Friday, March 23, 2018

Celebrating Charles Wuorinen at 80

The Center for 21st Century Music is delighted to present an 80th birthday concert for Charles Wuorinen on April 24. Under the auspices of the Center’s Slee Sinfonietta series, guest ensemble Signal will perform a rare full concert of Wuorinen’s work. For event details and ticket information, visit Slee Hall’s website.

Wuorinen is among the most recognized living composers worldwide. He has received many of the highest honors available to an American composer—a Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and American Academy of Arts and Sciences—while his works have been performed by many of the most respected American orchestras, with commissions for new works from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, and more. As an opera composer, Wuorinen has collaborated with noted literary figures Salman Rushdie and Anne Proulx, in works commissioned by the New York City Opera and Teatro Real Madrid, respectively.

Also active as a performer (conductor and piano), in 1962 he joined Harvey Sollberger, past June in Buffalo faculty member, to create and lead the noted Group for Contemporary Music in NYC. The group has been credited for raising standards across the board in contemporary music performance, and functioned as an important model for later contemporary music ensembles. In fact, UB’s own Creative Associates in the 1960s and 70s were funded by the Rockefeller Foundation’s project to create Group for Contemporary Music “spin off” ensembles; more recently, the Center’s flagship Slee Sinfonietta (founded in 1997 by the Center’s Artistic Director David Felder) continues to refine models of new music ensemble performance pioneered by these earlier ensembles.

Throughout his long career, Wuorinen has been a frequent guest at UB. He has served as faculty composer at numerous June in Buffalo festivals, from the early days of the Festival in the 1970s all the way through to recent years. In turn, the festival has functioned as an important outlet for Wuorinen’s work over the years, including large-scale works such as the complete Fenton Songs (performed by Ensemble Surplus in 2006), the orchestral Microsymphony (performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic in 2007), and the cantata It Happens Like This (performed by the Slee Sinfonietta in 2013). Building on this long-standing relationship, the State University of New York awarded Wuorinen an honorary doctorate from the State University of New York during the 2013 June in Buffalo Festival, where a ceremony was followed by a portrait concert.

Charles Wuorinen speaks at the ceremony at which he was awarded a SUNY honorary doctorate, with composer David Felder, University President Satish K. Tripathi, and SUNY Trustee Eunice Lewin on stage. Photo by Irene Haupt.
The Center’s upcoming 80th birthday concert features performances by Ensemble Signal of three Wuorinen works for instrumental soloist and large ensemble: Megalith (with piano soloist), Spin 5 (with violin soloist), and Iridule (with oboe soloist). Megalith will feature UB Associate Professor Eric Huebner as piano soloist, while the other works will feature highly regarded guest soloists: Olivia De Prato (violin)—known to Buffalo audiences for past appearances with Signal and the MIVOS Quartet, and Jacqueline Leclair (oboe)—known to Buffalo audiences for past appearances with Signal and the Slee Sinfonietta. Iridule was in fact written specifically for Leclair, and the composer has made audio of her performance available on his website here.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Ensemble Court Circuit: Building International Relationships

Since its foundation in 2006, the Center has functioned as a key pillar of support for European new music ensembles touring in the US through its visiting artist series and annual June in Buffalo Festival. During its twelve years of existence, the Center has created an extensive network of partnerships, with Arts Council Norway, Central Arts Council (Finland), Embassy of France in the United States, FACE (French-American Contemporary Music), Swedish Arts Council, the University of Pittsburgh, and others. This has resulted in a formidable lineup of visiting artists, with many of the most in-demand European new music ensembles conducting residencies at the Center: ensembles Surplus (2010), Linea (2011, 2013, 2016, 2017), Court-Circuit (2011, 2013, 2014, 2018), Interface (2012), Norrbotten NEO (2012, 2014), Son (2013), Uusinta (2016), Cikada (2017), and the Arditti String Quartet (2007, 2010, 2014, 2016, 2017).

Ensemble Court Circuit at June in Buffalo 2014
 In the near future, this programming will continue in the form of Ensemble Court-Circuit’s residency at the Center in April. The Ensemble will conduct a workshop with the Center’s graduate composers on April 16 (to be discussed in a future blog post) and give a concert of works by established French and American composers. The ensemble’s activities in Buffalo are part of a larger US tour including visits to NYC (Roulette), Massachusetts (Le Laboratoire, Cambridge & Clark University), and Pittsburgh (Music on the Edge/University of Pittsburgh/Andy Warhol Museum); the touring program includes Center artistic director David Felder’s partial [dist]res[s]toration, as well as works by Sean Shepherd, Christophe Bertrand, Philippe Hurel, Philippe Leroux, John Aylward (world premiere), Helmut Lachenmann, and Ludwig von Beethoven. The tour is supported by l’Institut Français, part of the Office of Exports and Cultural Services of the Embassy of France in the United States, and the East Coast Contemporary Ensemble, who will play alongside Court-Circuit at the concerts in NYC and Massachusetts.

