Friday, April 21, 2017

Signal: New Music Dream Team

This week, in our series of profiles of June in Buffalo resident ensembles, we introduce Signal. A “new music dream team” (TimeOutNY) of players highly regarded as soloists in their own right, Signal continues its annual residency at June in Buffalo. The ensemble will present four works by faculty composers: ensemble works by David Dzubay and Eivind Buene, and violin concertos—with guest soloist Irvine Arditti—by Brian Ferneyhough and June in Buffalo director David Felder. The Felder piece will be a preview of a new work for solo violin and ensemble, featuring a few movements from what will eventually be a 25 minute multi-movement work. June in Buffalo audiences will recall the ensemble’s excellent performances in past festivals—for instance of Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee in 2016, David Felder’s Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux in 2015, or Brian Ferneyhough’s Terrain (with Irvine Arditti) in 2013.

Founded in 2008, Signal has been recognized as one of the leading new music ensembles in the US. In the past, they have appeared at festivals and venues such as Lincoln Center Festival, Walt Disney Concert Hall, BIG EARS Festival, Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall, Tanglewood Music Festival of Contemporary Music, Ojai Music Festival, Miller Theatre, (le) Poisson Rouge, Cleveland Museum of Art, the Wordless Music Series, and the Bang on a Can Marathon. The group has released nine albums to international, acclaim including a coveted Diapason d’Or and an appearance on the Billboard Classical Crossover charts. Emphasizing close collaboration with composers, the group has worked with many of today’s most well-known composers, including Steve Reich, Helmut Lachenmann, Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, Oliver Knussen, Hilda Paredes, and Charles Wuorinen.

Notable past projects have included stage works such as Steve Reich’s video opera Three Tales, David Lang, Michael Gordon, and Julia Wolfe’s video opera Shelter, and Lincoln Center Festival’s production of Monkey: Journey to The West, with music by Damon Albarn, directed by Chen Shi-Zheng. The ensemble has maintained a particularly close relationship with Steve Reich, giving a headline performance of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians and Radio Rewrite at the 2014 BIG EARS Festival in Knoxville, TN, and co-commissioning a new work for 19 musicians by Reich to be premiered during 2017. Signal’s current season has included events for Reich’s 80th Birthday at the Guggenheim and Miller Theatre, a concert curated by Reich at Carnegie Hall with works by Terry Riley and John Adams, and a portrait concert of Johannes Maria Staud at the Miller Theatre; the season closes with a revival of Ornette Coleman’s neglected chamber music and film music at the Lincoln Center Festival.

At this year’s June in Buffalo, the ensemble will be led by its long-time conductor Brad Lubman. Lubman. A leading conductor of new music, Lubman has appeared with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony, and major radio orchestras in France, Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands, and with many of the world’s leading new music groups, such as Ensemble Modern, London Sinfonietta, Klangforum Wien, Ensemble MusikFabrik, Asko|Schönberg Ensemble Amsterdam, Ensemble Resonanz, Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, Chicago Symphony MusicNOW, and Steve Reich and Musicians. Currently on faculty at Eastman School of Music and the Bang on a Can Summer Institute, the conductor has premiered works such as Steve Reich’s Three Tales, Daniel Variations, Radio Rewrite, and Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings, and works by Helmut Lachenmann, Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, Philip Glass, Charles Wuorinen, John Zorn, and Hilda Paredes.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

MIVOS Quartet: Expanding the String Quartet

The Center for 21st Century Music is excited to welcome the MIVOS Quartet as a resident ensemble at this year’s June in Buffalo Festival. The ensemble, who previously visited the University at Buffalo for a residency in 2014, will perform works by faculty composers Jeffrey Mumford, Eivind Buene, Henrik Hellstenius, and Brian Ferneyhough.

