Sunday, April 24, 2011

Kagel Nacht

Tired of dull, predictable concerts? The antidote is close at hand.

This Tuesday, April 26, the performance event known as Kagel Nacht comes to Lippes Concert Hall at Slee Hall. Described by its creators as "a performance event featuring new interpretations of works by the seminal avant-garde composer Mauricio Kagel," it interweaves a melange of inter-connected and overlapping pieces, highlighting the most absurd and engaging of Kagel's prolific output. From the disconnected political ramblings of Der Tribune, to the meticulous puppetry/theater of Repetoire, to the squealing and scratching of AcusticaKagel Nacht connects to listeners in a way rarely found in the classical music world.  

For American listeners, Mauricio Kagel (1931 - 2008) occupies an odd place in the pantheon of contemporary composers -- too famous to be considered a cult figure, but too idiosyncratic to be an icon. Born and educated in Buenos Aires, he served as a visiting lecture at Darmstadt in the late 50s, and taught at UB in 1964-65 as the Slee Professor of Music Theory. Dramatic elements were a constant presence in his work, which often overshot the boundaries of music composition to encompass theater and film.

According to the creators of Kagel Nacht, "Despite being one of the most radical and revolutionary 20th century European avant-garde composers, Mauricio Kagel's music has remained relatively obscure, especially here in the US.  In an attempt to change this, two musicians from New York City have spent the last 3 years researching Kagel's massive body of work, seeking out rare scores, recordings, and videos of his bizarre, often hysterically theatrical compositions.  The result is the performance-event known as Kagel Nacht.  Joining them will be a stacked deck of musicians from Brooklyn's artistic multiverse, performers deeply situated in the theater, performance art, classical, and experimental music worlds.  They will be performing a very diverse selection from Kagel's grand oeuvre, including 'classical' works (Music For Rennaissance Instruments), electro-acoustic compositions (Acustica),  absurdist ballet (Kontra-Danse), radio plays (Der Tribun), and some of his most daring and hilarious works of 'instrumental theater' (Staatstheater, Con Voce). With interpretations ranging from strict to fully recontextualized, Kagel Nacht breaths new life into these important and underperformed works by joining them into one, multi-stage, panoramic, evening-length event that brings a new meaning to 'musical theater.'" 

Kagel Nacht is currently touring the Northeast, performing for universities as well as underground venues, art spaces, and other communities, giving people access to the world of classical and avant-garde music through the universal appeal of Kagel's profound and absurd compositions.  In order to limit costs and emissions, they are traveling on a school-bus-turn-tour-bus, that runs on waste vegetable oil. Kagel Nacht will feature the musical and theatrical artistry of:
Here's a video of Kagel Nacht in action.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Recent grad Leah Muir on UB: "a rare mix of performance, intellect, and experiment"

Leah Muir completed her doctoral studies in composition at UB in 2008, and is now living in Berlin. She reports:

"My doctoral study at Buffalo was a huge enrichment to my musical life and experience, and continues to be so -- in fact I think it is one of the few organizations in the US that could prepare me for the European musical life I found myself suddenly in. Right now, in fact, I am preparing for a Morton Feldman concert for the Crescendo concert series on June 10, of which I am in charge of musical direction and conducting. Morton Feldman seems to be around every turn I take.

"It was Amy Williams who first introduced me to the University at Buffalo at 19; she brought a group of composers from Bennington College to June in Buffalo. There I met David Felder, and never forgot him or my amazing musical experience during the program. I applied later to Buffalo for my Doctoral degree and was accepted on a Presidential fellowship, where I was able to gain four years of teaching experience. There I made extremely close musical relationships with musicians and composers in the program, and had many compositional breakthroughs with David as my teacher. David Felder demands excellence from his students, and I was pushed very hard to go as far as I possibly could with my own talents, and then maybe even farther. For that I am very grateful.

"Beyond my work at the Institut für Neue Musik, I have also some commissions to write this year. The first is my Doppelkonzert für E. Gitarre und Akkordeon, dedicated to Krassimir Sterev, Yaron Deutsch, Ajtony Csaba and the Mitteleuropäisches Kammerorchester to be premiered in Vienna, Austria in 2011. The second for the Münchener Biennale, is a 25 minute music theater piece to be premiered in May of 2012. Last year, I had a couple of important premieres, on Märzmusik and Wien Modern, and a slight foray into video brought on a sudden premiere at Soundtrack Cologne.

"Buffalo, where American experimentalism is still cherished, was instrumental to my development in these musical directions. David Felder, Cort Lippe and Jeff Stadelman provided an excellent scope of what is out there that is most intellectually stimulating in music, and also what reality is and could be for a composer in our current musical landscape. Beyond this, an idealistic and utopian approach to music is also coveted at the university, where experiment is fully encouraged and when followed, given free reign of the imagination. I find this mixture to be quite unique. Charles Smith and Michael Long are also an extremely important part of the program for me, because the sort of analysis they teach is rare and hard to find. In other departments, with Tony Conrad and Elliot Caplan also in the wings of the greats teaching there, I had the possibility to participate in some transmedial collaborations. Hallwalls, Soundlab and the Burchfield-Penney, beyond the University, provided yet another platform to branch out into a wider community, together with self-organized group of composers, we were able to play music and have a public." Here's Leah's unsettling and inventive Sound Bandage, scored for the offbeat combination of soprano and bass saxophones, cello, and "tape."

