Tuesday, May 30, 2017

David Felder: Composer, Pedagogue, Artistic Director

As the next installment in our series of profiles of this year’s June in Buffalo composition faculty, we feature David Felder, who is also the festival’s director. Currently a SUNY Distinguished Professor and the Birge-Cary Professor in Music Composition at the University at Buffalo (UB), Felder wears many hats: as professor, practicing composer, and arts administrator. In these roles, he has built UB’s music department into a formidable powerhouse for new music.

As a composer, Felder has recently completed two large-scale works: Netivot for string quartet, electronics, and video, and Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux, for vocal soloists, orchestra, electronics, and video, both of which have been featured at recent June in Buffalo Festivals. This year’s festival features two Felder premieres: Canzona, to be performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic’s brass section, and Violin Concerto, a portion of a longer work in progress to be performed by Irvine Arditti and Ensemble Signal. Three other Felder works will also be presented: Incendio, performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic brass; Another Face, performed by Irvine Arditti; and partial [dist]res[s]toration, performed by Ensemble Dal Niente.

Like Felder’s earlier work Incendio, Canzona is, as the composer describes it, a “trans-literation” of an existing vocal work of his own. Historically, the canzona emerged in precisely this fashion during the late 1500s, and Felder’s interest in the music of this period, particularly in Robert King’s brass arrangements of Giovanni Gabrieli’s canzonas, was a crucial point of departure for the work. Although Felder’s Canzona is a 21st century work written in his strikingly individual musical language, it engages with numerous aspects of the historical canzona: a consciously “choral” approach to ensemble writing, continuity of rhythmic momentum, and quasi-antiphonal textures.

Violin Concerto will be a preview of a few movements from what will eventually be an eight-movement, 25-30 minute work, to be premiered in full by Irvine Arditti and Ensemble Linéa on a concert at UB’s Center for 21st Century Music in November. While Felder’s works of the 1980s and 1990s explored extended single-movement forms (such as Another Face), starting in the early 2000s, he started exploring a unique approach to multi-movement form (such as in partial [dist]res[s]toration). While in 18th- and 19th- century approaches to multi-movement form, movements contrasted with each other, and internally unified through key, tempo, instrumentation, topoi, and more, Felder describes his individual movements as “kaleidoscopic,” as each drawing upon multiple, contrasting threads of material.

Also a tireless arts administrator, he oversees four arts initiatives at UB. Through diligent work over more than three decades, he has built up one of the leading centers for new music in North America, and sustained it in the wake of declining state funding and local foundation funding. Perhaps most notably, he has led June in Buffalo since 1985, taking the reins from former UB Professor Morton Feldman; former June in Buffalo faculty member Harvey Sollberger has chronicled Felder’s tenure as director in detail here. Felder also leads Center for 21st Century Music at the University, an institute that produces guest artist concerts and guest lectures by high-profile national and international new music luminaries. Through the Center, Felder is artistic director of the Slee Sinfonietta, UB’s resident faculty chamber ensemble, whose focus is the performance of 20th century classics and new works. Felder’s activities also extend beyond the music department: together with fellow SUNY Distinguished Professor Bruce Jackson, Felder is founding co-director of the multi-disciplinary Creative Arts Initiative, a platform for master artists to conduct residencies at UB.

This year’s festival is notable for its partnerships with two European institutions, the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, Norway, and the Voix Nouvelles Course for Young Composers at the Abbaye de Royaumont near Paris, France. Two composition professors from the Norwegian Academy will be featured faculty at the festival, while an ensemble of Academy graduate performance students will perform works by graduate composition students from both the Academy and UB; this publication detailed these activities in a past post. In partnership with Voix Nouvelles, June in Buffalo and its partner course will exchange participant-composers each year.

Beyond partnerships, this year’s festival presents an unusually stylistically diverse rostrum of faculty composers, together with some exceptional concert programming. In non-coastal America, it is uncommon to hear top-notch European new music chamber ensembles like Cikada; it is perhaps even more unexpected to hear live performances of music like Brian Ferneyhough’s challenging chamber music (particularly a lengthy, ultra-virtuosic work for larger forces like Terrain). Similarly, it is rare in the US to hear a full program of new orchestral works, as the festival offers on its final concert. A full concert schedule is available here—we look forward to seeing you there!

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