Founded in 2008, the group has quickly gained recognition as “one of America’s most daring and ferocious new-music ensembles” (The Chicago Reader). The quartet’s festival appearances include the New York Phil Biennial, Wien Modern (Austria), the Darmstadt Internationalen Ferienkurse für Neue Musik (Germany), Asphalt Festival (Düsseldorf, Germany), HellHOT! New Music Festival (Hong Kong), Shanghai New Music Week (Shanghai, China), Edgefest (Ann Arbor, MI), Música de Agora na Bahia (Brazil), Aldeburgh Music (UK), and Lo Spririto della musica di Venezia (La Fenice Theater, Italy). Central to the quartet’s mission is advocacy for new works by living composers; commissioned composers include Sam Pluta (Lucerne Festival Commission), Dan Blake (Jerome Commission), Mark Barden (Wien Modern Festival Commission), Richard Carrick (Fromm Commission), George Lewis (ECLAT Festival Commission) Eric Wubbels (CMA Commission), Kate Soper, Scott Wollschleger, Patrick Higgins (ZS), and poet/musician Saul Williams.

In its commissioning projects, the group has often collaborated with guest artists from fields other than notated concert music, opening up previously unexplored possibilities for the string quartet. For instance, the quartet has collaborated with improvisers such as Ned Rothenberg, Timucin Sahin, and Dan Blake in the creation of new works for improvising instrumentalist with string quartet (MIVOS’s collaborative work with Ned Rothenberg was performed live in Buffalo in 2011, presented by Hallwalls). MIVOS has also collaborated with media artists in multimedia works, such as a 2014 collaboration with Samson Young on an interactive work for “extremely amplified” string quartet, 20-channel spatialized sound, 8 video tracks, and EEG (brainwave) sensors. Significantly, quite a few of the quartet’s projects are concert length works, facilitating a depth, immersion, and ambition that might not emerge within the confines of the customary 7-22 minute duration typical of many new music festival commissions.

Complementing their endeavor to expand the string quartet through improvisation and interactive multimedia, the group has also collaborated with spoken word artist Saul Williams. In this project, composers Ted Hearne, Jace Clayton, and the quartet’s own members created material for string quartet to be played alongside Williams’s live performance of his poems. An article from Minnesota Public Radio gives more detail about the innovative project.
Finally, one cannot help but be struck by the volume of the group’s activities that have unfolded in a mere nine years. In addition the genre-bending collaborations described above, the group has release five full albums—including two albums devoted to notated works—and has appeared on numerous other recordings as well. The internet thankfully offers ample documentation of their performances: the group’s soundcloud page is a great place to start; be sure to also check out the plentiful videos available on youtube and vimeo.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Slee Sinfonietta: New Perspectives on Familiar Classics

The Center for 21st Century Music presents the Slee Sinfonietta, conducted by Robert Treviño, on April 11. On this concert, the Sinfonietta will perform two rarely-heard arrangements of well-known turn-of-the-20th-century masterpieces: Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) and Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth). Both works will be presented in chamber-scale arrangements by Arnold Schoenberg (the latter completed by German musicologist Rainer Reihn).

The arrangements originated in the Society for the Private Performance of Music (Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen), a weekly concert series spearheaded by Schoenberg in Vienna during 1918-1922. In response to the hostile disruptions that often greeted public presentations of their music, Schoenberg—together with friends and students—founded the Society, whose concerts were open only to subscribers. Critics were barred, as was applause and other overt expressions of approval or disapproval; concert programs were not revealed in advance. The Society’s concerts focused on music written after 1890, including works by Schoenberg, his students (Anton Webern, Alban Berg), and predecessors (Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss), as well as works by non-Germanic composers pursuing contrasting aesthetic directions: Ferrucio Busoni, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Alexander Scriabin, and Igor Stravinsky.

