Monday, April 16, 2018

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Returns to June in Buffalo

Next in our profiles of resident ensembles at this year’s June in Buffalo we profile the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, who continues its annual appearance at the festival with a concert on June 10. The ongoing partnership between the Center for 21st Century Music and the Orchestra is one of a number of collaborations with local organizations—others include A Musical Feast, The Burchfield Penney Art Center, and Pausa Art House—which strengthen the local arts ecosystem. Partnerships like these encourage closer interaction between arts organizations, maximize the impact of involved organizations’ resources, and boost visibility and attendance. The Center’s partnerships are not exclusively local, however; in fact, a recent post of this publication discussed the Center’s extensive international partnerships.

This year, the orchestra presents three works by senior composers featured at the festival. It is a rare occurrence for an orchestra to perform a program consisting solely of works by living composers; in doing so, the Center and Orchestra have made a significant contribution to Western New York’s cultural scene. The concert features two works by senior composer John Harbison: Darkbloom: Overture for an Imagined Opera, and Remembering Gatsby (Foxtrot for Orchestra). Darkbloom was created from the remnants of an abandoned opera project. The composer writes that “I am as reluctant as any artist to part with good material…I am very fortunate to be able to collect up strands of the music in this overture.” The title derives from the name Vivian Darkbloom, “a secondary character in a famous and infamous American novel.” Harbison explains that “I borrowed Darkbloom as a title because it effectively conjures up the mood of this overture. It serves as an emblem or anagram for the complex tragicomic spirit of the story and its author.”

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at JiB 2015
Remembering Gatsby was composed for the Atlanta Symphony, one of a large number of works commissioned by major musical institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The work references the foxtrot, a dance that reached its height of popularity during the 1930s. Like Darkbloom, this work also derives from an abandoned opera project, in this case based on (onetime Buffalo resident) F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. The composer explains how the work portrays the novel’s scenes:

The piece…begins with a cantabile passage for full orchestra, a representation of Gatsby's vision of the green light on Daisy's dock. Then the foxtrot begins, first with a kind of call to order, then a [1920s] tune I had written for one of the party scenes, played by a concertino led by a soprano saxophone. The tune is then varied and broken into its components, leading to an altered reprise of the call to order, and an intensification of the original cantabile…A brief coda combines some of the motives, and refers fleetingly to the telephone bell and the automobile horns, instruments of Gatsby's fate.

Harbison explains how the piece emerged from unlikely circumstances of his biography: “My father, eventually a Reformation historian, was a young show-tune composer in the twenties, and this piece may also have been a chance to see him in his tuxedo again.”

The concert also features two movements from Center artistic director David Felder’s Six Poems from Neruda’s “Alturas…”, based on the poetry of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It is fitting that the Buffalo Philharmonic will perform this piece, given that New York State Council on the Arts commissioned it for the Orchestra, who premiered it in 1992.

The work, a sample of whose score is available online, has the additional distinction of being the only American orchestral composition selected by the international jury of the International Society of Contemporary Music (ISCM) in 1994, leading to its performance in Sweden. The quality of the piece lead Mode Records to release it on disc; the liner notes explore the nature of this music’s unique poetry:

Like Neruda's cycle of twelve poems on which it is based, the music weaves together images and themes such as reverence for nature, cyclical aspects of regeneration, irresistible death and its accompanying transience of the individual against a background of the collective vastness of time. This is accompanied by a strong sense of individual isolation and alienation and a powerful feeling of loss and longing for a discovery of a greater identity.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Ensemble Signal: New Music Dream Team

In this post, we continue our portraits of resident ensembles featured at this year’s June in Buffalo with Ensemble Signal. A chamber ensemble of flexible instrumentation, the group was founded in 2008. A “new music dream team” (Time Out New York) of new music specialists, many of them highly regarded soloists in their own right, the group has rapidly ascended through the ranks of the new music world to appear at prestigious venues such as the Lincoln Center Festival, BIG EARS Festival, Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, Tanglewood Music Festival of Contemporary Music, Ojai Music Festival, Miller Theatre, (le) Poisson Rouge, Cleveland Museum of Art, the Wordless Music Series, and the Bang on a Can Marathon. Signal has collaborated with leading artists such as Steve Reich, Helmut Lachenmann, Irvine Arditti, Kristian Bezuidenhout, Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, Oliver Knussen, Hilda Paredes, and Charles Wuorinen, and has recorded for Cantaloupe, Harmonia Mundi, Mode, Orange Mountain, and New Amsterdam Records.

