Friday, June 17, 2011

"A Positive Signal"

Garaud MacTaggart of the Buffalo News offered another view of Signal's June in Buffalo concert on June 9. Headlined "A Positive Signal," MacTaggart's review praised the playing of this much-lauded group: "The same care and attention to detail that Signal displayed during their workshop for student composers on Tuesday afternoon was evidenced at Thursday night’s performance of scores by more mature composers. Given the level of material they had to work with in the later concert, the results were even more impressive.

"David Felder’s Journal from 1990 was the first composition on the evening’s program and it was clear from the start that if the bones of the score were sturdy, then Signal could flesh out the sound. Under the guidance of the troupe’s conductor, Brad Lubman, the music was revealed as a tautly constructed work but not one so tightly wound that emotion was banished..."

As in Daniel J. Kushner's review, MacTaggart reserved his highest praise for the classic score that ended the concert, Ligeti's Chamber Concerto, which "received a marvelous performance that had echoes of Debussy and Bartok with occasional brief stabs of sound reminiscent of the shower scene from Psycho as a change of pace. OK, that’s a bit of an overstatement but the change in sonic textures from loud to soft, from prickly to flowing had a logic to it that Lubman and Signal were able to convey with the conviction Ligeti deserved to receive. It was probably the highlight performance of the evening."

You can read MacTaggart's entire review here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Fickle Judge

To help wrap up our coverage of June in Buffalo 2011, we're pleased to welcome guest blogger Daniel J. Kushner, reviewing the June 9 concert with Signal and guest violinist Irvine Arditti. Daniel is a music critic whose work has been published by Opera News, The Huffington PostNewMusicBox, and Symphony, among others.  His vivid and insightful writing can be found at and Though his subject matter ranges widely, he most often writes about the burgeoning musical region in which classically-trained musicians and artists from the world of indie rock are finding common ground. Here follows Daniel's review. 

The Fickle Judge
By Daniel J. Kushner

June in Buffalo is a festival for the new music cognoscenti—a welcome destination for some, an alienating locale for others.  But new music sprawls itself out over a vast landscape, and great variety can coexist even with pieces of comparable aesthetic value.  The festival’s June 9 concert, featuring the New York-based chamber ensemble Signal led by conductor Brad Lubman, exemplified this truth.

The program began with David Felder’s 1990 work Journal for chamber orchestra.  Signal communicated with vibrant poignancy the sonorous, cataclysmic evidence of fear made audible, of some unspoken yet inescapable conflict.  Within the composition, melodies are not shaped and sheltered by phrases, but are rather splintered into three and four-note shards, and then dispelled into the ether.  If Felder’s Shamayim—a 2009 collaboration with filmmaker Elliot Caplan performed earlier in the week at the festival—felt cold and clinical, Journal exudes an emotional, reverberating warmth that doesn’t circumvent Felder’s arresting harmonic sensibility, but instead speaks through it.  The work is at times lush and lyrical, even while possessing a thin, fragile texture capable of some impending devolution—hinted at toward the outset—that never comes. 

Featuring a smaller configuration of Signal aided by solo violinist Irvine Arditti, Brice Pauset’s highly gestural and expressionistic Vita Nova (2006) evinced the atonal priorities so readily embraced in many compositional circles of academia.  While certainly intriguing, the piece seemed destined to retreat from my recollection into oblivion.  But why?  Clearly the composition was well constructed, with a keen spatial sense of orchestration and containing proven techniques of modern articulation, including the ingenuous effect of strumming the string instruments with guitar picks.  Its lack of readily discernible melodies is not in and of itself grounds for dismissal.

But if melody does not implant itself in the ear, some other compositional (component(s) may need to take its place—an alluring succession of harmonies, or a novel polyrhythmic device—to bridge the chasm between performance and memory (I took with issue with Hilda Paredes’s Ah Paaxo’ob of 2001, which closed the concert, for similar reason).  One doesn’t even necessarily need to remember a single note of the composition, but rather the response it elicited from within.  Ultimately, the hard reality is that it comes down to the decision of a manifestly fickle, yet unerring judge—emotional resonance.