The Society’s private, ground-up enterprise necessitated a low-budget operating style, resulting in the need to arrange large ensemble works for a more affordable chamber music format. During the Society’s four years, Schoenberg and members of his circle arranged numerous works for concerts, often for a core group consisting of an abbreviated orchestra of sorts, with single woodwinds, piano, harmonium, and single strings. However, it would be simplistic to understand the Society’s interest in truncated orchestral ensembles solely in terms of financial constraints. Schoenberg had in fact been exploring the possibilities of similar ensembles in his works for a decade prior to the Society’s foundation, for instance, in his 1908 Chamber Symphony no. 1, or the 1912 work Pierrot Lunaire; the chamber medium appealed because of its possibilities for intricate contrapuntal detail, close performer-composer interchange, and clear textures in contrast to the hazy fluidity of the post-Wagnerian orchestra. This new approach to orchestration was also of interest to Schoenberg’s contemporaries like Stravinsky (cf. Pribaoutki, L’Histoire du Soldat), and together these efforts might be understood as a precedent for today’s new music sinfonietta ensemble with one orchestral instrument to a part. Therefore, the Society’s arrangements can be read as fascinating documents of a cross-historical dialogue, of how composers on the threshold of a major shift in thinking about orchestration thought about the work of their predecessors.

Schoenberg arranged Debussy’s 1894 orchestral tone poem Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune for a chamber ensemble of single woodwinds, harmonium, piano, antique cymbals, and single strings. The arrangement retains many materials in woodwinds and strings, while transferring woodwind harmony parts to harmonium, the harp part to piano, and splitting the horn part between the two keyboard instruments. As Debussy scholar Richard Parks notes, the arrangement preserves the underlying structural architecture of Debussy’s orchestration—overlapping entrances and exits to obscure structural boundaries, heightening syntactic ambiguity. Beyond this, however, the arrangement fundamentally alters the original: the newfound clarity of texture emphasizes harmony over color, rendering the original’s steamy impressionist landscapes into the chamber music’s solid portrait perspective. This change poses a striking reinterpretation of the piece, downplaying its link to its predecessor Wagner in favor of its descendant Stravinsky, and in turn inviting listeners to hear it less as a terminal development of Romanticism and more as a proto-Modernism.

Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, a hybrid symphony/song cycle for two voices and orchestra completed 1909, might have seemed relatively contemporary to the Society in relation to Debussy’s 1894 Prélude. Even while the arrangements use similar instrumental forces, the Mahler is far less at odds with the Society’s arranging practices than the Debussy. Specifically, Mahler’s work delights in hauntingly sparse moments of chamber music in the midst of its orchestral textures, particularly in its inner movements, and in the desolate cadenzas of its final movement, in sharp contrast to the blurry impressionist textures of the Prélude. In this sense, Das Lied—roughly contemporary with Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony no. 1—might be understood as a forerunner of the Society’s arranging style. As such, Schoenberg’s arrangement does not so much desiccate the original’s lushness, as with the Debussy, as much as further pare down its threadbare constitution. Even while this approach flattens the force and depth of the occasional orchestral tutti passage, it sheds poignant light on the originality of the work’s sparer moments.

For this performance the Sinfonietta will be conducted by Robert Treviño, and will be joined by vocalists Amanda Pabyan (soprano) and Corby Welch (tenor) for the Mahler. Treviño, who will be familiar to Sinfonietta audiences from past appearances with the group, was recently named music director of the Basque National Orchestra, and was previously associate conductor at the Cincinnati Symphony and New York City Opera. Like Treviño, the singers are also rising talents, rapidly gaining accolades for performances at renowned musical institutions. Pabyan has appeared as featured soloist at the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera, and with the symphonies of Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and Seattle, while Welch’s solo performances include the Staatsoper Hamburg, Aix-en-Provence Festival, Schleswig-Holstein Festival, Schwetzingen Festival, and with the Berlin Radio Orchestra, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Lahti Symphony, RIAS Kammerchor, Stuttgart Radio Orchestra, and WDR Orchestra (Cologne).

The Sinfonietta will also be performing in June at this year's June in Buffalo--stay tuned for details.