Friday, November 1, 2013

Inner Sky: Blu-Ray CD of Works by David Felder


In June, 2013 Albany Records released a Blu-ray CD of music composed between 1979 and 2010 by Professor David Felder, University of Buffalo's esteemed Birge-Cary Chair in Music Composition. Performers include the Slee Sinfonietta Chamber Orchestra, June in Buffalo Festival Brass, and soloists Jean Kopperud, Tom Kolor, Stephen Gosling, Ian Pace, Mario Caroli, and Magnus Andersson. For audiophiles with a surround sound system, the Blu-ray CD features eleven pieces of glorious eight-channel audio. For the rest of us, a CD is included that contains the tracks that can be played back on a traditional stereo system. Hot tip: If you purchase Inner Sky, hie thyself to a top-notch surround sound system; your ears will thank you.

Track list:

1. Rare Air: Blews – bass clarinet, piano, and electronics (2008)
2. Tweener – chamber orchestra, solo percussionist, electronics (2010)
3. Canzone XXXI – trumpets, horn, trombone, bass trombone (1993)
4. Rare Air: Boxmunsdottir – clarinet, bass clarinet, piano, and electronics (2008)
5. Requiescat – bass flute, contrabass clarinet, percussion, guitar, piano/celeste, two violins, viola, cello, bass, and electronics (2010)
6. Inner Sky – flute (doubling  piccolo, alto, bass), percussion, piano, strings, computer-generated sounds (1994, revised 1998)
7. Rocket Summer – solo piano (1979, revised 1983)
8. Incendio – ten brass instruments (2000)
9. Rare Air: Boxmunsson – bass clarinet, piano, and electronics (2008)
10. Dionysiacs –  flute ensemble (6 players) and 'gli altri' (minimum 14) (2005)
11. Rare Air: Aria Da Capo – bass clarinet, piano, and electronics  (2008)

Inner Sky Review: Sequenza 21/, July 2013

David Felder's music is perfect to demonstrate the capacities of Blu-ray audio. Musical climaxes feature piercingly fierce highs and rumbling lows. Elsewhere, shimmering diaphanous textures, frequently blending electronic and acoustic instruments, surround one immersively in this multi-channel environment.

One of the magical things about Inner Sky, not just as a demonstration of an audio platform but as an expertly crafted composition, is the use of register to delineate the structuring of the three main facets of the piece: its solo part, the orchestra, and the electronics. Over the course of Inner Sky, flutist Mario Caroli is called upon to play four different flutes: piccolo, concert flute, alto flute, and bass flute. Moving from high to low, he negotiates these changes of instrument, and the challenging parts written for each of them, with mercurial speed and incisive brilliance. Even though all of the orchestra members are seated onstage, we are also treated to a spatialization of sorts through the frequent appearance of antiphonal passages. This ricochet effect is more than matched by the lithe quadraphonic electronic component. Featuring both morphed flute sounds and synthetic timbres that often respond to the orchestration, it is an equal partner in the proceedings.

Tweener (2010) a piece for solo percussion, electronics, and ensemble, features Thomas Kolor as soloist. Kolor is called upon to do multiple instrument duty too, using "analog" percussion beaters as well as a KAT mallet controller. An astounding range of sounds are evoked: crystalline bells, bowed metallophones, electronically extended passages for vibraphone and marimba. The percussionist's exertions are responded to in kind by vigorous orchestra playing from University of Buffalo's Slee Sinfonietta Chamber Orchestra, conducted by James Baker. The Slee group flourishes here in powerful brass passages, avian wind writing, and soaring strings. The brass pieces Canzonne and Incendio are also played by UB musicians in equally impressive renditions. These works combine antiphonal writing with a persuasive post-tonal pitch language that also encompasses a plethora of glissandos.

The Slee Sinfonietta again, this time conducted by James Avery, gets to go their own way on Dionysiacs. Featuring a flute sextet, the piece contains ominously sultry low register playing, offset by some tremendous soprano register pileups that more than once remind one of the more rambunctious moments in Ives's The Unanswered Question. What's more, the ensemble players get to employ auxiliary instruments such as nose whistles and ocarinas, adding to the chaotic ebullience of the work (entirely appropriate given its subject matter).

Clarinetist Jean Kopperud and pianist Stephen Gosling are featured on Rare Air, a set of miniatures interspersed between the larger pieces. These works highlight both musicians' specialization in extended techniques and Kopperud's abundant theatricality as a performer. Pianist Ian Pace contributes the solo Rocket Summer. Filled with scores of colorful clusters set against rangy angular lines and punctuated by repeated notes and widely spaced sonorous harmonies, it is a taut and energetic piece worthy of inclusion on many pianists' programs.

Requiescat (2010), performed by guitarist Magnus Andersson and the Slee Sinfonietta, again conducted by Baker, is another standout work. Harmonic series and held altissimo notes ring out from various parts of the ensemble, juxtaposed against delicate guitar arpeggiations and beautifully complex corruscating harmonies from other corners. Once again, Felder uses register and space wisely, keeping the orchestra out of the guitar's way while still giving them a great deal of interesting music to play. Written relatively recently, Requiescat's sense of pacing, filled with suspense and dramatic tension but less inexorable than the aforementioned concerti, demonstrates a different side of Felder's creativity, and suggests more efficacious surprises in store from him in the future.

© Christian Carey

Inner Sky Review: Fanfare Magazine, August 2013

Tweener, a work for chamber orchestra with percussion solo. The percussion part is confined largely to the mallet instruments, the marimba and the KAT electronic mallet instrument (the latter a new one to me, to be sure). The work has its very busy and dissonant sections—imagine Varese on steroids—as well as sections of quiet repose, more akin to Feldman. Colors abound through imaginative scoring, and much of the work's unique sound comes through the use of instruments in their lower registers. Rather than consistently use the percussion in an overt soloistic fashion, Felder often integrates it into the texture, adding colors and textures to the effect of the ensemble. This is to take nothing away from the virtuosity of the percussion writing, or the considerable skill that percussionist Tom Kolor brings to it.

