Wednesday, May 23, 2018

David Felder: Sustaining Cultural Ecosystems

As the final post of our series introducing senior composers featured at this year’s June in Buffalo festival, we introduce the festival’s artistic director David Felder, who is also SUNY Distinguished Professor, Birge-Cary Chair in Music Composition, and artistic director of the Center for 21st Century Music at the University at Buffalo. Felder revived the then-defunct festival in 1986, and has continued as its director ever since. It is no small accomplishment to keep an arts institution running for decades, and it is due in large part to Felder’s tireless (and often under-recognized) work that the festival not only continues but flourishes today. Active on multiple fronts—composition, pedagogy, arts administration, and curation—Felder has been able make uniquely impactful contributions to the field of contemporary art music. Through June in Buffalo alone, he has opened up countless opportunities for composers and performers—both student and professional—as well as enriched Western New York’s cultural ecosystem. The composer will present his own perspective on these activities in a public lecture on Monday, June 4 at 10am in Baird Hall.

This year’s festival features performances of three Felder works, ranging from early to recent. On Tuesday, June 5 at 7:30pm in Baird Hall, the MIVOS Quartet will perform Third Face, Felder’s first string quartet (1987-88). The piece has been performed by the Arditti Quartet at a number of significant European new music festivals and was subsequently praised by Andrew Porter of the The New Yorker: “After further hearings of it I admire it even more. It is lucid, but with a controlled wildness in its making.” The work’s title originates in Kobo Abe’s novel The Face of Another, wherein “the main character is a chemist/teacher whose face horribly disfigured when an experiment explodes. He is fitted with a ‘neutral’ mask and given the opportunity to select new features that will be accomplished through plastic surgery.” Felder “borrowed only the rough scenario” as a metaphor guiding the concatenation of melodic fragments into phrases.

On Saturday, June 9 at 7:30pm in Slee Hall, Signal Ensemble will give the second full performance of Felder’s new work Jeu de Tarot, a violin concerto featuring star new music violin soloist Irvine Arditti. The work was premiered last November by Ensemble Linea—who commissioned the work—during their residency at the Center. Arditti played the solo part in this performance as well, and the solo part was in fact composed in direct collaboration with the violinist. Felder says “I’d like to express my extreme gratitude to Irvine Arditti, who generously took time out of his hectic touring schedule to work closely with me while I composed this work.” The work’s title references the Tarot deck, and each of the work’s seven movements takes its title from a particular major arcanum of the Tarot deck. Each movement explores a “scene suggested by the rich symbology of the images upon the cards,” including images by Hieronymous Bosch and William Blake as well as the textual speculations of P.D. Ouspensky in his remarkable publication “A New Model of the Universe.”

William Blake, Tarot images
Finally, on Sunday, June 10 at 2:30pm in Slee Hall, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra presents a concert consisting entirely of music by living composers. The concert includes two movements from Felder’s Six Poems from Neruda’s “Alturas…”, based on the poetry of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The work has the distinction of being the only American orchestral composition selected by the international jury of the International Society of Contemporary Music (ISCM) in 1994 for performance at its festival in Sweden that year. It is fitting that the Buffalo Philharmonic will perform this piece, given that they premiered it in 1992, after New York State Council on the Arts commissioned the piece. The quality of the piece led Mode Records to release it on disc; the liner notes describe how

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.

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