Monday, March 28, 2016

Checking in with Leah Muir & Nora Ponte

Last Fall, Edge of the Center began an intermittent series of alumni profiles.  This week we thought we'd return to this series, checking in with two former UB composers, both of whom are continuing to produce a variety of exciting artistic projects.

Leah Muir
Leah Muir graduated from UB with a PhD in composition and a presidential fellowship in 2008.  Since that time, she has been a Fulbright Research fellow in Vienna, where she studied with Chaya Czernowin at the University of Music and Performing Arts.  In 2011, she was awarded a Meisterchülerin degree from the Berlin University of Arts, after studying there with Elena Mendoza, Daniel Ott, and Iris ter Schiphorst.  Leah is currently a Docent at the same school, where she and Mendoza serve as co-Artistic Directors of Ensemble ilinx and the Studio for New Music, overseeing concerts with repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries, including the Zoom + Focus series for student composers.  Ensemble ilinx is the first new music ensemble for students at the University, and its founding has been a significant accomplishment.  Leah occasionally conducts the ensemble and in a February program led them in a performance of Francesco Filidei's I Funerali Dell'Anarchico Serantini.

Leah's work has been performed by the Bruckner Orchestra Linz, Ensemble SurPlus, Trio Amos, New York New Music Ensemble, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and has been heard at such venues and festivals as the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Münchener Biennale, Wien Modern, the Aspen Music Festival, June in Buffalo, and Ars Electronica.  Her own music theatre productions include Von Sodom und Gomorra nach Berlin, premiered in 2012 at the Münchener Biennale, and the 2013 mini-opera Wie man findet, was man nicht sucht, which was commissioned as part the "Neue Szenen" prize at the Deutsche Oper.

Leah's recent works include The Quanta of Sublimity, for strings, percussion, and improvising mallet instruments, which was premiered last month in Laussane, Switzerland by the Tchiki Duo, with David Friedman on mallets, and Marc Leroy-Calatayud conducting.  She also has three more premieres in store for the spring, including Das Siebte Gebote, a vespers for soprano, bass clarinet, and organ, which was commissioned by the Guardini Stiftung for soprano Irene Kurka.  The work will be premiered in St. Matthäus Kirche in April, with a follow-up performance in June.  Another premiere will be included on a May 13th performance by Berlin PianoPercussion at the Konzerthaus Berlin:  Punch for two pianos, percussion, and 'video ePlayers'.  "While there is no specific definition for ePlayer," Leah explains, "I understand it as a digital performer and utilize samples a musician might be able to execute on his/her instrument.  A video ePlayer adds the visual layer."  Leah's Geigenwerk also features video ePlayer, and will be premiered at an upcoming concert by Sarah Saviet.  It's certainly a very productive and exciting time for Dr. Muir!

Nora Ponte
Nora Ponte graduated from the composition program with a PhD and a Dean's Fellowship in 2007.  Since then, she has had her music performed at a variety of festivals and conferences around the world, including ICMC 2012 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the Sound and Music Computing Conference in Stockholm, the University of Puerto Rico's International Festival of the Humanities, and the Sound Art Festival of San Juan just to name a few.    She was also the guest composer at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro New Music Festival in 2008, where she premiered her song cycle Mirrors, with vocalist Lorena Guillén.  The same year, she received the Buenos Aires City Composition Municipal Award in the symphonic music category, one of the most important awards Argentina offers to composers.

Nora has had a number of recent works commissioned and premiered.  Ser Diferente, for flute, guitar, and viola, was commissioned by Matiegka Trio and premiered in Buenos Aires in 2010.  The piece was recorded by the ensemble, and included on their 2011 CD, Trio Matiegka de Buenos Aires:  Música para flauta, viola y guitarra.  In addition, Alma Mater, for electronics, was commissioned by the 2011 Sound for the Spaces / Spaces for the Sound exhibition at El Arsenal de la Marina, in San Juan.  An excerpt of this piece can be heard below:

Other works which have been premiered recently include Espejismos for solo piano (2010), which Nora performed at the Arts Inter-American Festival at Fracisco Arriví in San Juan, and Vitrales I y II for four-channel electronics, which was premiered at San Juan's Contemporary Arts Museum in 2009.  The latter piece was also included on the Batiscafo 12B compilation CD in 2012.

