Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Composer Derek Charke since graduating UB...

We recently caught up with University at Buffalo alumnus and composer Derek Charke, who has had a very exciting career since graduating from the UB composition program in 2005.  Derek currently teaches music composition and theory at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, and is kept busy composing and fulfilling commissions. We sat down with Derek and asked him about his time at UB and to fill us in on his recent projects.

"I remember my time at SUNY Buffalo fondly.  Prior to this I had studied with Louis Andriessen in Holland, at the Royal Academy in London, and at the University of North Texas.  I wanted to find a place that allowed for experimentation and cross fertilization of ideas and aesthetics.  Composer Rodney Sharman, a UB grad himself, encouraged me to apply.  What I encountered at UB was a top notch faculty, an assortment of amazing new music performers, and a thoughtful and diverse bunch of fellow students, each with their own individual voices.  At UB there was an openness, and a free exchange of ideas, that made the environment invigorating.

Derek Charke
"First off, I’ve got to give kudos to David Felder, for his inspiration, and for his guidance.  He has an uncanny ability to get to the heart of the matter, to be flexible in identifying what an individual student is trying to get at aesthetically, formally, etc., and for his ability to impart solid advice on what the next step(s) should be in order to fully realize a particular idea.  I gained many valuable insights from David that will stick with me throughout my career.

"I had the great privilege of studying flute with the late Cheryl Gobbetti-Hoffman.  Cheryl was a nurturing instructor whose pedagogical use of ‘extended’ techniques in her approach to both contemporary and traditional flute literature was inspiring.  I worked closely with the flute studio, performing concerts with the contemporary ensemble (under Jonathan Golove), the Slee Sinfonietta, JiB, Augenmusik (a composer collective), and in the Pantasmagoria flute festival, which was run by Cheryl, and where I had the opportunity to work with visiting artists like Robert Dick, Mathias Ziegler, and Peter Lloyd.  UB allowed me to combine my interests in composition and flute performance.  I ended up with two degrees; a Masters in flute performance, and; a PhD in composition.  No surprise then that my dissertation ended up as a concerto for flute and chamber orchestra!

"Theory and history courses with Michael Long, Charles Smith and Jeffrey Stadelman, and four years as a TA/GA, helped me obtain my current position as an associate professor of music.  And the electronic music courses with Cort Lippe gave me the necessary skills to work with Max/MSP.  Soundscapes and electronics have rapidly become an important facet of my compositional activity––so much so that very few works these days are without some sort of EA component.

"Much has happened since I graduated from SUNY Buffalo six years ago.  I'm currently on my first sabbatical leave from Acadia University.  Recent commissions have come from established ensembles like the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the National Flute Association, and the Katona Twins, as well from many local performers and ensembles in Atlantic Canada.  As a professor I’ve had the opportunity to start my own new music festival, Shattering the Silence, which is now into its sixth year (more information on Shattering the Silence here).  And I continue to perform regularly on the flute.

"A recent commission highlight is my first full-length symphony.  ‘Symphony no. 1 - Transient Energies’ is a 45 minute work that was commissioned in 2010 by Symphony Nova Scotia.  It uses an electronic soundscape consisting of sounds from energy production and usage: wind turbines, diesel power generators, electric hums, sounds of shoveling coal, train whistles, car engines, etc...  Sounds are triggered using Max/MSP from a laptop performer in the orchestra.  'Transient Energies' was premiered to much acclaim this past April, and is currently available on CBC Radio, Concerts on Demand website (click here to listen to 'Symphony no. 1 - Transient Energies'). 

"One of the most fruitful collaborations since leaving UB has been a series of commissions for the Kronos Quartet.  Interestingly enough, this came about as a direct result of my studies at UB.  During a particular composition seminar with David Felder, we were given the task of creating small chamber works to be recorded in the UB recording studio.  I transcribed some Inuit throat song games and reworked them for string quartet––I’ve always had an interest in the arctic.  Using experimental circle and vertical bowing techniques (and assisted by fellow student Carter Williams) I created a set of 11 throat songs.  Subsequently, I sent these to a call for scores with the Kronos Quartet.  David Harrington called me a few months later and, out of the blue, commissioned a new work.  ‘Cercle du Nord III’ for string quartet and a soundtrack of northern sounds was created.  Kronos premiered this work, alongside a selection of the original Inuit throat song games, in 2006.  They went on tour with them, including some illustrious spots along the way, like Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Concert House.  With this success, Kronos commissioned a second work, this time including Inuit throat singing superstar, Tanya Tagaq.  ‘Tundra Songs’ (a 30 minute work) was premiered in May 2008 at the Walt Disney Hall in LA (audio samples available on Derek's website).  

"Now, I’m completing a third commission for the Kronos Quartet, a 22 minute concerto for amplified string quartet and orchestra (commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra), that will be premiered on March 3rd, 2012 at the New Creations Festival at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto (more information available here).  I hope to see some of you there!"

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