Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Awards, Commissions, Performances: Recent Composer Activities

The fall is a busy time for UB graduate composers, and several have had very eventful semesters.  The past few months have seen many of them composing new works, receiving commissions, and having works performed by top-tier performers around the world.  Here is just a quick sample of what some of the group are up to:

Weijun Chen
Weijun Chen was awarded the prestigious Jacob Druckman Prize by the Aspen Music Festival and School.  The award, offered "in memory of the great American composer who taught at Aspen from 1976 to 1995," is conferred on one student composer each season.  The prize consists of a commission for a new orchestral piece for the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra, which will be premiered this summer.  In addition, Weijun has been commissioned by MATA to compose a new work which will be premiered at the 2016 MATA Festival. Finally, Weijun's string-quartet, Canoe, saw three performances in the past months by the Mivos Quartet, and received an honorable mention at the American Prize for Composition.  Congratulations Weijun!

Moshe Shulman
Also, recent UB graduate Moshe Shulman has won the 2015 Fromm Foundation Commission Competition.  Moshe is hard at work on the piece—a chamber work for singer and small ensemble with an original Hebrew text about Jewish prophetesses.  We look forward to hearing about this project as it develops, and we can't wait for the premiere!

Jessie Downs' music was featured on a concert in Chicago late last month, alongside works by Doug Farrand and Ryan Packard.  Streetlights, a string trio originally composed for young musicians was performed, in addition to I did not see it to the end for piano, percussion, and electronics (see below for a recording).  The latter work is a companion piece to work-in-progress, which Jessie is composing for Packard, Farrand, and UB pianist Jade Conlee), we'll look forward to hearing that piece soon.  Also, Jessie's vocal sextet, castings of light, which was performed by Voxnova Italia at their December residency at the Center, will see a performance in downtown Buffalo later this Spring.

Matt Sargent has been keeping very busy, with several commissions in the works, including a trumpet concerto for Jeff Silberschlag and the Chesapeake Orchestra, a piece for tuned gongs and real-time electronics commissioned by percussionist Julie Licata at SUNY Oneonta, and Pillars of Decay, a "multimedia collaborative performance for custom-designed metal/industrial instruments and real-time electronics," designed by Matt, vocalist Amanda Schoofs, percussionist Trevor Saint, and UB-alum Jeff Herriott.  The work will be toured across the Rust Belt next year.  In addition, Matt's Ghost Music, was recorded for a forthcoming album of solo percussion works by Bill Solomon of Signal.  Matt also recently completed two series of works:  More Snow to Fall, seven pieces for glockenspiel and vibraphone for Saint, who will premiere the works on his March 2016 tour, and Tide, three new works for 10 violins, 10 cellos, and 10 basses (i.e., multi-tracked soloist).  The latter saw two recent performances by UB-alum TJ Borden in California (see below for a recording).  Finally, Matt has been presenting a series of concerts with the Electroacoustic Ensemble at Bard College (where he serves as Visiting Professor of Electronic Music and Sound), including two performances with composer Michael Pisaro, who was in residence with the ensemble in November 2015.

Last month, Roberto Azaretto was in Madeira, Portugal, where he took part in the Estalagem da Ponta do Sol Residency for Contemporary Music and Electronics.  While there, he worked with composers Patricia Alessandrini and Gilbert Nouno,  and had an in-progress work performed by violinist Karin Hellkvist and flutist Richard Craig.

Ethan Hayden
Ethan Hayden's piece for stereo electronics, bats with baby faces in the violet light, saw two performances in the Fall:  at Ljudbio II in Uppsala, Sweden, and also at an electroacoustic music concert at Buff State.  In addition, Ethan's presented "…ce dangereux supplément…", his piece for solo voice, electronics, and animated projections, at the 2015 International Computer Music Conference in Denton, TX.  He'll perform the same work this spring at Narrations contemporaines, a poetics conference in Montreal hosted by bleuOrange, revue de littérature hypermédiatique.  Ethan's large ensemble piece, Let's celebrate our corpse-strewn future! will be premiered by Buffalo's Wooden Cities next month, at a concert which will also feature works by current/former UB composers Zane Merritt and John Bacon.  In addition, his four-voice arrangement of Kurt Schwitters' Ribble Bobble Pimlico was heard last weekend at Hallwalls' Dada centenary event, performed by BuffFluxus.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, there is lots of other music being made here at UB, and we can't wait to hear what's next for these artists in the coming months!

Monday, February 8, 2016

SIGNAL Ensemble featured in CAI Pilot Project

This week, UB's new Creative Arts Initiative launches the first of several pilot projects:  the residency of Ensemble SIGNAL, which will feature a masterclass, an open rehearsal, and a discussion on artistic entrepreneurship, all leading up to Performance in the Dark, a concert in the CFA Black Box Theater featuring works by Steve Reich and Georg Friedrich Haas.

The university-wide Creative Arts Initiative is "dedicated to the creation and production of new work upholding the highest artistic standards of excellence and fostering a complementary atmosphere of creative investigation and engagement among students, faculty, visiting artists, and the community."  Through a number of programs aimed at exposing UB students to the richness of the Buffalo arts community—including artist residencies and innovative interdisciplinary course offerings—the CAI will contribute to UB's Strategic Plan by "creating opportunities for creative interaction between visiting artists, students and faculty, and the Buffalo arts community."  "We feel a tremendous amount of energy in being able to create opportunities for people to interact with really high-level, excellent artists," says co-Director, David Felder, in the CAI's introductory video (see below), "We're talking about individuals and groups, companies as well as solo [artists]."

