Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Josh Levine and Slee Sinfonietta Soloists: Redefining Virtuosity

Due to unforeseen contingencies, Josh Levine will be replacing Brian Ferneyhough as faculty composer at this year’s festival. The Ferneyhough works scheduled for performance will still be presented, while two of Levine’s works will be added to the Wednesday evening concert. This publication previously wrote a profile on Levine, who was a faculty composer at last year’s festival.

Wednesday night’s concert will open as scheduled with the MIVOS Quartet playing works by Mumford, Buene, Hellstenius, and Ferneyhough; as a last minute addition, the Slee Sinfonietta Soloists will perform two solo works by Josh Levine. UB graduate student and Dean’s Fellow Jade Conlee will perform Praeludium (Inflorescence II) (2008-9) for piano while UB alumnus and UCSD doctoral student TJ Borden will perform Sixty Cycles (2015) for cello.

Praeludium (Inflorescence II) is based on the harmonic structures of an earlier piano miniature. Levine writes about the piece
is the first of two pieces in this series whose point of departure is a return to earlier work of mine, the other being Breathing ritual (Inflorescence V). Though decidedly figurative at first, the piece erupts into a dense superimposition of reiterating lines that forms a vast thicket of notes through which the interpreter must forge an individual path.
The composer has made the score available online here.

Sixty Cycles was commissioned by the Isabelle Zogheb Foundation for Kevin McFarland, formerly cellist of the JACK Quartet. TJ Borden gave the first complete performance of the piece this past January. Originally planned for a friend’s sixtieth birthday, the work “was born of my thinking about life’s phases and the frequent disjuncture between experienced time and the temporal grids we use to organize our lives (years, months, days…).” The piece consists of 60 phrases of equal (notated) length, each being “ten beats long (the fixed temporal grid), but they vary in perceived and often clock duration through tempo fluctuations and according to the activity and density of the materials that ‘inhabit’ them.” For more detail, have a look at the score, available here.
The piece takes a unique approach to the cello, radically extending traditional notions of virtuosity. Levine writes that
The cello part requires extremely subtle control and virtuosity. The performer explores and struggles with the instrument as if trying to make sense of its capacities, seeking ­– or perhaps trying to regain? – the ability to play with conventional beauty, and uncovering other beauties in the process. In the first half of the piece, for example, a substantial amount of the material is fingered not only in the instrument’s highest, less-exploited reaches, but also often on the “wrong” side of the bow. Similar extensions of traditional sound production arise through instability/variability in the way the bow contacts the string, widespread use of left-hand pizzicato, and the significant presence of high harmonics and multiphonics, sound objects akin to woodwind multiphonics that consist of simultaneously produced harmonics on a single string.


Soloists Conlee and Borden are well known to June in Buffalo audiences. Both have played regularly with the Slee Sinfonietta, but are best known for their astounding performances of superlatively difficult modernist solo works. Last year’s festival opened with Conlee’s performance of Boulez’s First Sonata, while the 2015 festival featured Borden’s performance of Brian Ferneyhough’s Time and Motion Study II.

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