Thursday, March 31, 2011

A visit from Yehudi

On Wednesday, April 6, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Yehudi Wyner visits the Center for 21st Century Music for a round of master classes. Wyner has created a diverse body of over sixty works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo performers, theater music, and liturgical services. In addition to composing and teaching, his active and eclectic musical career includes work as a performer, director of two opera companies, and conductor of numerous ensembles in a wide range of repertory. Wrote Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times, "A comprehensive musician, Mr. Wyner is an elegant pianist, a fine conductor, a prolific composer, and a revered teacher. His works show a deep understanding of what sounds good and is technically efficient."

Yehudi Wyner was born in Western Canada and grew up in New York City in a musical family. His father, Lazar Weiner, was an eminent composer of Yiddish Art Song as well as a notable creator of liturgical music for the modern synagogue. This early exposure paved the way for a Diploma in piano from Juilliard and further musical studies at Yale and Harvard Universities with composers Richard Donovan, Walter Piston, and Paul Hindemith. A Handel course at Harvard brought Wyner to the attention of Randall Thompson, who became a staunch supporter and friend. In 1953, Mr. Wyner won the Rome Prize in Composition enabling him to spend the next three years at the American Academy in Rome, composing, performing, and traveling. Since then, he has received many honors which include the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Piano concerto Chiavi in mano, two Guggenheim Fellowships, a grant from the American Institute of Arts and Letters, and the Brandeis Creative Arts Award. In 1998 Mr. Wyner received the Elise Stoeger Award from Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society for his lifetime contribution to chamber music. His Horntrio was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998, and in 1999 Mr. Wyner was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Not only is Wyner a distinguished composer, but a teacher of distinguished composers. His students include:
During his visit, Wyner will give a presentation of his own music to the UB composition seminar, as well as giving individual lessons. Later in April (on the 19th), another Pulitzer Prize-winner, Charles Wuorinen, will visit the Center. Watch this space for further details.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tom Kolor gets a bang out of UB (and vice-versa)

UB's music department has a distinguished tradition of percussion teaching. Legendary percussionist Jan Williams arrived in 1964 as a Creative Associate, joined the faculty in 1967, and taught at UB for nearly 40 years, achieving worldwide renown as an interpreter of contemporary music. He is now an emeritus professor.

Assistant Professor Tom Kolor has proven a worthy heir to this tradition. Through performances with the Talujon Percussion Quartet, New Jersey Percussion Ensemble, Ensemble Sospeso, and others, Kolor has earned a place as one of the top percussionists on the new music scene. As a soloist, he has given dozens of premieres by such composers as Milton Babbitt, John Zorn, Wayne Peterson, Tania Leon, and Jerome Kitzke. He has recorded for Bridge, New World, Albany, Capstone, Innova, Wergo, Naxos, CRI, Koch, Tzadik, North/South Consonance, and Deutsche Grammophon labels. At UB, Kolor directs the Percussion Ensemble, gives private lessons, and is the Principal Percussionist of the Slee Sinfonietta

Here are a couple videos of Kolor at work -- one of them serious fun (a Julia Wolfe piece, performed by Talujon), the other simply fun (a restroom sign "concerto" with violinist Todd Reynolds). 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Trevor Bjorklund: developing one's own identity

Continuing our series of posts on recent and soon-to-be graduates of UB's composition program, here are some remarks by Trevor Bjorklund, who graduated in 2010 and is currently serving as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Composition at the University of Pittsburgh.

Trevor's musical background is eclectic, to say the least. From the ages of eight to ten, he sang in the San Francisco Boys' Choir and performed in several productions of the San Francisco Opera. In the years that followed, he began composing while playing guitar, trumpet, euphonium, and percussion. He attended San Francisco State University as a composition major, winning the Theodore Presser Fellowship, and studied trombone with with McDowell Kenley. He graduated summa cum laude from SFSU with a Bachelors of Music in Composition while taking part in an exchange program in Trossingen, Germany. He stayed in Germany to compose and perform as a trombonist and drummer for the next 3 years.

His music has been performed in the United States, Germany, Korea, The Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, France, and The Netherlands, and at major festivals including June in Buffalo and the Darmstadt Ferienkurse. It has been played by internationally renowned groups and artists including the Arditti Quartet and Valerio Fasoli, and has been conducted by James Avery, Manfred Schreier, Christian Hommel, and Christian Baldini.

In addition to his activities as a composer of contemporary music, he continues to perform traditional and modern repertoire as a trombonist, and plays drums for the international funk band, Blind-Ass Chicken, in which he is a founding member and songwriter. These diverse interests and influences are reflected in his dissertation work for UB, Deus Ex Machina, which is scored for "large chamber ensemble and heavy metal trio." You can hear it here.

Says Trevor, "I arrived in Buffalo after having spent several years in the new music scene in Germany and was more than a little unsure about my role as a composer in general. What I found at UB was an entirely open environment that had no preconceived notions about what "good" or "real" music is (or isn't), and I found a small community of musicians developing their own identities in a variety of ways.

Trevor Bjorklund
"My composition teachers there (Jeffrey Stadelman for my first year and then David Felder) whole-heartedly supported the exploration and development of my own unique artistic personality. They were also extremely patient with me as I went through the shock of re-entery into the States after having lived abroad. I was provided with opportunities to hear my own creations performed by some stunningly talented and dedicated musicians. In fact, without David's gentle but consistent encouragement, I could never have even begun composing some of my most successful pieces... not necessarily successful because they are masterworks of the 21st century, but because they form an honest reflection of my own particular musical perspective. For me, creating honest work is the single most important thing an artist can do.

