Friday, September 21, 2012

UB graduate composer Nathan Heidelberger at the Aspen Music Festival and Copland House

In our last post, we took a look at our graduate composers at the University at Buffalo, who had an incredibly active summer participating in seminars, conferences, and festivals across all of Europe and the United States. We sat down with one of them, Nathan Heidelberger, a composer entering his third year at the doctoral program here, and asked him to talk about the places he went, the musicians he worked with, and the pieces he had performed.   

Nathan Heidelberger
photo by Megan Metté
“This summer I spent a month as one of six participants in the Master Class Composition Program at the Aspen Music Festival and School. The travel to the Festival was made possible by a generous grant from the Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music. The program was led by Christopher Rousecurrently the composer-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic, and Augusta Read Thomas, a longtime friend of the Center. In addition to working with these two distinguished composers, the Festival afforded me the opportunity to take in a number of concerts performed by world-class musicians, get some focused composing done, and, of course, climb a few mountains. I was also treated to premieres of two of my pieces.

“I wrote in flux / in flecks / influx / inflects, a trio for alto flute, viola, and metallic percussion, specifically for the Aspen Festival. It was premiered by the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, an elite group of student performers under the direction of Sydney Hodkinson. The piece is an exploration of fluctuating sounds. There are rarely any steady pitches – rather, notes are constantly being destabilized through trills, tremoli, detuning, singing while playing, and so on. My goal was to create an iridescent and constantly shifting texture, one befitting the elusive charm of the “alto” instruments I was writing for. A revised version of this piece will be performed in Buffalo by the Norrbotten Neo Ensemble when they visit the Center in December.
“My second performance at Aspen was the long-overdue premiere of an old orchestral piece, …moves through a space… I wrote the piece in 2009 at the end of my undergraduate studies at Oberlin Conservatory, but I was never able to hear it. The piece is mostly very sparse, with the full orchestra only coming together once or twice. A rocking, footstep-like figure is present almost the entire time, passed between different instruments, creating a sense of foreground behind which various other sounds drift in and out. The piece was performed in a reading session by the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen Orchestra, under the baton of Alexandra Arrieche, one of the Festival’s conducting fellows. Robert Spano, the conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Festival, was also there to help guide us through the reading.

“After my time at the Aspen Festival I also had the privilege to join four other composers in the first ever Cultivate workshop  Cultivate Workshop at the Copland House in my hometown of Cortlandt Manor, New York. The program, organized by artistic director Michael Boriskin and composer Derek Bermel, consisted of a week of intensive rehearsals and discussions, culminating in a concert of premieres by the Music from Copland House Copland House ensemble. My piece, a quartet for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano called Halve Time, began as a series of rough sketches read by the Antares Quartet when the Center brought them to Buffalo last April, which were fleshed out while I was in Aspen. The piece consists of five movements; the longest lasts about three minutes, with the other movements repeatedly halving each others’ durations until the shortest one lasts only ten seconds. These durational restraints elicit radically different behaviors from the same basic musical materials from movement to movement. The form is a nod to Zeno, the ancient Greek philosopher who suggested a series of paradoxes in which one can never really travel from point A to point B, since one must first travel half the distance, and then half the remaining distance, and then half the remaining distance again, and so on, ad infinitum. Local ensemble Wooden Cities will be presenting the Buffalo premiere of this piece on December 14th, at Hallwalls.”

Last Spring, Nathan participated in a concert with our friends at the A Musical Feast concert series at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. His song cycle, Descriptions of the Moon, which uses text from a diverse array of writers including Dante Algheri, e.e. cummings, Galileo Galilei, Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, and others, was performed by mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley and UB’s own faculty pianist Eric Huebner. Check out their stellar performance in the video below:

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