Friday, November 3, 2017

David Felder’s Jeu de Tarot

A highlight of Ensemble Linea’s upcoming visit to the Center will be the world premiere of Center artistic director and SUNY Distinguished Professor David Felder’s new violin concerto Jeu de Tarot. Commissioned by Ensemble Linea, the work is dedicated to the group, its conductor, Jean-Phillippe Wurtz, and guest violin soloist, Irvine Arditti, who will collectively premiere it at a concert in Slee Hall on November 8. The concert also includes works by Brian Ferneyhough and Philippe Leroux.
Ensemble Linea at June in Buffalo 2013

The seven movement, 27 minute work for violin soloist and 11-player ensemble takes inspiration from philosopher P.D. Ouspensky’s interpretations of Tarot cards. Felder is interested in the deck of Tarot cards as a “philosophical machine,” as an open-ended collection of allegorical figures pertaining to what Carl Jung calls individuation, “the process by which a person becomes a psychological ‘in-dividual’, that is, a separate, indivisible unity or ‘whole.’” The seven movements are entitled as follows, after particular Tarot cards:
1. The Juggler
2. The Fool
3. The High Priestess
4. The Hermit
5. W(h)orld; The Empress
6. The Hierophant
7. Moonlight

Each card depicts a particular stage and/or problem in the quest for individuation. In Ouspensky’s interpretation, “The Fool” is a sort of snake chasing its own tail: “he knew not where he went, but was absorbed in his chimerical dreams which ran constantly in the same circle.” The Fool carries with him a bag of symbols he has forgotten how to use; the symbols retain their power but he is unable to access it. Felder’s corresponding movement depicts the Fool’s paradoxical trajectory: the music has enormous rhythmic momentum but seemingly no identity or agency. The music seems to be enthralled with a quest to go somewhere, but avoids changing in a significant way: its basic building blocks (elemental figures like attacks, chords, flams, reiterated notes, scales, and arpeggios) never coalesce into characteristic melodic material, or into large-scale goal-oriented processes, but instead captivate listeners with the physicality of their subtly variegated detail. A page from the score of “The Fool” is shown below; a more extended sample of the score is available on Felder’s new website. Jeu de Tarot will ultimately be part of a larger compositional project exploring musical resonances of Tarot.

from Jeu de Tarot, movement 2: The Fool

While Ouspensky’s interpretations of Tarot provided the impetus for the piece, consultations with soloist Irvine Arditti proved pivotal for the composition of its solo part. As a result, in the solo part Felder has explored possibilities unprecedented in his music: complex irrational rhythms, extreme agility in the left hand, microtones, and extended techniques (the latter particularly in the final movement). Arditti’s input was presumably indispensable, as he has specialized in and played an important role in developing performance practices in all these areas. Another result of the collaboration is a cadenza in the fifth movement where the soloist is given options for improvisation, while the other musicians are given unusual latitude to make decisions in real time about their parts. Felder says that “I would especially like to thank Irvine Arditti for working so closely with me. I enormous appreciate him being so generous with his time, and for the active suggestions—informed by deep knowledge of my prior work—he brought to the collaborative process.”

Irvine Arditti at June in Buffalo 2015
Felder is also grateful to the work’s commissioners, Ensemble Linéa and conductor Jean-Phillippe Wurtz, for their continued interest in his work. “I was particularly pleased with their performance of my 2002 piece partial [dist]res[s]toration, so I am delighted to have the opportunity to create a new work expressly for the group’s superlative virtuosities.” At the Center, we greatly look forward to Linéa’s arrival, and especially to this special premiere performance.

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