Friday, October 23, 2015

Checking in with Evan Johnson & Adrienne Elisha

This week, we continue profiling and former UB composers and alum who are working on a variety of exciting musical projects.

Evan Johnson
Evan Johnson's music has always focused on "extremes of density and of reticence, of difficulty and of sparsity, and on hiding itself.  This aesthetic of microscopic focus on the faint and fragmentary, exploiting complex sonic peripheries and exploring the musical minuscule in great detail has led The Telegraph to praise his ability to "[conjure] a Beckett-like eloquence from stammers and silences."

This can be heard in one of Johnson's most recent works, my pouert and goyng ouer, for baritone voice, bass clarinet, trumpet and trombone.  The work, premiered last year by New York's Loadbang (who the Center is excited to host for a residency next month), bears an aphoristic program note which, at once, emphasizes its nervously introverted quietude while belying its complexity:  
Badly lit, interiorized, atomized, fragmentary, mumbled, private and unclear: focused intently on the minor detail and on marginal, intermittently audible pressures.
Notated in Johnson's characteristic calligraphic notation, the piece hints at a gorgeously intricate sound world just out of the listener's reach, a labyrinthine flicker of nervous shadows on a cave wall.

Johnson graduated from the PhD program in 2006, and his music has been programmed by an impressive number of internationally-acclaimed ensembles since then, including past/future Center-guests the Mivos Quartet, Dal Niente, and Ensemble SurPlus, among many others, and his work has been heard at several festivals including Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik, Klangwerkstatt Berlin, Dark Music Days, June in Buffalo, and the Darmstadt Summer Courses (at which he was the recipient of a 2012 Fellowship Prize).

Some of the composer's most recent works include indolentiae ars, a medium to be kept, for eighteenth-century basset clarinet, which will be premiered by Musikfabrik's Carl Rosman early next year in Cologne, and the evocatively-titled three reversed movements, to bring destroyed objects back to life, which was premiered by pianist Michael Finnissy last summer.  Johnson describes the latter as, "A small set of motions, extremely, painfully private, miniature rituals."

Evan Johnson, emoi
His current composition projects include Wolke über Bäumen for violin with baroque bow and gut strings, which will be premiered by Karin Hellqvist at the 2016 Ultima festival, and a new work for 'cellist Severine Ballon, to be premiered at the conDiT festival (Buenos Aires) and Tectonics Reykjavik in 2016.  Johnson will also be featured in portrait recordings to be released next year on Carrier Records and Another Timbre, and in two upcoming portrait concerts:  one at Spectrum (NYC) in April and another based around his complete unaccompanied vocal works by Accordant Commons in May.  His work will also see release on recital discs by Ryan Muncy (Largo calligrafico / patientiam for baritone saxophone, on Tundra) and Richard Craig (émoi for bass flute, on Metier Records).  The latter work, a meditation on what Jacques Lacan called "the most profound form of being disturbed in the dimension of movement" can be heard below:

Adrienne Elisha
Adrienne Elisha is a composer and violist who graduated from the PhD program in 2007.  As an advocate for new music, she regularly performs her own pieces and other contemporary works for viola, as she did at the International Bartók festival in Szombathely, Hungary.  Elisha regularly performs with the Slee Sinfonietta, and has been a guest violist with SIGNAL Ensemble and, currently, TON (The Orchestra Now).  In 2008, she displayed
Paul Klee,
Once Emerged from
the Grey of Night
both aspects of her musicianship when she performed with Ensemble Paul Klee in the premiere of Tristan Murail's Liber Fulguralis at a concert in Switzerland. The Klee center also displayed her own work, inspired by Klee's painting, Once Emerged from the Grey of Night, at a play station.

Some of Elisha's recent honors include her 2009 Herrenhaus Composer Residency in Edenkoben, Germany (more about that here), a 2011 Outer Cape Cod Artist's Residency, and fellowships from the 2011 Wellesley Composers Conference (Mario Davidovsky, director) and the MacDowell Colony.  Her works often feature a density of gesture and counterpoint, an often ferocious intensity which is even evident in solo compositions.  For example, listen to Inner Voices for solo viola, a work the composer will perform next month in Switzerland:

Rochester City Ballet rehearses InCantation
Following her residency at MacDowell, Elisha was granted a composer fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation for a residency at the Bellagio Center (May 2013).  Her work, InCantation, for solo bass and thirteen dancers, was commissioned by the Rochester City Ballet, and was premiered by James VanDemark and RCB in January of last year.  In addition, her recent string octet, Azure, was premiered in September 2014 by the Chamber Orchestra of Boston.  This eloquently lyrical piece, with harmonic textures at times glisteningly brilliant or lush and sinewy, was also broadcast on WPRB, and can be heard below.  The same ensemble has commissioned a second work from Elisha, which will be premiered next April.

Congrats to Evan and Adrienne for all their accomplishments and upcoming projects!  We're eagerly looking forward to what they come up with next!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Checking in with Aaron Cassidy & Diana Soh

So many amazing composers have made their way through the composition program at UB.  This week we thought we'd check in with two former UB composers, both of whom are continuing to work on exciting projects and writing compelling music.

