Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bernard Rands Honored with SUNY Honorary Doctorate

On October 24, the Center for 21st Century Music’s resident chamber ensemble, the Slee Sinfonietta, presents a portrait concert of Bernard Rands, as the composer receives an honorary doctorate from the State University of New York (ticket information is available here). The concert features two large-scale works by Rands, together with works by his former teacher, the late Luciano Berio, and by his former student, Center for 21st Century Music Artistic Director and SUNY Distinguished Professor David Felder.

Rands is among the most lauded living composers. He won the Pulitzer Prize (1984), a Grammy award (2000), the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award (1986), and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004. His work has consistently been featured by the most prestigious art music institutions globally. He was composer in residence with the Philadelphia Orchestra for seven years, and his works have been conducted by the likes of Barenboim, Boulez, Davis, Eschenbach, Maazel, Marriner, Mehta, Muti, Ozawa, Rilling, Salonen, Sawallisch, Schwarz, Slatkin, Spano, von Dohnanyi, and Zinman, among many others, and commissioned by Suntory Concert Hall in Tokyo, the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Internationale Bach Akademie, the Eastman Wind Ensemble, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra.

In 2014, Rands’s 80th birthday was marked by the premiere of a piano concerto by Jonathan Biss, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Spano, followed by repeat performances by Biss with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, and with the BBC Scottish Orchestra conducted by Markus Stenz at the BBC Proms. That year, the BBC also devoted its three-day FOCUS festival entirely to Rands’s music, the Tanglewood Festival presented the premiere of Folk Songs (also featured on the Slee Sinfonietta’s upcoming concert), and Bridge Records released a CD "Bernard Rands – Piano Music 1960 – 2010" featuring the playing of Ursula Oppens and Robert Levin.
In 2014, Rands also appeared as faculty composer at June in Buffalo, where numerous large-scale works were presented: his complete piano preludes, two ensemble works, and his orchestral piece …where the murmurs die…. Rands has a decades long history appearing as faculty composer at June in Buffalo, where he has appeared particularly frequently (2006, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015) since the formation of the Center for 21st Century Music.

The Slee Sinfonietta portrait concert will feature two Rands works, “now again” – fragments from Sappho and Folk Songs, both for voices and chamber orchestra. “now again” (2006) sets poetic fragments of ancient Greek poet Sappho for three voices and chamber orchestra. Fanfare magazine writes that the piece presents “a montage of fragments [that] somehow coalesces to create a portrait of Sappho and her ancient world…it's a puzzle that comes together to form more puzzles.” The work has been widely praised in high-profile newspaper reviews, with the Philadelphia Inquirer writing that “as with all great pieces, so much was implied by so little,” while the Chicago Sun Times praising its “welcome marriage of precise technique and sensuous lyricism and scoring.” Also on the program is Rands’s recent Folk Songs (2014), nine re-imaginings of folk songs in their original languages; the composer calls the work “semi-autobiographical” because each song originates in a region where he has spent significant time: Bavaria, England, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, USA, and Wales.

The program also features works by Rands’s former teacher Luciano Berio and former student David Felder, connecting Rands’s lauded works in a broader historical context and connecting them to the Center for 21st Century Music. Berio’s Linea (1973) is a virtuoso work for two pianos and percussion emphasizing constant and often drastic variation of a simple melody. David Felder’s Coleccion Nocturna (1983) for clarinet (doubling on bass clarinet), piano, and tape also takes processes of variation as its point of departure, presenting five variations on what the composer describes as "a wholly self-contained musical object" from his piano solo Rocket Summer. Significantly, the piece was the final piece written during Felder’s doctoral studies with Rands at UCSD.

The concert also commemorates Rands’s role in the revival of June in Buffalo in the late 1980s. Started in 1975 by then Edgard Varèse Distinguished Professor Morton Feldman, the festival had since lapsed into inactivity in the years before the festival’s current director David Felder arrived at UB. Felder restarted June in Buffalo in 1986, expanding it with opportunities for student composers to have works performed at a professional level (a model that his since been adopted by new music festivals worldwide). This format was based on an earlier festival Felder had spearheaded while Visiting Professor at California State University—Long Beach in the early 1980s, a festival which had featured Rands and Felder’s earlier teacher Donald Erb as faculty composers. Rands played an integral role in the transplantation of this model to UB, lending energy, time, and expertise by setting up contacts with funding agencies, sending students to the festival, and talking up the festival throughout the new music world.

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