurPlus. Also on the program will be Yonsei (2010), by Dieter Mack, and Hommage à Daniel Libeskind Vol.II (2010/11), by Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf – two German composers I have been following closely for a while now. I’m really looking forward to being around so many excellent musicians, composers, and musical thinkers.”

Phillips provided an excerpt from the program note:

“In O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, written for and dedicated to Ensemble SurPlus on their 20th anniversary, the players are given performance directions and interpretation strategies to work through five J.S. Bach chorales. Each player navigates through one of the four individual Soprano, Alto, Tenor, or Bass contrapuntal lines of the chorales, and each of their lines have been augmented, distorted, expanded, and given indications to extend expressivity through a wide variety of performance techniques – all while the players read from the same four-voice SATB Bach chorale.

“To further intensify and complicate matters, there is no conductor, and each player is given a flexible, uncoordinated tempo to work through, only occasionally taking cues from the pianist or violinist. In this way, the antiquated Baroque rhythmic grid of the Bach chorales has been rendered fluid and unpredictable, with each contrapuntal voice rising and falling as waves of interpretive virility and spontaneity flow through each of them; transforming them into liquid, as if cast over water.”

We wish a firm proverbial breaking of the legs to Ensemble SurPlus, Robert Phillips, and all involved in the 20th anniversary concert on December 8th at the E-Werk Freiburg!



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