Friday, April 15, 2011

A student looks back

Moshe Shulman, PhD candidate in composition at UB, recently shared some observations about his music.

"2011 is my last year in Buffalo, NY. Since 2007 I was studying music composition mainly with David Felder but also with Cort Lippe and Jeffrey Stadelman one semester each. During these years I wrote for brass, woodwind, and percussion ensembles, two string quartets, mixed ensembles including voice, a little piece for piano and a couple of solo pieces. Some of these were successful, some came to be tryouts, one of these even received third prize in a Composition contest in Russia in 2009.

"When the time for writing dissertation piece came, writing for a larger ensemble with a soloist was an obvious choice, mainly because I don’t have anything like that in my portfolio. Another reason for writing a piece for solo violin with orchestra was personal. I started to play violin at the age of five and writing a dissertation piece 28 years later seems like a circle that has been completed. Thanks to David Felder, this project was approved, well-advised and will be realized on April 18th, 2011 in a recording with the Slee Sinfonietta and most talented musician and a friend, violinist Yuki Numata.

"Before getting to what I wanted to achieve in the dissertation work I will try to remember what aspects of music concerned me during these years. One of the first pieces I wrote within the walls of Buffalo University was Frozen Moments for flute, violin, cello and piano. Here are the program notes of that piece:

Frozen Moments is a piece about different states of motion and motionlessness. The piece introduces different musical moments of those states as well as arrivals and departures from them. First movement deals with the sound as motion and silence as static process. Second movement is concerned with repetitions as motionlessness and the motion between the repetitions. The third movement can be actually called anything but Frozen Moment. This movement is full of energy and motion however the static quality is present on a new level. The motionlessness is present within the motion as if one runs down the street and suddenly stops for a second. Beyond that, the motion-motionlessness states are in counterpoint in that movement which gives the listener an option to hear both actions at the same time.

"Another musical aspect that concerned me was writing for a certain instrument as if it were another instrument - for example, treating brass instruments like strings. “Subito” for Brass Quintet is the outcome of that idea. My Second String Quartet was written for the Copland House Project during November 2009. My thought was to create a set of short movements that would exist within a margin of extremes (whatever those extremes might be: speed, dynamics, motion, etc.). Some movements contrast in their extremes with other movements, while others contain their diversities within.
There were many other issues during the years, of course, but these made their way into the dissertation piece that, for now, is titled Kivunim.

"Kivunim is a Hebrew word and it can have multiple meanings. But the ones I am referring to can be translated as directions, movements, goal-oriented processes. Here, in some sense, I come back to the issue I was resolving in Frozen Moments. The soloist and the ensemble arrangement distribute naturally the roles of motion and motionlessness.

"The dissertation defense will take place on May 3rd and everyone is welcome to attend, to listen and hopefully to enjoy."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Charles Wuorinen and the New York New Music Ensemble in residence

The incomparable Charles Wuorinen visits UB on Tuesday, April 19 in conjunction with a four-day residency by the New York New Music Ensemble, distinguished proponents of his music -- along with many other composers working in "the more rigorous end of the contemporary repertory," as The New York Times put it in a recent, admiring review.

At 7:30 pm on Tuesday, Wuorinen will conduct members of the New York New Music Ensemble in four of his works at Lippes Concert Hall at Slee Hall: Salve Regina: John Bull (1961, rev. 1997); The River of Light (1996); Fifty Fifty (2002); Metagong (2008). That concert will be preceded by a lecture/demonstration on his music at 3 pm.

On Wednesday (4/20), the NYNME will give readings of works by four fortunate students in UB's graduate composition program: Kenichi SaekiChun Ting PangJacob GotlibEthan Hayden, Nathan Heidelberger, and Felipe Ribiero.  And on Thursday, the NYMNE steps into the spotlight at Lippes to perform works by Ricardo Zohn-MuldoonTania LeonWuorinen, Alexandre Lunsqui, and Mario Davidovsky. Tickets for the latter event are available here.

Wuorinen is no stranger to Buffalo, having been a Senior Faculty member at June in Buffalo during the early 1980s, and in 2003.  His many honors include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the Pulitzer Prize (the youngest composer to receive the award).  His more than 250 compositions encompass every form and medium, including works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, soloists, ballet, and stage.  