Court-Circuit writes that their tour is “both the opportunity to integrate American and French composers in the same concerts and to work with young university student composers.” Face to face encounters between artists are uniquely generative for artists’ growth, and the opportunity for young American composers to work with an ensemble of this caliber is as rare as it is invaluable. New music specialist performers may be able to provide special insight into innovative compositional projects—encouraging promising new directions, while pointing out possible practical problems. The ensemble recognizes the importance of this endeavor, based on past experience: “All know how well French composers are welcomed in the United-States and the relationships built between musicians from both countries are a real artistic and personal asset that Court-circuit wishes to protect and reinforce.”

Ensemble Court-Circuit at June in Buffalo 2014
Ensemble Court-Circuit’s concert at the Center for 21st Century Music is on April 17 at 7:30 in Slee Hall. For details about tickets, visit Slee Hall’s website.


Sean Shepherd, The Birds are Nervous, the Birds have Scattered, for clarinet, violin, piano

Christophe Bertrand, Sanh, for clarinet, cello, and piano

David Felder, Partial [dis]res[s]toration, for ensemble

Philippe Leroux, Continuo(ns), for ensemble


Flute: Jérémie Fèvre
Clarinet: Pierre Dutrieu
Violin: Alexandra Greffin-Klein
Cello: Frédéric Baldassare
Piano: Jean-Marie Cottet
Conductor: Jean Deroyer

Friday, March 2, 2018

MIVOS Quartet: A Decade of Reimagining the String Quartet

In advance of the upcoming June in Buffalo Festival, Edge of the Center will introduce resident ensembles featured at this year’s festival. Planning for the festival is in full swing—most recently, applications from potential participant composers have been
arriving from all over North American, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

We kick off our series of profiles by introducing the MIVOS Quartet as a resident ensemble at this year’s June in Buffalo Festival. The ensemble will be known to Buffalo audiences from appearances at the Center last year and in 2014. At this year’s festival, the quartet will perform masterworks of modern string quartet repertoire by senior composers as well as hot-off-the-press new works by participant composers.

The quartet has an ambitious programming history at the Center. At last year’s June in Buffalo, the quartet gave a riveting account of Brian Ferneyhough’s superlatively difficult and rarely performed Second String Quartet, while introducing American audiences to the music of Norwegian composers Henrik Hellstenius and introducing Buffalo audiences to the music of Jeffrey Mumford. On top of this, the quartet also gave top-notch performances of works by the festival’s participant-composers. Their invitation to last year’s June in Buffalo was in part a result of the stellar performances the quartet gave on the Center’s guest artist series in 2014. Following a workshop with Center graduate composers, the quartet played a concert including Center artistic director David Felder’s first string quartet Third Face, as well as the relentless, challenging String Quartet no. 3 (“Grido”) by Helmut Lachenmann, and recent works composed specifically for MIVOS by Martin Stauning and Taylor Brook. This publication wrote about that concert here.

In 2018 MIVOS celebrates ten years of existence, a surprisingly short time span given the group’s development of boldly individual approaches to programming, as well as their appearances at the world’s most prestigious new music festivals, such as the New York Phil Biennial, Wien Modern (Austria), the Darmstadt Internationalen Ferienkurse für Neue Musik (Germany), Asphalt Festival (Düsseldorf, Germany), HellHOT! New Music Festival (Hong Kong), Shanghai New Music Week (Shanghai, China), Edgefest (Ann Arbor, MI), Música de Agora na Bahia (Brazil), Aldeburgh Music (UK), and Lo Spririto della musica di Venezia (La Fenice Theater, Italy).

MIVOS’s programming is remarkable within the new music world in a number of respects, particularly in their advocacy for emerging composers and their expansion of the string quartet’s possibilities in duration, technology, and new approaches to composer-performer relationships. The quartet emphasizes the work of emerging composers through a number of avenues: annual open-call competitions (MIVOS/Kanter and I Creation MIVOS) resulting in performances of winning works, collaboration with emerging composers through residencies at festivals like June in Buffalo and university music departments, and commissions for new works.

Perhaps in part because the string quartet as a medium is associated with the conventions of a certain (primarily classical-period) repertoire, MIVOS has sought to expand the medium’s parameters in a number of ways. Challenging normative durational frames for chamber music, the quartet has commissioned multiple concert length works, and the group has also sought to widen the medium’s technological parameters. Work with electronics, often of an interactive nature, has become a mainstay of the group’s practice.

MIVOS also reconfigures normative composer-performer relationships. Augmenting their roles as performers, the quartet has performed works involving notational indeterminacy and improvisation, and quartet members have written works for the group (recently, works by violist Victor Lowrie and cellist Mariel Roberts were featured on a Miller Theatre Pop-Up Concert). The ensemble has also sought to expand notions of who is a composer, for instance, through commissioning hybrid composed/improvised works by improvising musicians and collaboration with spoken word artists like Saul Williams.

At the Center, we greatly look forward to MIVOS’s upcoming visit; we believe that their stellar track record with both established repertoire and new works suggests exciting prospects for their collaborations with composers at June’s festival. Be sure to check out footage of the group in action: MIVOS has released five albums—including two albums devoted to notated works—and has appeared on numerous other recordings as well. The internet thankfully offers ample documentation of their performances: the group’s Soundcloud page embedded above is a great place to start; be sure to also check out the plentiful videos available on Youtube and Vimeo.