One of the ways the CAI will engage students is through direct interaction with visiting artists.  Ensemble Signal's residency is the first of many such engagements.  The residency will feature a number of exciting events, beginning on February 10th with "Rehearsing in the Real World," an open rehearsal at which students will be able to witness how the ensemble works together to prepare Georg Friedrich Haas's famous String Quartet no. 3.  Later that evening, Signal's leadership will host "The Entrepreneurial Artist," an open discussion and Q&A covering the ensemble's history, with the aim of empowering UB students in the creation of their own community projects.  The following day will feature a public performance workshop and masterclass, at which Signal co-artistic director and others from the ensemble will coach UB music students, some of whose compositions will be performed later this semester.  

Ensemble Signal
The residency will culminate in Performance in the Dark:  Music by Steve Reich and Georg Friedrich Haas, a free concert in the CFA Black Box Theater featuring two groundbreaking works of contemporary music.  The concert will open with Part I of Reich's Drumming, performed by Doug Perkins of Signal alongside Tom Kolor and students in his percussion studio.  The 1971 work was composed after Reich's trip to West Africa, where he studied with Ghanaian master drummers.  One of the first large-scale masterpieces in American minimalism, the piece quickly became a staple of contemporary percussion repertoire, especially its opening section:  a quartet for tuned bongos which employs Reich's characteristic phasing techniques.  The concert also features Haas's more recent String Quartet no.3 „In iij. Noct.“ (2001), a piece which is "performed in complete darkness, with the musicians playing from memory in different parts of the room."  The New Yorker's Alex Ross has described the piece as one in which the performers 
seem to map the space with tones, like bats using echolocation to navigate a lightless cave.  […]  Often, the music borders on noise:  the strings emit creaks and groans, clickety swarms of pizzicato, shrill high notes, moaning glissandos.  At other times, it attains an otherworldly beauty, as the players spin out glowing overtone harmonies.
This week marks just the first of two non-consecutive weeks of Signal's residency:  the ensemble will return the week of April 30 for a second week which will include a series of "secret" pop-up concerts around UB North Campus, a collaborative performance of Terry Riley’s In C with UB students, and a large-scale concert celebrating the music of Steve Reich.  (For more about Ensemble Signal, see our JiB 2015 profile post from last year.)

The CAI is currently accepting proposals for residencies from creative artists from all fields (music, film, plastic arts, visual arts, drama, writing, and architecture).  This first open call aims to attract artists from around the world, with the aim of giving students the opportunity to interact with great artists who are not currently active in Buffalo.  CAI Managing Director, Cynthia Stewart emphasizes that the initiative is seeking artists who will be actively creating at UB.  Rather than bringing in a visiting artist to simply give a talk, the CAI seeks artists who will actually engage in artistic creation as part of their residency, with an emphasis on student involvement.  "The call is really open with regard to how to incorporate student interaction," says Stewart, "but the more student involvement the better."  Stewart stresses the lack of constraints on the scope of the residencies artists can propose.  "It might be a micro-seminar or a master class.  It might be a semester-long encounter.  There are not a lot of strictures."  The first open call has a deadline of March 1st, and the CAI is eagerly anticipating a variety of proposals from artists of diverse disciplines.

Arts One will visit the Albright Knox Gallery this semester
One of the initiative's key new programs is the Arts One course.  Aimed at introducing students to "a wide range of artistic performance and creative activity," the course consists of a unique approach:  every week, students are exposed to a new artistic exhibition.  Through a partnership with a variety of local institutions, including the Albright Knox, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, students will attend a different event each week.  "This course is deliberately designed to put students in direct contact with artists and arts organizations in a very topical way. Each semester will be very different based on what’s happening in Western New York," says Felder.  This semester, the capacity-filled course will hear curator's talks at Hallwalls and the Albright Knox, attend concerts by Ensemble Linea, the BPO, and the Richmond Ballet, and will see performances by the Zodiaque Dance Company, among many others.  "The aim is to demonstrate to students the difference between a live performance and simply seeing something on YouTube," says Stewart, "it also forces them off campus and allows them to connect to the creative riches in Buffalo."

CAI co-director D. Felder
The Creative Arts Initiative was itself initiated through the hard work of co-directors David Felder and Bruce Jackson.  "It was their brainchild," says Stewart, "and they've been beating the drum for it for a long time."  Their vision was for an initiative that would see more investment in the creative arts, specifically.  "It's based on the idea that creating is a different process from studying," Stewart explains.  "Due to their work and persuasion we were able to receive a grant to get the initiative started, and using their relationships in the arts community we were able to assemble an excellent board.  This gives us a good position to help visiting artists make a splash in the community and not just here at UB."

Ensemble Signal Residency

Rehearsing in the Real World
Feb. 10, 3:00-4:00pm, B1 Slee
Open to all students

The Entrepreneurial Artist
Feb. 10, 6:30-8:30 pm, 211 Baird
Open to all students

Performance Workshop/Masterclass with UB Students
Feb. 11, 10:00am-12:00pm, B1 Slee
Open to UB music students

Performance in the Dark: Music by Steve Reich & Georg Friedrich Haas
Feb. 12, 8:00 pm, CFA Black Box Theater
Open to the public