Wednesday, March 13, 2019

ELISION Ensemble UB Residency

The Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music is proud to welcome ELISION Ensemble in their first visit to the University at Buffalo. Formed over thirty years ago in Australia, ELISION is one of the world’s foremost new music ensembles, a fearless group of musicians who have commissioned, premiered and continue to champion some of the most exciting works of the last decades, as demonstrated by their discography, which contains, in its more than fifteen titles, many of the best performances ever recorded of the music of Brian Ferneyhough, Richard Barrett, Chris Dench and Liza Lim.

Buffalo audiences will have the opportunity so see them in a free and open-to-the-public concert on April 23 at 7:30PM in Lippes Concert Hall at Slee Hall, with a program consisting of recent works from their repertoire, including two world premieres. The next day, the ensemble will conduct a workshop with pieces written for them by four UB Composition students: John Aulich, Roberto Azaretto, Igor Coelho A. S. Marques, and Alex Huddleston.

In addition to their virtuosity, the musicians of ELISION are also known for establishing deep collaborative relationships with some composers, lasting for many years. This has proven to be beneficial for both parties: writing for specific persons allows composers to take advantage of a performer’s entire range of musical abilities–which in the case of ELISION’s musicians is truly remarkable–rather than being confined to composing for an abstract, idealized and impersonal “instrument”; whereas extended collaborations give members of the ensemble a much deeper understanding of the composers’ interests, aesthetics, and goals, and has resulted in quite unique music.

As a result, there are composers who see ELISION as a fundamental outlet for their work. One of them is Richard Barrett, who had this to say on the subject: "My working relationship with ELISION goes back to 1990 which means it has occupied more or less half of my life, during which time around half of the compositions I’ve written have involved the ensemble. To describe the evolution of this relationship and the music and friendship it has involved would fill a book, but for now I’ll just say a couple of things. Firstly, my ideal of a working relationship with other musicians is one where all are equal participants, bringing their individual imaginations, energies and skills together into a collective arena of creativity, over and above any functional distinctions between “composer” and “interpreters”, and being able to make music like this has surely been a central factor in keeping us together for so long. Secondly, the length and depth of this relationship has enabled us to conceive and realise a still-continuing series of projects which it would be difficult to imagine coming about in any other way." Barrett's flechtwerk, a clarinet in A and piano duo finished in 2006, will be one of the pieces in the program for the April 23 concert.

Another regular ELISION collaborator whose work will be played at the concert is Liza Lim. A trombone adaptation of her 2014 work The Green Lion Eats the Sun, originally written for double bell euphonium, will be performed by Ben Marks. Lim was scheduled to be one of the senior composers at June in Buffalo's 2018 edition, but was unable to come; this will be another opportunity to hear her work in Buffalo. About her piece, she wrote: "The Green Lion Eats the Sun was written especially for Melvyn Poore and the double-bell euphonium that he developed in collaboration with the instrument builder Gottfried B├╝chel during 2011-12. ‘The Green Lion Devouring the Sun’ is one of the classic images of alchemy with a great variety of interpretations as to its possible meaning. The green lion usually represents a powerfully volatile corrosive agent (aqua regis) which swallows seven metals, even dissolving gold in a process of purification.

The solo work explores the sonic worlds of the two bells of the instrument: a muted bell is used to filter fragments of a carnival of sound that are played through the open bell. The muted echoes represent the level of our conscious knowledge that barely catches hold of a riot of activity arising and falling away at the pre-conscious level. Every now and then a more intense communication between the two sides occurs as the bells flutter open and closed." The trombone version requires a specially rigged double bell trombone, in which the second bell is connected by a long plastic tube to the F trigger. For those who want to know more about the process of composing the piece, Lim wrote a very interesting blog post on the subject.

(Liza Lim)

Last, but definitely not least, UB alumnus Aaron Cassidy—who has also enjoyed a close collaboration with ELISION for well over a decade—will have two pieces performed by members of the ensemble: The wreck of former boundaries, for B flat clarinet, an extractable part of the monumental conglomerate of pieces by the same title Cassidy completed in 2016, will be played by Carl Rosman and, in what promises to be a very special event, a new quartet for saxophone, trombone, piano and contrabass titled Self-Portrait, Three Times, Standing (15.3.1991–20.3.1991) will receive its world premiere, with the composer conducting Joshua Hyde, Ben Marks, Alex Waite and Kathryn Schulmeister.

The title of Cassidy's piece comes from a painting by the German artist Gerhard Richter, a figure who has been a source of inspiration for several younger composers. In a recent text on his website, Cassidy wrote the following about this quartet and a second piece he is working on, also based on Richter's work: “Both of these new works explore similar issues, dancing between the representational and the abstract, between obliteration as covering and obliteration as revealing the reality of instrumental and bodily material, between intimacy and separation, between vulnerability and otherness, between layering as stacking/extending and layering as concealing/hiding. And both new pieces continue a path I’ve been exploring in my work over the last 2-3 years, rethinking where ‘I’ sit in my work, and reimagining the personal, the evocative, and the expressive aspects of how and why I make pieces. To that end, the pieces are also mirrors of each other—somehow appropriate with the notion of the self-portrait—one external, outward, explosive, expanding, the other inward, reflective, closed, internal, but both built on the same reflections.”

(Richter - Self Portrait Standing, Three Times 17.3.1991)

Tuesday, April 23
Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall
University at Buffalo
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 7:30 PM
This concert is free and open to the public. 

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