Tuesday, December 29, 2009

David Felder: new CD and DVD

David Felder, director of the Center and Birge-Cary Professor of Composition at UB, is widely known as a leader in his generation of American composers. His music has been heard at major international new music festivals worldwide, including those in Holland, Huddersfield, Darmstadt, Brussels, Geneva, Ravinia, Aspen, Tanglewood, Bourges, and Vienna, to name a few. Commissions include works for the New York New Music Ensemble, Arditti Quartet, American Composers Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, American Brass Quintet, and many others. His work has been broadly characterized by its highly energetic profile, through its frequent employment of technological extension and elaboration of musical materials (including his “Crossfire” video series), and its lyrical qualities.

Two brand-new recordings offer a superb introduction to his compelling work. Shamayim, released October 1 (Albany 1137), is a DVD documenting a film collaboration between Felder and filmmaker Elliot Caplan. December 1 brought BoxMan (Albany 1153), a composer portrait CD compiling works written for the Arditti Quartet, New York Virtuoso Singers, New York New Music Ensemble, and trombonist Miles Anderson. Together, the two releases reveal a composer at the height of his powers.

Shamayim began with Felder’s work with Nicholas Isherwood on a piece for voice and electronic sounds and Caplan’s interest in a series of images having to do with nature. Shamayim uses Hebrew letters as the base structure for the music, while Caplan uses the numeric values of these letters as inspiration for the images. In some cases, Caplan attempted to be as close to the sound as possible in creating the images and in others Felder would compose based on the images. The results are strikingly beautiful: meditative yet rich in incident. Isherwood's resonant, sometimes eerily deep voice is set against an everchanging electronic backdrop that evokes the mysterious workings of the natural world. 

The Italian website MusicalNews.com called Shamayim "A DVD not to be missed: a masterpiece of our times. The music of Felder looks to the future with deep roots in the past in a spiral of sounds that envelop the viewer."

At first glance, the four compositions on the BoxMan disc might seem very disparate: Stuck-Stücke, an aphoristic string quartet; Memento mori, an elegiac piece for unaccompanied choir; partial [dis]res[s]toration, a sextet with electronic ambience; and finally the title track, a theatrical trombone solo in which the electronic interventions come right into the foreground. On listening, however, the differences begin to dissolve, leaving behind them the outlines of a distinct creative personality. One feature they share is fearlessness; another is their rhythmic dynamism and another is the containment of rhythmic and harmonic tensions in small motifs.

Reviewing BoxMan in the Buffalo News, Mary Kunz Goldman wrote, "UB composer in residence David Felder has a sense of humor that runs like a live nerve through this record, adding a needed extra dimension to sounds that would otherwise be alien to the ear. The sparks and spiky texture of one of the Stuck-Stuecke—good title there—appeals when you see it is marked “Effervescent.” “Mechanically!— incessant,” “Chorale-still,” “Bubbly”—the evocative words sum up the sounds brilliantly. [Felder] seems to be trying to put something into music that cannot be put into music. A string quartet has to make a sound like murmuring, or dancing, or breathing, or bouncing off the walls. In “Memento Mori,” a chorus takes up the challenge and it sounds otherworldly, like the sounds picked up by ghosthunters at the Iron Island Museum. I kept visualizing the changing harmonies like rays of light passing through a prism."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

From Copland's house to ours, part II

As noted below, Music from Copland House came to the Center in November for a well-received concert, preceded by a session in which the distinguished ensemble played through a trio of works by UB students. Michael Boriskin, the ensemble's pianist and Executive Director of Copland House, had this to say about the experience:

"All of us in the Music from Copland House ensemble had a really rewarding and enjoyable visit to UB for our all-too-short mini-residency in mid-November.  Besides our public concert celebrating the legendary Nadia Boulanger and her American students (including, most prominently, Copland himself) and several performance master classes for UB piano, wind, and string students, our activities on campus included our public reading of three strong new works by UB students:  (Dis)tenzione for clarinet and piano by Paolo Cavallone, the String Quartet No. 2 by Moshe Shulman, and Spate (Resonantia Machina) by Ethan Hayden. 

"Two things struck us about all three compositions, despite the fact that they were very different works, reflecting highly diverse idioms, objectives, character, and creative approaches.  They all had very distinctive musical profiles and artistic personalities, and were solidly, expertly crafted.  Paolo’s delicate work had a very definite European sensibility, inhabiting an ethereal, mysterious sound world.  Moshe’s wide-ranging quartet explored all kinds of musical gestures and was full of flamboyant and dramatic flourishes, sometimes complemented by the percussive sounds of tapping instruments and stamping the floor!  Ethan’s short but dramatic composition was a driving, rhythmically spiky study of massed or opposing instrumental lines and sonorities, interrupted by a brief spare, serene interlude.  Our individual and collective suggestions about these works generally involved instrumental possibilities and minor technical or expressive refinements, as well as issues regarding how composers interact (through their works) with their performers and their audiences. 

"We really wished we could have spent more time with all these works and their composers, just as we were sorry we weren’t able to stay longer at UB.  We’re very grateful to our hosts, David Felder, Carol and Bob Morris, the UB Music Department, and the Center for the Study of 21st Century Music, for making our visit possible.  UB’s illustrious history supporting the music of our time is well known.  As performers who, both individually and representing Copland House, enthusiastically champion contemporary composers and America’s rich musical heritage, we were thrilled to see how UB’s vibrant legacy continues to thrive so impressively!"

BTW, this coming Sunday (Dec. 6), Music from Copland House is presenting a talk called "Off the Record" by Alex Ross, taking place at Copland House at Merestead, Mt. Kisco, NY.  Further information available here.