His newest works include 
It Happens Like This, a dramtic cantata on poems of James Tate to be premiered at Tanglewood in Summer 2011, Time Regained, a fantasy for piano and orchestra for Peter Serkin, James Levine and the MET Opera Orchestra, Eighth Symphony for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Metagong for two pianos and two percussion. He is currently at work on an operatic treatment of Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain to a libretto by the author. (Wuorinen’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories based on the novel of Salman Rushdie was premiered by the New York City Opera in Fall 2004.) Described as "maximalist," his works have been recorded on nearly a dozen labels including several releases on Naxos, Albany Records (Charles Wuorinen Series), John Zorn’s Tzadik label, and a CD of piano works performed by Alan Feinberg on the German label Col Legno.

Founded in 1976, the New York New Music Ensemble is one of NYC's quintessential groups, noted for its authoritative interpretations of challenging "uptown" repertoire. With more than 120 commissions and 20+ recordings to its credit, it is one of the leading ensembles of its kind. Wrote the
Times's Allan Kozinn in a recent review, "These are musicians for whom sharp-edged themes, complex rhythms, and dense harmonies hold no terrors, and they usually make the works they play, however thorny, sound fresh and vital."

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Sunday afternoon RendezBlue, 4/10 at 2 pm

As part of RendezBlue, a four-day exploration of Morton Feldman and the New York School presented by Buffalo's Burchfield Penney Art CenterA Musical Feast will present an intriguing mixed chamber music program on Sunday, April 10 at 2 pm, co-presented by the Center for 21st Century Music. The festival runs April 7 - 10; during that time, admission is free to the gallery and all concerts. 

Amy Williams, who along with her performance partner Helena Bugallo, make up the Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo, is Buffalo's favorite, wandering-pianist daughter. Hailed as "beyond brilliant" (San Francisco Classical Voice) and "simply stunning" (Gramophone), the Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo has been presenting innovative programs of contemporary music throughout Europe and the Americas since 1995. 

Williams makes a welcome return to our series, performing her own composition, Brigid's Flame, composed in memory of her father-in-law, and based on the life of Saint Brigid, who is associated with many symbols, including sacred flames, high intelligence, and poetic eloquence. Williams will also join cellist Jonathan Golove for Morton Feldman's Durations 2 for cello and piano, the first of a series of small ensemble works composed in 1960, in which Feldman relinquished some of the usual control exerted by the composer over the harmonic content of the music.

Mythological references rule in Greek composer Iannis Xenakis' Kottos, a challenging but approachable work for solo cello which will be performed by cellist Jonathan Golove. Moshe Shulman (b. 1978), takes the title of his 2009 work, Secret Messages, literally, i.e. he supplies no description of the piece,  composed for solo violin, since if he provided a description beforehand,  the work, which will be performed by Charles Haupt, the founder and Artistic Director of 'A Musical Feast,'  would no longer be secret.

A memorable performance of contemporary German composer Ruth Wiesenfeld's haunting work, stories still, for cello and recorded text by Samuel Beckett, was a highlight on the last program. Alice Teyssier performs the world premiere of the composer's intriguing inflexionen, for solo flute on this program.

Says Don Metz, Associate Director of the Burchfield Penney, "Following our success with Lecture on the Weather: John Cage In Buffalo, it became apparent that there was great interest in programming events that highlight the creative spirit in Buffalo during the second half of the twentieth century. In keeping with the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s dedication to the distinguished artists of Western New York, it became evident that tribute should be paid to composer Morton Feldman." In addition to the Musical Feast concert, the weekend includes film/video, spoken word, visual arts, and lecture presentations. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Edmund Campion

Beginning an alphabetical series of posts on June in Buffalo 2011's Senior Faculty composers, Edmund Campion leads the way. As a composer specializing in electroacoustic music, his pedigree is impeccable: he received his doctorate at Columbia and studied at the Paris Conservatory with the late master Gérard Grisey. Major commissions for IRCAM and Radio France followed, among them Natural Selection for interactive electronics and a full-scale ballet titled PlaybackME (2003- present) a work for baritone and interactive software, "explores the rise and development of consciousness in its egotistical, patriarchal sense." ME, a highly theatrical piece with a generous dose of black humor, is based on texts by the poet John Campion. It calls for an "in-ear prompter" that feeds the singer computer-generated material, which he has to imitate in various ways, and a child's hula hoop, which is used as a prop in various ways throughout the piece. The fascinating details can be found here, at Campion's website.

Campion's distinctive sensibility also comes through in Outside Music, described by Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer as "a rambunctious piece for synthesizer and live instruments." Reviewing a performance at the Tanglewood Music Festival in 2006, Dyer wrote, "The synthesizer is constantly invading the personal space of the instruments by duplicating their timbres. The piece ends, like Haydn's 'Farewell Symphony,' when the players walk off the stage one by one, leaving the synthesizer unattended, playing on all by itself."

In addition to composing and teaching, Campion is the co-director of CNMAT, the Center for New Media and Audio Technologies at UC Berkeley. Visit CNMAT's website for an abundance of vital information on computer music and new music in general, including free downloadable software tools, publications, and audio/video for streaming.