Aaron Cassidy graduated from the PhD program in 2003, and has been based in England since 2007 where he teaches at the University of Huddersfield.  At Huddersfield, Cassidy is the Research Coordinator for Music and Music Technology, and part of the Directorate of the Centre for Research in New Music (CeReNeM).  In addition, he was recently promoted to Professor of Composition, and you can see his Inaugural Professorial Lecture, "Imagining a Non-Geometrical Rhythm," below.  "[It's] a very British affair," Cassidy says, "I did at least forgo the usual tradition of doing the whole thing in academic robes."

Cassidy's music has been programmed by a number of internationally-recognized contemporary ensembles, including friends-of-the-Center Ensemble SurPlus, Talea Ensemble, JACK quartet, and LoadBang's Jeff Gavett, and has been heard at renowned festivals including Donaueschingen, Gaudeamus, Dark Music Days, and June in Buffalo.  Recent performances include the premier of his The Pleats of Matter by Chilean guitarist Diego Castro in February at the Electric Spring Festival.  The work, for solo electric guitar with three outputs and electronic processing, takes its title from the first chapter of Delueze's The Fold.  "It is a work in which overflowing trajectories of material and process collide, overlap, collapse, and slide, where strata melt and rupture and deform, and where form and shape are only the final byproduct of lines folding into one another."  Commenting on the nature of the instrument itself, Cassidy explains, 
The electric guitar, perhaps more than any other instrument, involves a massive chasm between the physical process of sound production and the actual sounding result.  The instrument includes the ability to separate thoroughly the physical from the aural, with sound distorted and refracted and disembodied through any number of layers of electronic manipulation.  This work aims first to push the lacunae of this separation to their limits, and second to envelop and embrace these gaps as being part of the essential and fundamental character of the instrument.
As can be seen in the video below, Castro is presented several significant performative difficulties, as the player is required to traverse the entire topography of the instrument, while also maneuvering two foot pedals.  "The nature of the work’s approach to the instrument—in which both hands can potentially occupy any location on the strings or fingerboard, either hand might be plucking or depressing or striking the strings, and either hand (and, occasionally, the elbow!) might have responsibilities for moving the tremolo bar—means that there are logistical questions and fingerings to untangle in almost every bar."

Cassidy's current project is a 35-minute double trumpet concerto for Tristram Williams, Peter Evans, and ELISION (five players and multi-channel electronics).  The wreck of former boundaries includes short, extractable solos for electric lap steel guitar & electronics, double bass, clarinet, saxophone & electronics, and trombone & electronics.  Cassidy spent a week in September working in creative development sessions with players from the ensemble, focusing on ideas which draw on the rhythm experiments discussed in the lecture above.  With a premiere scheduled for Fall 2016, it's sure to be an exciting addition to the repertoire!

Diana Soh
Diana Soh graduated in 2013, and has been busy with many projects ever since.  Upon leaving Buffalo, she relocated to Paris, where she spent two years at IRCAM for the Cursus 1 and 2 program, and served as composer-in-residence at the Conservatoire D'ivry sur Seine in partnership with La Muse en Circuit—the latter of which ended with her first portrait concert at the Festival Extension.

Widely recognized for her work, Soh was recently selected to participate in the Helsinki Chamber Choir's Rautavaara Workshop, where she will have the opportunity to work closely with the ensemble during a November workshop, in preparation for a piece which will be premiered next summer.  She was also selected to take part in the upcoming impuls Composition Workshop in Vienna and Graz with Klangforum Wien, and will be writing a piece for the ensemble which will be premiered at the impuls Festival in 2017.  Finally, her work Arboretum:  of myths and trees was a finalist for the 2015 Musical Composition Prize of the Fondation Prince Pierre de Monacco.  The work, a setting of a text by UB's own James R. Currie, is an exploration of the duality of musical gestures between what is seen and what is heard.  Composed for soprano, 2 flutes, harp, piano, and electronics, the piece uses motion sensors, which allow the soprano—through a series of composed gestures—to control and interpret the electronic treatments of the harp and piano.  "This use of such technology is also a way of returning the autonomy of the electronic processing back to the performer," Soh explains.  "The composition of the music and gestures are, naturally, subjected to the psychological states of these mythic characters Daphne and Apollo."  Listen below to a recording by Ensemble Court-Circuit and Elise Chauvin.

Recent performances included the April Forum neuer Musik, where Ensemble Phoenix Basel played a revised version of Soh's Incantare:take2, and the March performance of … // …, an orchestral work commissioned by the National Arts Council of Singapore and played by Orchestre symphonique de Bretagne.  Check out a recording of the former below:

Soh's current projects include an installation with the American video collective, Openended Group (scheduled for Summer 2016 at IRCAM), and two premieres in the spring:  anew work for solo Noh voice to be performed by Ryoko Aoki in Japan (February 20), and a new chamber ensemble work to be premiered by Ensemble Multilatérale in March.  It's sure to be an exciting year for Soh, who also recently became a new mom.  "[We are] very busy because our daughter's favorite activity is tearing up paper lying around the house!"

Congratulations to Soh and Cassidy for all their accomplishments and upcoming projects, we can't wait to hear what they're up to next!