Fortunately, György Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto (1969-1970) exemplified the atonal aesthetic at its most vibrant and engaging—from the bleary, circular phrases in the woodwinds to the crystalline dizziness of the harpsichord, to the ominous trills in the violins.  Each sonic occurrence seemed to impart some mystical coded meaning.   In the moment, Chamber Concerto struck me as more focused, less visceral yet more palpable, more ethereal yet less distant than the works I had heard earlier in the evening.

Was my response the effect of a placebo?  Does a piece by the venerated Ligeti immediately deserve more respect?  Perhaps vain pride would have me answer, “Yes.”  But, in the interest of being as much of a new-music-hipster as possible, the answer could just as easily be “No.”  In the end, I was drawn in by Ligeti’s use of technical proficiency through such musically volatile means, to achieve such emotionally immediate ends.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Jeffrey Stadelman: "Meaning is sedimented form"

On the eve of the opening of June in Buffalo 2011, we conclude our series of posts on this year's Senior Faculty with composer Jeffrey Stadelman, Associate Chair of UB's Music Department. 

Stadelman's music -- once described by a Los Angeles Times reviewer as "painterly . . . , deftly dispersed in time and glazed with a dry wit" --  has been performed in the U.S and Europe by a number of the leading groups active in contemporary music performance. This list of ensembles -- including the New York New Music Ensemble, Boston Musica Viva, the California Ear Unit, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Het Trio, 175 East Ensemble (New Zealand), Earplay, the New World and Cassatt String Quartets, the League/ISCM and the June in Buffalo and Wellesley Conference Players, among others -- continues to grow as Stadelman's work attracts increasing attention in the U.S. and abroad.

Originally from Wisconsin, Stadelman studied composition as an undergraduate with Stephen Dembski at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and went on to receive the Ph.D. in Music from Harvard University, where his principal teachers were Milton Babbitt, Earl Kim, Donald Martino and Stephen Mosko. Stadelman has since received commissions and invitations for compositions from, among others, the Fromm Foundation and Boston Musica Viva, Nuove Sincronie, Concert Artists Guild, Trio Italiano Contemporaneo, Phantom Arts, Bernhard Wambach, Elizabeth McNutt, Jon Nelson and UW-Madison. Grants and awards include those from Meet the Composer, Harvard University, Friends and Enemies of New Music, and the Darmstadt Summer Courses.

The composer taught at Harvard University during the 1992-93 academic year, and currently serves as Associate Professor of Music at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he teaches composition and twentieth-century music. Stadelman's music is published by APNM and BMG Ariola. Recently completed and ongoing projects include Eight Songs, a collection for bass-baritone and piano; House Taken Over for the flutist Elizabeth McNutt, with and without electronics; a quintet for a University at Buffalo faculty quintet; and a violin concerto, entitled Pity Paid, for Movses Pogossian with the Slee Sinfonietta. The latter work was released as the centerpiece of an eponymously-titled CD in 2008 on the Centaur label. 

A number of recent electroacoustic works have been performed at June in Buffalo 2004, SEAMUS conferences (Ball State and University of Oregon), ICMC 2004 Miami, the University of North Texas/CEMI, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, COMA 2005 (Vaxjo, Sweden), and other venues.

Also active as a writer on musical subjects, Stadelman has authored a number of analytic papers since 1986, and made presentations on Babbitt and Schoenberg at universities and festivals in the U.S. and Europe. 

Stadelman is a cogent thinker whose forthright remarks on composition are laced with wit in this interview by James Gardner of Radio New Zealand. Responding to a question about recent compositional paradigms, Stadelman says, "I tend to prefer the choral model, imagining not reflection and amplification of the lone voice—but instead repetition and massing of plural voices in a social context. That's what's so compelling about the origins of classical polyphony to me. A kind of splitting of the solo song, and then its multiplication..."