Tuesday, February 22, 2011

June in Buffalo: a timely reminder

If you're reading this blog, you're no doubt aware of June in Buffalo, the annual festival and conference that offers a select group of rising composers the opportunity to study with leading teachers in the field, and have scores performed by top ensembles. For those interested in applying, the deadline is Friday, February 25. Application and program details can be found here

Presented by University at Buffalo's Department of Music and the Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music, June in Buffalo features an enticing of seminars, lectures, workshops, professional presentations, participant forums and open rehearsals as well as afternoon and evening concerts open to the general public and critics. Each of the invited composers will have one of his/her pieces performed during the festival. Evening performances feature faculty composers, resident ensembles and soloists renowned internationally as interpreters of contemporary music. Here's the rundown on this year's luminaries:

Senior Faculty
Edmund Campion
Eric Chasalow
David Felder
Hilda Paredes
Brice Pauset
Jeffrey Stadelman
Resident Ensembles and Special Guests
Magnus Andersson
Irvine Arditti
Roberto Fabbriciani
Ensemble Linea
Brad Lubman
Slee Sinfonietta


Nothing matches the explosive energy and rhythmic excitement of a skilled percussion ensemble. Tonight, Feb. 22 at 7:30 pm, listeners in western New York will have a rare chance to experience the artistry of the French group Les Percussions de Strasbourg, one of the most venerable new music ensembles of any instrumentation. The 2011/12 season marks the sextet's 50th (!) anniversary; many seminal works in the genre were composed for them, including Xenakis's Pleiades, which forms a centerpiece of tonight's program at Lippes Concert Hall at Slee Hall. Other works being performed tonight include Varèse's classic Ionization. Here's a taste of Les Percussions de Strasbourg in a spatially-oriented score by Gérard Grisey, Tempus ex Machina

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Aaron Cassidy: going places, coming home

Composer/conductor Aaron Cassidy is coming home. A proud product of UB's composition program, where his mentor was David Felder, Cassidy has been a Senior Lecturer in Composition at the University of Huddersfield in the UK since 2007. His career has been flourishing, with performances by ELISION, Ensemble SurPlus, musikFabrik, Ictus Ensemble, ensemble recherche, and other prominent groups; his music is featured at the Donaueschingen, Ultraschall, Warsaw Autumn, Huddersfield, Darmstadt, and Gaudeamus festivals, along with the ISCM World Music Days. His works have been played in the United States, Mexico, Canada, Austria, the Netherlands, Croatia, England, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Portugal, Poland, Thailand, New Zealand, and Australia. ELISION has made two recordings of his music, with more to come. 

Cassidy returns to UB on February 23 for a residency that will include compositional masterclasses and seminars, lectures, and performance coaching. He will join the JACK Quartet -- a group that has long advocated his music -- for a composer reading workshop on February 25. (More about JACK's visit in an upcoming post.)

Cassidy's music can be characterized by an uncompromising dedication to instability and fragmentation. The received wisdom of performance practice is continually questioned and reasserted, often with intentionally unpredictable results. His recent works have experimented largely with the interaction of a performer with his/her instrument, introducing a decoupling of component performance techniques through a variety of extended tablature notations. Fracture is prioritized in timbral, structural, and rhythmic strata in such a way that resulting aural units are themselves only the byproducts or collisions of independent (and often cyclic) musical processes. The musical score becomes, then, both the locus of processual sediment and concurrently the cause of significant deterritorialization on the part of performer and listener alike.

Recent projects have included significant research of linguistic, semantic, and spatial theories, focusing in particular on heightened states of dislocation (as in Jakobson's analysis of aphasics or Deleuze and Guattari's writings on smooth and haptic space). It all may sound a bit abstract, but there's no denying the visceral impact of pieces such as I purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips (2007). 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The latest from Felder

As Director of the Center for 21st Century Music and the June in Buffalo festival, David Felder is the force behind UB's status as an international destination for studies in composition and new music performance. At the same time, he has maintained a flourishing compositional career, with an enviable array of commissions, residencies, recordings, and honors. His latest project is a second Koussevitzky Foundation commission: a 35-minute work for soprano and bass singers, chamber orchestra, and electronics, titled Les Quatre Temps cardinaux, after the René Daumal poem that provides one of its texts. The other texts are by Pablo Neruda and Robert Creely (1926 - 2005), a member of the UB faculty for 36 years. Les Quatre Temps cardinaux will be played by a trio of illustrious ensembles: the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) under Gil Rose; the group known as Signal, with Brad Lubman conducting; and UB's own professional chamber orchestra, the Slee Sinfonietta. Laura Aikin and Ethan Hirschenfeld will be the vocal soloists; watch this space for further news on the piece.

In other news, Felder's gripping work for flute and chamber orchestra, Inner Sky, will be played in the final concert of the 2011 Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music. Here's an excerpt of the piece played by the Slee Sinfonietta with Brad Lubman conducting.

You'll find several engaging videos relating to Felder's music at the Center's YouTube channel.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Many's the listener for whom a musical experience conjures visual images. For some, however, the experience is involuntary: different pitches and chords consistently give rise to specific colors, a phenomenon known as synesthesia. Alexander Scriabin, Olivier Messiaen, and Michael Torke are among the composers who have reported these correspondences, and it has inevitably influenced their music.

