Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Henrik Hellstenius: Voyages and Rifts

June in Buffalo is delighted to welcome Henrik Hellstenius as a faculty composer in 2017. Hellstenius will be featured at June in Buffalo alongside composer Eivind Buene, the Cikada Trio, and the Bifrost Ensembles as part of a broader musical exchange between Buffalo and Oslo during 2017, to be profiled in a future blog post. Currently professor of composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, Hellstenius has written music that has appeared on 22 commercially available recordings, spanning chamber music, orchestra, opera, electroacoustic music, and music for theatre. This year’s June in Buffalo will feature performances of Hellstenius’s chamber and solo music. During the festival, Hellstenius will also give a lecture and will give feedback to participant-composers in masterclasses.

Rift, a string trio from 2014, will be performed by the MIVOS Quartet; Trio Aristos’s recording of the work is available on Tidal, Spotify, and iTunes. Perhaps most immediately striking about the piece’s musical language is its approach to accumulating and dissipating gestural energy. While the piece follows a familiar global shape of accumulation to a high point (4:50 in the Trio Aristos recording) followed by dissipation, this shape unfolds in unpredictable and remarkable ways on a local level. In accumulating momentum over the piece’s first five minutes, the piece charts a patient, often discontinuous trajectory. Much of the first half of the piece attempts to gather rhythmic energy on descending scalar figures, as if trying to roll down a hill; these efforts rarely sustain themselves, and often end up far afield of their goal. At times, one’s location within the global energy shape is clear, but at other times, it is not apparent at all, making for an exciting play of expectation and realization as the piece unfolds. The piece’s nuanced dramatic shape is undoubtedly assisted by the piece’s subtle pitch language. Pitches are derived from spectral chords, yielding a colorful range of microtonal intervals. These intervals—sometimes reminiscent of tonal sonorities—together with the piece’s widely varying registral spacing in a striking sound world wholly distinct from the saturated chromaticism of high modernist atonality.

June in Buffalo will also feature a performance by Irvine Arditti (of the Arditti Quartet) of the violin solo The Argonaut (2010). You can hear a performance of the work by Emily Fowler in the recording above. Drawn from the material of a larger instrumental theatre piece Victoria Counting for staged violinist. Hellstenius writes that “the title refers to the seamen following Ulysses on his many voyages,” based on Heiner Müller’s text Landscape with Argonauts.

This year’s festival will also feature a new Hellstenius piece Unfolded, as it were, performed by the Cikada Trio, who commissioned the piece. The composer writes that

This piece shifts between short sections, or moments, with repetition of a sparse material of chords and sound objects, and moves towards a more linear music. It begins in an environment of small cells of noise sound and repeated musical objects. Then it moves towards the linear outstretched music, unfolding gradually a long garland or chain of tight piano chords forming the nave the last part of the piece. The piece develops from fragmented music towards compound music, from objects towards process. 

Despite the attention that his music has received across Europe, Hellstenius’s music has rarely been performed in the US. This year’s June in Buffalo, with performances of multiple recent works by top new music ensembles, provides optimal introduction to his music.

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