"Although Buffalo is a small city, seemingly remote from the larger American new music community, it is a place of where astounding musical events transpire. In my humble opinion, June in Buffalo has become one of the best, if not THE best, festivals for new music in America and trumps some of the more well-known European festivals. During my tenure as a graduate student and since, David Felder continually ups the ante, bringing in some of the best performers in the world to perform contemporary masterworks, read and perform student pieces, and lecture about their work.

"Another important aspect of my UB education was an excellent platform for professional development. I had the opportunity to teach a variety of important courses that prepared me (and qualified me!) for the post-graduate school world of American Academia. The constant and continued support and advice I received from my teachers and especially my advisor, David Felder, have led me to opportunities for performances and employment that would never have happened had I chosen a different path.

"I recently visited Buffalo and the feeling of walking into Baird Hall was like coming home. There is a family there, my family, and UB and I will remain lifelong friends."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Composer Evan Johnson: UB remembered with "intense affection and gratitude"

Evan Johnson received his PhD from UB's composition program some five years ago, and his career is off to a flying start. Recent and upcoming highlights include performances at festivals in Darmstadt, Huddersfield, Witten, and others, as well as in Japan and Singapore; residencies at Copland House and the Millay Colony in 2011; and recordings on the HCR, Metier, and (later this year) Mode labels.  In June, at the Issue Project Room in New York, Claire Chase of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) will premiere a piece for bass flute commissioned by BMI and the Concert Artists Guild.

Says Evan, "When I came to do graduate work at Buffalo, it was a bit of a shot in the dark; I knew little more of the department than the June in Buffalo festival and the fact that David Felder and some of the other faculty were interested in having me there.  It turned out to be a tremendously significant decision for my professional career.  Buffalo is a unique place for composers, in that absolutely any sort of investigation is permitted and encouraged -- pieces written bycolleagues during my tenure included both works of incredible complexity and intricacy and a piece for amplified styrofoam cup -- as long as you continually question your assumptions and strive to improve your understanding of your own work.   David himself is the best composition teacher I have ever had, despite the fact that his own music has virtually nothing to do with mine, and his own approach to his craft and his profession have been crucial models for me to a degree I doubt even he understands.  And, five years after I received my Ph.D., some of the most significant relationships I have with performers around the world arose from visits they made to UB while I was a student there.

"The only thing I wish would change about UB's graduate composition program is that it would become better known, and its singular place in the American musical landscape more celebrated; but I remember UB with intense affection and gratitude, and I credit a good deal of my own musical and professional development to my experience there."

Visit the "Sounds" area of Evan's website for some intriguing excerpts from his work.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

From Singapore to Buffalo...and back

Diana Soh
As noted in our previous post, UB's composition program has a global reach. Composer/pianist/singer Diana Soh came to Buffalo from Singapore to study with David Felder. Not only is she earning her PhD, but she ended up working for UB's Center for 21st Century Music as an assistant to Managing Director J. T. Rinker.  She's returned to her native country, where she has just been appointed to the Music Faculty of Singapore's School of the Arts. Her career is flourishing: she has just been nominated for the prestigious Gaudeamus Prize, and has been selected for the IRCAM 1 course in Paris. But she retains many fond memories of the Center.

"I really miss Buffalo, all my friends and working with JT and David on Center events as well as being a graduate student there. I find that the artists that the center brings to UB are all top-notch and I have learnt so much from each and everyone of them. Not just musically but especially in the more human aspects. Some of whom I still keep in contact with, with no other reasons than that we got along and I regard them as friends.

"The next best thing, besides having David as your teacher, is the numerous opportunities to have your works read by important ensembles like Ensemble Surplus and the Arditti Quartet, JACK quartet and numerous others. And to have real life feedback with such established groups. I'd like to think that such an opportunity is priceless...well, put it this way, even if you had x amount of $ to spend, these groups just might not play your music, but if you are a UB student, they have been hired just for you to workshop and record your music! Amazing right?

"The program is also very supportive of our external activities, premieres, festivals etc and provides a flexibility much needed for a developing composer. Also I must highlight strongly that the centers support of the new and untested is very encouraging and of extremely high standards on the global this is not the case in most parts of the world, be it for financial reasons, sense of security or even a matter of 'taste.'

"Also, it's exciting to have monthly lectures by renowned musicians and composer to share their work and their views and to have masterclasses with them. I found the composition program to be enriching and stimulating with a varied group of composers and mentors like David and Jeff who are experienced experts that have helped me blossomed over the past 4 years. The electronic studies with Cort Lippe has also yielded brilliant students like Chikashi Miyama among others. 

"There is a sense of camaradarie in the Buffalo group of composers and no one is shy to share their views which makes for a great platform of exchange. I miss them very much and I urge them to make full use of their time in Buffalo as once we are out in the real is different." 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Kudos for UB's composition department

Though it ran a few months ago, we think that The Spectrum's Oct. 17 story about UB's composition program, titled "A Department with National Renown," makes good reading anytime.

Assistant News Editor Brendon Bochacki interviewed David Felder, Trevor Björklund, Cort Lippe, and Jeffrey Stadelman, spreading the word about the department's international prominence to the entire UB community. Reports Bochacki, "Unknown to many students, the music department in Baird and Slee Halls is one of the most highly respected graduate composition programs in the nation." That may not be surprising, given the sheer size of the school -- 29,000+ students in nearly 300 undergraduate, masters, doctoral, and professional degree programs -- but it certainly bears repeating.

One of the reasons that the program attracts so many top students from around the world is its nurturing, undogmatic approach. Bochacki quotes Björklund as saying, "The composition faculty members are very interested in helping young composers bloom on their own... A lot of places tend to push people in a particular direction but UB doesn't. It tends to attract people who have a slightly different take on things."