Signal at JiB 2015
(performing Center artistic director David Felder's Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux)
The group’s sheer volume of activity is astonishing in and of itself: in only a decade, the group has performed over 150 concerts, co-produced nine recordings, and given numerous NY, national, and world premieres. Signal’s long term commitment to the field has not gone unnoticed, with the New York Times itself noting calling the group “one of the most vital groups of its kind.” The group’s intensity of activity is in part a function of its flexibility in size and instrumentation, encompassing “everything from solo to large contemporary ensemble in any possible combination.”

The Center for 21st Century Music has contributed to Signal’s success via its long-term partnership with the ensemble. The group has been a resident ensemble at June in Buffalo each year since 2010, and has also been invited to the Center for appearances on its visiting artist series during the academic year. The group’s flexibility has been an asset here, enabling occasional presentation of rarely presented extended works for large ensembles, such as Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians (in 2017) Sextet and Double Sextet (2012), Center artistic director David Felder’s Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux (2015), and Louis Andriessen’s La Passione (2012). Most recently, the group appeared at the Center for another ambitious programming venture, a portrait concert of the demanding, detail-oriented music of acclaimed American composer Charles Wuorinen in late April.

At this year’s festival, Signal will present two concerts: one featuring works by participant composers, and another with works by senior composers: Hilda Paredes’s Chaczibzib for solo piccolo, Roger Reynold’s Positings for flute, horn, piano, violin, cello, and electronics, and David Felder’s Jeu de Tarot for violin and ensemble. At last year’s June in Buffalo, Signal gave a preview of select movements from Felder’s piece; Ensemble Linea premiered it during their November residency at the Center. In all of these performances, the guest violin soloist has been Irvine Arditti, who collaborated closely with David Felder in the creation of the solo violin part.

Signal has continually astounded Buffalo audiences with their high level of execution on even the most ambitious, demanding projects, so we greatly look forward to their return visit in June!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Ensemble Mise-En: Generative Partnerships

This week in our series of profiles on this year’s resident ensembles at June in Buffalo, we are delighted to introduce Ensemble Mise-En. The ensemble is a flexible NYC-based collective of young performers, founded in 2011, whose name originates from two Korean words—“‘mee ,’…means ‘beauty,’ and ‘zahn,’ ‘to decorate,’” and the name crystallizes the ensemble’s focus, as a “multi-national personnel…unabashedly promotes “beautiful” artwork to increasingly diverse audiences of contemporary sounds.” The ensemble has established itself with surprising speed, with performances at high profile venues like (le) poisson rouge, Bohemian National Hall, Italian Academy, Tenri Cultural Institute, a residency at the cell, and partnerships with Washington Square Contemporary Music Society, International Alliance for Women in Music, Austrian Cultural Forum New York, Open Meadows Foundation, New York University, New York Foundation for the Arts, I-Park, Goethe-Institute Boston, Villa Gillet (FR) and others.

The ensemble is remarkable in its commitment to emerging as well as established composers. The group runs a programming space in Brooklyn and produces an annual festival; both platforms take much of their content from open calls for proposals, eliminating barriers to access while at the same time ensuring accountability in quality. To find out more about the ensemble’s activities, have a look at their website, soundcloud page, and the ample documentation of their performances available on youtube.

Following a successful residency at the Center in March 2017, Ensemble Mise-En was invited as residenty ensemble to June in Buffalo 2018. As with many of the Center’s partnerships, the relationship with Mise-En is emerging to be a fundamentally collaborative, long-term one. The group’s visit to the Center in 2017 was not merely a one-off “gig,” but planted the seeds of deeper partnerships between the ensemble and the Center, including not only the ensemble’s appearance at June in Buffalo, but their performance of works by Center graduate student composers such as Meredith Gilna, Matt Sargent, Weijun Chen, and Su Lee. This approach in turn positions the guest ensemble not merely as a hired contractor but as a crucial collaborator, and, more importantly, advocate for the important work the Center is doing.

It is in this context that the ensemble appears at this year’s June in Buffalo festival, where they will present two concerts. The ensemble performs works by participant composers on Wednesday, June 6 at 7:30 in Baird Hall, and works by senior composers on Friday, June 8 at 7:30pm. In the latter concert, the ensemble will perform Hans Thomalla’s moments musicaux (for flute, clarinet, piano, viola, and cello), Louis Karchin’s As the Circle Opens to Infinity (for flute, clarinet, trombone, piano, percussion, violin, and cello), and Roger Reynolds’s Shadowed Narrative (for clarinet, piano, violin, and cello). All three works have distinctively extensive and thoroughly worked out formal structures—in the case of the Reynolds, a sequence of four contrasting movements. Center audiences may remember the Reynolds piece, played expertly by the Antares Quartet on their guest concert at the Center in 2012. Mise-En’s second concert will feature works by participant composers selected from the festival’s recent call for scores, which drew submissions from multiple continents.