Nora is grateful for her time at UB, and thanks the University for her fellowship and the opportunities it offered her.  She now serves as Associate Professor of Composition and Director of the Electronic Music Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras.  Nora is currently working on a new electronic piece related to Bach's Sixth Brandenburg Concerto, and a separate solo piano piece.  This summer, she will record two pieces for a CD she is hoping to have released by the year's end:  Aforismi for string quartet (2015) and Preludios for flute and piano (which includes two preludes from 1990, and a third from 2013).  We can't wait to hear the final product!

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

Monday, March 21, 2016

Visiting Composers: Marc Satterwhite & Bernard Rands

Bernard Rands
Over the next two weeks, the Center is excited to host two visiting composers for our Guest Artist Series. Marc Satterwhite and Bernard Rands will present in the Composer Seminar series on Friday March 25, and April 1, respectively.

Marc Satterwhite has taught in Texas, Indiana, and Michigan, and is currently Professor of Composition and Music Theory at the University of Louisville School of Music.  His music has been heard around the world, from Japan and South Korea to England and Latin America, and has been performed and recorded by several notable ensembles, including the Boston Symphony, Utah Symphony, Eighth Blackbird, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Verdehr Trio, the London Composers Ensemble, and Percussion Group Falsa.  

Marc Satterwhite
Satterwhite was a member of the Grawemeyer Award Committee for a number of years, and currently serves as its director.  Named for the famous industrialist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist H. Charles Grawemeyer, the Grawemeyer Awards are five annual prizes given in the fields of music, political science, psychology, education, and religion.  The oldest of the five, the first award for Music Composition was presented in 1985 to Witold Lutosławski for this Third Symphony.  Other winners include György Ligeti, Harrison Birtwistle, Toru Takemitsu, Thomas Ades, and Louis Andriessen.  Recent Guest Artist to the Center Kaija Saariaho won the award in 2003 for her first opera, L'Amour de loin, and this year's award has gone to Hans Abrahamsen, a member of the 2016 June in Buffalo faculty, for his song cycle, let me tell you.  "I have one of the best jobs in the world," says Satterwhite.  "I have great students, terrific colleagues, and I get to direct the most prestigious award for composers in the world.  This puts me into constant contact with great musicians in the wider world, some of whom have become good friends as a result."

Satterwhite began his musical career as a bassist, studying the instrument at Michigan State University and playing full-time in the Orquesta Filarmónica de la Ciudad de México.  After deciding to pursue composition, he enrolled at Indiana University, where he studied with John Eaton and served as a research assistant to George List, one of the pioneers of the field of ethnomusicology.

As a composer, Satterwhite emphasizes adept instrumental writing, his music featuring elaborate gestures and fine textural subtleties which often outline familiar teleological narratives.  "I am most interested in music which has an immediate emotional appeal, but which is also intellectually stimulating enough to bear up to repeated hearings.  I tend to prefer music which is goal-directed, with clear buildups, climaxes, and dénouements."  His output is quite varied, ranging from large-scale works for orchestra or wind ensemble (including a 3-hour opera, Akhmatova, composed in 2000), to more compact chamber pieces and solos, like his Spiky Epiphanies for piano trio, or the dramatic solo 'cello work, Witnesses of Time:

Despite this varied oeuvre, Satterwhite's compositional voice is fairly consistent.   "Although I love a great deal of music which is on the lighter side, my own music is, with some notable exceptions, usually pretty serious.  This has always been true, and is generally true of my tastes in the other arts as well.  I usually prefer Shakespeare's tragedies to his comedies, I like sad songs more than happy ones-and so on."  Satterwhite's solemn, often elegiac approach can be heard clearly in his recent orchestral composition, Icons, which was partly inspired by Roman Catholic reliquaries—containers made to house relics of saints.  "The incongruousness of a few bone fragments housed in such a splendid piece of art struck a deep chord in me.  Despite its beauty, it still had a definite aura of the macabre and bizarre for me.  […]  I have attempted to recreate some of the beauty and mystery of such objects, but I will confess that it's really more about the darker images these creations conjure up for me."

