Monday, May 1, 2017

Juliet Fraser: Wondering, Reaching, Grasping

This week renowned British soprano Juliet Fraser visits the Center for 21st Century Music for a residency. Fraser, principal soprano and co-founder of the Exaudi Vocal Ensemble, will present a solo concert Thursday featuring an extended vocal work by former UB Professor Morton Feldman. In addition to a concert, she will conduct a new workshop with graduate composition students, focusing on a new work for solo voice by PhD composition student Jessie Downs. Drawing on her experiences performing contemporary vocal ensemble music, Fraser will also coach the local Sotto Voce Vocal Collective on its interpretations of works by James Weeks and Lauren Redhead to be featured on an upcoming concert.

Active in performing a wide range of repertoire, Fraser has performed classical and early music with the Monteverdi Choir, The King's Consort, The Tallis Scholars, and BBC Singers, and was a soloist of the Collegium Vocale Gent, directed by Philippe Herreweghe, for six years. In new music, she is principal soprano and co-founder of the Exaudi Vocal Ensemble, and has also appeared as soloist with Klangforum Wien, ICTUS, Plus-Minus, We Spoke: New Music Company, London Sinfonietta and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and is active in duos with pianist Mark Knoop and percussionist Maxime Echardour. She has appeared at festivals such as as hcmf//, Tectonics Glasgow, Transit 20/21, Donaueschinger Musiktage, MaerzMusik, Wien Modern, Aldeburgh, Spitalfields, hcmf//, ManiFeste, Festival d'Automne, Ars Musica, Wittener Tage and Darmstadt Ferienkurse.

Fraser has developed close collaborative relationships with numerous renowned living composers. The list of composers who have written solo works for her is impressive: Michael Finnissy, Bernhard Lang, Rebecca Saunders, Stefano Gervasoni, Frank Denyer, Christopher Fox, Matthew Shlomowitz, Cassandra Miller and Andrew Hamilton. As a member of Exaudi, she has worked with many of today's great compositional talents, including two graduates from UB’s Center for 21st Century Music.  Aaron Cassidy’s A Painter of Figures in Rooms was commissioned for Exaudi by the high profile PRS for Music New Music 20×12 as part of the 2012 London Cultural Olympiad, and was later recorded by the ensemble on Huddersfield Contemporary Records. Meanwhile, Fraser has premiered multiple vocal ensemble works by Evan Johnson, a collaboration that will continue in 2019 with a new work for voice and piano.

At UB, Fraser will perform Three Voices, a work by another UB-affiliated composer, Morton Feldman, who was Edgar Varèse Professor during the height of the Center for Creative and Performing Arts. Feldman wrote the work for innovative vocalist/composer Joan La Barbara, who premiered it singing simultaneously with two recordings of herself, a practice Fraser will adopt in her performance (although the score is written conventionally for three voices). Written in 1982 in Buffalo, much of the piece is wordless, with the choice of vowels at the performer’s discretion. A ways into the piece, words emerge, in the form of fragments of a poem dedicated to Feldman by his friend Frank O’Hara.

Fraser recently recorded Three Voices on Hat Hut Records. Her first solo disc, the album has already received international acclaim, including a nomination for a German Schallplattenkritik Prize, and a four-star review from The Guardian music critic Andrew Clements. Fraser wrote the liner notes for her CD, discussing how she formulated an interpretation of this work, which is surely among the most difficult contemporary vocal works:

The challenge of recording this piece is to avoid rendering the delicate tapestry either too cold, too clinical, or too gorgeous; to rest in the ambiguous space between beauty and evil, between the living and the dead. On every level, from the text of O’Hara’s poem to the demands of Feldman’s music, this is a work that is about the very human effort of wondering, reaching, grasping.

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