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."

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