The week after Satterwhite's visit, the Center is excited to once again host world-renowned composer Bernard Rands.  A member of the JiB 2015 faculty, and long-time friend of the Center, Rands will present some of his recent work, part of a vast and continually-expanding repertoire that includes numerous orchestral works, several celebrated vocal pieces, and a successful opera, Vincent, on the life of Vincent van Gogh.  Click here to read our full profile of Rands, written as part of last year's series on 2015 JiB composers.

Be sure to catch both of these skilled and highly-reputed composers during their visits in the coming weeks!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Joshua Fineberg: An organic architecture

The word 'organic' is often (over-)used in music writing to describe music that develops seemingly of its own accord, that avoids blocky, sudden changes in favor of naturally flowing lines that coalesce toward arrival points that seem both unexpected and inevitable.  In truth, the word has often been used specifically to contrast the lyrical textural subtleties of French composers against the (perceived) mechanical intellectual rigor of Germanic music.  But the problem with the term 'organic' is that it relies on the untruth that any music could be 'natural'—as a cultural expression of human beings, music does not evolve of its own accord (at least, not composed music), but is always deliberately constructed and organized.  

Heydar Aliyev Center, designed by Zaha Hadid
No composer's work exemplifies this paradox perhaps as well as Joshua Fineberg.  Much of the neo-spectralist's output is marked by a Debussyan emphasis on texture, a highly decorated, contemplative attention to timbral detail.  However—as Fineberg will be the first to admit—this 'organic' appearance is illusory.  Instead, it is the result of careful psychoacoustic observation, research, and a meticulous compositional construction.  The result is something which is both free-flowing and punctiliously assembled, a kind of 'organic architecture'—not in the Fallingwater sense, but like the more recent work of Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid—works that maintain the superficial impression of diaphanous elegance while clearly the result of careful and considered construction.

Fineberg, one of the foremost experts on the tradition of spectral music, studied with Tristan Murail at IRCAM before returning to the US to pursue a PhD in composition at Columbia.  He was the John L. Loeb Associate Professor for the Humanities at Harvard University from 2000-2007, and since then has been a professor, and director of the Center for New Music, at Boston University.  An accomplished writer on music, Finberg's book Classical Music, Why Bother? was published by Routledge Press in 2006, and he has served as editor for two issues of The Contemporary Music Review on Spectral Music (Vol. 19 pt. 2 and 3) and for a double-issue featuring the collected writings of Tristan Murail in English (Vol. 24 pt. 2 and 3).

We are excited that Fineberg will be joining the composition faculty at June in Buffalo 2016.  As a gifted pedagogue, his expertise will surely prove insightful to the emerging composers with whom he will be working.  The festival will see the performances of three of the composer's works, including an early piece, Paradigms, for six instruments and live electronics, which will be performed by Dal Niente.  The work's title illustrates the composer's frequent reliance on models in his work, whether these be "acoustic, physical, energetic, or simply poetic."

The festival will also feature a performance by Ensemble Uusinta of Objets trouvé, a piece based on an idea that has been frequently explored by visual artists:  that a familiar object may shift into "something else, something startling, or strange, or even beautiful."  [The Center was proud to host Ensemble Court Circuit in 2013, the ensemble for whom the piece was composed, who played it during their residency that year.]  In addition, the Arditti Quartet will be on hand to perform La Quintina, a work for string quartet and electronics Fineberg composed in collaboration with the ensemble in 2012.  The composer describes the inspiration for the piece:
There is a wonderful repertoire of four-part vocal polyphony in Sardinia in which singers attempt to create an illusory fifth voice while singing in harmony through excellent intonation, careful shaping of vowels, and the acoustics of resonant churches.  Our auditory processing system misinterprets the combinations of the vocal quartet’s overtones and suppressed frequency regions as a separate voice, producing this astonishing effect.  This vaguely feminine phantom voice is called la quintina (the fifth part), and is considered to be the Virgin Mary singing along.
In Fineberg's piece, the four members of the quartet combine to produce similar phantom tones acoustically, until the electronics eventually join in to assemble these ghostly fragments into an autonomous fifth part.  While a piece so dependent on resonance and acoustics can likely only be fully appreciated in a live performance, a well-rendered studio realization can be heard below.