This Friday (Feb. 11) at 8 pm at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, the Center for 21st Century Music is co-sponsoring a concert by A Musical Feast, titled "Sensory Crossovers: Synesthesia in American Art." The program includes Robert Muczynski's Gallery: Suite for Unaccompanied Cello; Kreisler's Coat by Jonathan Golove for cello and piano; Sequence pour un hymne à la nuit by Alain Margoni (1979); Ruth Wiesenfeld's stories still for cello and pre-recorded tape with voice; and Kodály's Duo for violin and cello. Golove, Fang Hew, and Carter Enyeart perform (in different pieces) on cello, while Claudia Hoca plays piano, and A Musical Feast's founder, Charles Haupt, joins in on violin for the Kodály.

While none of these pieces are by synesthetic composers, nearly all of them are inspired by visual images. Muczynski's Gallery was suggested by Burchfield's watercolors; a recording of Carter Enyeart playing the piece has recently been issued on the Centaur label. Golove took his cue for Kreisler's Coat from a description by E. T. A. Hoffmann (of the eponymous Tales) of a character who wore "a coat the color of C-sharp minor with an E-major colored collar." French composer Margoni was a student of Messiaen; Golove, who performs the work, finds echoes of Messiaen's "color chords" in it.

An enigmatic image - "a rotating lamp, illuminating for a moment only what happens to be within its beam of light" - spurred Wiesenfeld's piece, which makes use of a text by Samuel Beckett. Full program notes are available here.

Kodály's Duo completes the program, and while it doesn't have any specific visual genesis, it's always worth a listen. Here it is in a fine performance by violinist Kurt Nikkanen and cellist Daniel Gaisford.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Within EarShot

In a perfect world, every talented young composer would have the opportunity to hear his or her scores read by a committed professional orchestra. No matter how good your ear may be, there's simply no substitute for the experience of having live musicians engage with your work. Which is why EarShot, a program that teams emerging American composers with orchestras around the country, is such a valuable resource. Through EarShot, some 24 such composers have had readings by the Memphis, Colorado, Nashville, Pioneer Valley, and New York Youth Symphonies.

Earshot comes to Buffalo February 8 - 10 for the Buffalo Philharmonic New Music Readings, highlighted by a free concert by the BPO at Kleinhans Hall on Wednesday, March 9 (7 pm). No tickets are required for this event. Four composers, selected from a national call for scores, will hear their works read by the BPO under the baton of associate conductor Matthew Kraemer, and will receive feedback from mentor composers David Felder, Steven Stucky, and Robert Beaser, and the conductor and BPO principal musicians. The four composers selected, diverse in background and style, are Michael-Thomas Foumai, Austin Jaquith, Nathan Kelly, and Carl Schimmel. EarShot is a partnership among American Composers Orchestra, American Composers Forum, American Music Center, the League of American Orchestras, and Meet The Composer.

In conjunction with EarShot, the Center for 21st Century Music will present a concert at Kleinhans Hall's Mary Seaton Room on Tuesday, February 8 at 7 pm. Violinist Yuki Numata will play David Felder's Another Face, and pianist Eric Huebner will perform selections from György Ligeti's fiendishly virtuosic Etudes, plus rewarding works by György Kurtág and Steven Stucky. The balance of the program will be devoted to chamber works by Frank Zappa, played by Buffalo's eclectic Genkin Philharmonic. If you haven't heard this rock icon's concert music, don't be fooled: titles such as Peaches en Regalia, Igor's Boogie, Eat the Question, and Harry, You're a Beast belie a composer of considerable skill and imagination. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Remembering Milton Babbitt

Milton Babbitt (l.) with Lejaren Hiller, c. 1980. Photo by Irene Haupt.
Milton Babbitt passed away on January 29 at the age of 94. Known as the first composer to extend serial techniques to sonic elements beyond pitch, Babbitt was arguably one of the most influential musical researchers of the 20th century. He was familiar to Buffalo audiences, not just through performances of his music at UB, but through his participation as a Senior Faculty member at June in Buffalo, most recently in 1994. One of Babbitt's students, Lejaren Hiller (shown above) became the Slee Professor of Composition at UB from 1968 to 1989.

Though Babbitt's music was known for its intellectual rigor, it is also filled with vitality and wit -- qualities that were abundant in the man himself. He was no stranger to controversy: his 1958 essay “The Composer as Specialist,” more famously known as “Who Cares if You Listen?” (a title given by his editor at High Fidelity magazine) set off a debate that still rages more than half a century later. But throughout his career he enjoyed the genuine respect of composers (such as UB's own Morton Feldman and David Felder) whose music was highly dissimilar to his own. An early pioneer of electronic music, he once said: "The new limitations are the human ones of perception." Prophetic words indeed. There have been a number of remembrances published during the past week, but Allan Kozinn's informative obit in The New York Times and Mark Swed's thoughtful essay in the Los Angeles Times are particularly worth reading.

Here's an odd little video to the first section of his most famous work, Philomel, for soprano and synthesizer.