Rocket Summer is a work for solo piano, to date Felder's only contribution to the solo piano repertory, and is the earliest work included on the recital. The title is drawn from Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, and the work suggests whirling rotations, symbolic of a rocket's motor, and its blast-off that turns an Ohio winter into summer. Other parts of the piece apparently depict blizzard conditions and ice. Felder proves in this work that he can write colorful music even on the essentially mono-chromatic piano.

Incendio utilizes an ensemble of ten brass instruments. Rhythmically and harmonically very free, the interval of the major second plays a prominent role in certain parts of the work, but the composer zeros in on other intervals and pitches from time to time. While the work is not tonal, it doesn't sound serial at all. A close companion to Incendio is the following brass work, Canzone XXXI, scored for two trumpets, horn, trombone, and bass trombone, the latter replacing the more common tuba in the brass quintet. The effect of the piece is similar to its disc-mate, except that the level of virtuosity is ramped up a couple of notches. The work was written for the American Brass Quintet, but the players who present it here have every ounce of skill required to bring the piece off effectively.

The CD closes with Requiescat, a work for guitar solo and chamber ensemble, with electronics. Characteristic of Felder's writing, this piece is full of unusual sonorities, colors, and very expressive dissonance. It is remarkable how beautiful the extreme dissonances contained in this work sound in Felder's hands.

The first of these is Rare Air: Blews for a length of garden hose off-stage and electronics. The hose part consists mainly of wailing on the part of the soloist, leading me to wonder how those sounds were produced on the clarinet (the attribution on the tray card), but at under two minutes, the piece does not wear out its welcome. The similarly-titled Rare Air: Boxmunsdottir actually utilizes clarinet and bass clarinet, as listed, along with electronics, but the tray card lists piano on both of these works, of which I heard not a note. It is nonetheless full of interesting effects and overlaying of the two solo instruments. There are some piano sounds in the later-heard Rare Air: Boxmunsson but nary a word in the notes explaining the use of the Icelandic names.

Inner Sky is scored for solo flutes (apparently one player) and an orchestra of percussion, piano, strings and computer-generated sounds that mimic flutes and (especially) piccolos. It is a highly-dissonant exercise, with lots of notes in the extreme treble (those with sensitive ears will not be able to play this piece at a very high volume), and palpably exciting in its effect. It is, at 16 minutes, also the longest work in this anthology, and probably my favorite work herein given that it sounds so utterly original to me.

Finally, Dionysiacs is the work that utilizes all those flutists listed in the headnote. The opening of this work was a bit much in the treble department for my ears, but it wasn't long before lower pitches began to predominate. This is a most imaginative work--all those flutes make for a uniquely eerie sound. The orchestra doesn't make its appearance until well into the piece.

While not music for the masses (I could only wish that the "masses" would appreciate music like this, or even classical music in general), Felder's work will hold considerable appeal to those for whom the music of such composers as Ives, Varèse, Crumb, and other forward-looking composers of our era has appeal. His is a most individual compositional voice. Accordingly, strongly recommended.

© David DeBoor Canfield


Inner Sky Review: Buffalo Spree Magazine, November 2013

David Felder’s music may be somewhat difficult to categorize for the average listener. Electronics are an important component, not simply as an enhancement to human players in an orchestra, but as an additional instrument: a concerto for electronics and orchestra. This idea is beautifully expressed in the opening piece, “Tweener,” where electronics and the Slee Sinfonietta combine to give a feeling of the “music of the spheres.” Vigorous oscillations across many octaves from the very high to a descent well below the baseline by the rarely heard, contra-bass clarinet, attempt to express the feeling of infinite space.

“Rocket Summer” is this reviewer’s favorite piece on the CD. Written in 1979 and revised in 1983, it represents the earliest of the Felder pieces on this recording. The title of the piece is taken from the first chapter of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, which depicts a rocket lift-off from an Ohio launch pad during a winter storm. Pianist Ian Pace sets the tone of the rocket with repeated notes and pulsating chords that build to a crescendo as the rocket prepares for lift-off. As almost a contrast, an Ohio blizzard swirls around as the rocket lifts off. Then, silence—escape velocity is reached. Looking outward at the vastness of space, the ferocity of the Ohio blizzard is but a distant memory.

“Requiescat” rounds out the disc with a tribute to new music conductor/pianist James Avery. Beginning with the superb deep tones of Jean Kopperud on the contrabass clarinet, this piece surveys single notes and multiple chords with guitar accents from guitarist Magnus Andersson. The resulting swirling sounds are typically Felderian, as the focus of the piece seems to shift from one group of instruments to another until a single sound fades to black.

If you can find someone with Blue Ray capability, don’t miss Rare Air. Written in 2008, the piece is in four parts and is meant to be interspersed throughout a larger program. Jean Kopperud playing clarinet and garden hose to produce sounds reminiscent of frogs, geese, and ducks is not to be missed in part 1. Part 2: Rare Air: Boxmunsdottir and part 3: Rare Air: Boxmunsson show Felder at his best, playing in the low registers with clarinet and piano doing repeated notes and octaves in a swirling pattern and colliding with electronic sounds. Part 4: Rare Air: Aria da Capo completes the collection with a short return to the serenity of nightlife beside a pond with flying insects and other night-flying creatures.

This collection is a terrific introduction to a brilliant compositional career.

© Peter R. Reczek 

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