Such works will put on display for listeners the aforementioned organic architecture of Fineberg's music, the effortful effortlessness of his colors and textures, and the dynamic interplay between study and realization.

—Ethan Hayden

Monday, March 7, 2016

Uusinta Ensemble: JiB's 'newest' resident ensemble

It's hard to believe, but June in Buffalo is already only three months away!  We've been hard at work planning for the event, and are excited about all the great music that will be made.  This week, we begin our series of profiles on the composers, ensembles, and artists who will be in residency at this year's festival.  We begin with a newcomer to JiB, Helsinki's Uusinta Ensemble.

Uusinta performs at 2014 MATA Festival
Uusinta was founded by composer Osmo Tapio Räihälä in 1998, and during their early years, when most of the members were themselves composers, the ensemble specialized in premiering new works by Finnish and Nordic composers.  More recently, the ensemble's repertoire has expanded to include works by composers from around the world, and they have oriented themselves around a prime mission to "bring the most exciting composers from all countries to its concerts in Helsinki and abroad."  Over the past two decades, the ensemble has found itself at a number of highly-regarded festivals and in venues around the world, including Berlin (Ohrenstrand), Paris (Theatre Dunois), Vienna (Arnold Schönberg Center), Valencia (Mostra Sonora), Oslo (Nordic Music Days), and Tallinn (Estonian Music Days).

In particular, Uusinta's performance at the 2014 MATA Festival earned them high praise, with the New York Times remarking on their versatility and virtuosity, and describing their performance as containing "ample gravity and dignity," while being marked by an "athletic brio" and a "playful ease and anything-goes attitude."  A concert at Helsinki's Musica Nova Festival with Nicholas Hodges and Magnus Lindberg prompted the Financial Times to applaud Uusinta's combination of "waves of energy" and 'fragility,' as well as to remark on the evocative textures of "shivering strings, rustling percussion and slithering woodwinds" in their performance of Toshio Hosokawa's Poe monodrama, The Raven.

Uusinta director, Ville Raasakka
Uusinta's commitment to realizing new works is an integral part of their DNA.  Formed by composers for composers, the group has premiered over 100 new works, and has collaborated with some of the most internationally-recognized composers currently active, including Beat Furrer, Chaya Czernowin, Mark Andre, Michel van der Aa, Hèctor Parra, and fellow Finnish artist (and recent visitor to the Center) Kaija Saariaho. In 2011, Uusinta initiated the contemporary concert series, Klang, which focuses on music composed after 2000.  The most recent Klang performance featured two premieres Uusinta commissions by composers Oscar Bianchi and Max Savikangas.  In 2000, the ensemble started its own publishing house, Uusinta Publishing Company, to publish new works by Finnish composers.  Over the past sixteen years, they have published works by artists such as Ralf Gothóni, Markus Fagerudd, and friend-of-the-Center, Sebastian Fagerlund.  During their tenth season as an ensemble, Uusinta was part of the EU's Re:New project, which promoted European contemporary music in eleven countries.  Uusinta, whose name can translate as both "replay" or "newest", was well-suited for such a project, as they have devoted themselves to producing, and reproducing the most exciting new works by established and emerging composers alike.  Under the artistic direction of composer Ville Raasakka, the ensemble has continued to stay true to this mission.

It is for this reason that we are so excited to welcome Uusinta to the festival this year.  A group so devoted to the realization of new works by young composers will fit right in with the mission of the festival, and we're looking forward to hearing them play and 'replay' the 'newest' music this summer in Buffalo.