Monday, April 16, 2018

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Returns to June in Buffalo

Next in our profiles of resident ensembles at this year’s June in Buffalo we profile the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, who continues its annual appearance at the festival with a concert on June 10. The ongoing partnership between the Center for 21st Century Music and the Orchestra is one of a number of collaborations with local organizations—others include A Musical Feast, The Burchfield Penney Art Center, and Pausa Art House—which strengthen the local arts ecosystem. Partnerships like these encourage closer interaction between arts organizations, maximize the impact of involved organizations’ resources, and boost visibility and attendance. The Center’s partnerships are not exclusively local, however; in fact, a recent post of this publication discussed the Center’s extensive international partnerships.

This year, the orchestra presents three works by senior composers featured at the festival. It is a rare occurrence for an orchestra to perform a program consisting solely of works by living composers; in doing so, the Center and Orchestra have made a significant contribution to Western New York’s cultural scene. The concert features two works by senior composer John Harbison: Darkbloom: Overture for an Imagined Opera, and Remembering Gatsby (Foxtrot for Orchestra). Darkbloom was created from the remnants of an abandoned opera project. The composer writes that “I am as reluctant as any artist to part with good material…I am very fortunate to be able to collect up strands of the music in this overture.” The title derives from the name Vivian Darkbloom, “a secondary character in a famous and infamous American novel.” Harbison explains that “I borrowed Darkbloom as a title because it effectively conjures up the mood of this overture. It serves as an emblem or anagram for the complex tragicomic spirit of the story and its author.”

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at JiB 2015
Remembering Gatsby was composed for the Atlanta Symphony, one of a large number of works commissioned by major musical institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The work references the foxtrot, a dance that reached its height of popularity during the 1930s. Like Darkbloom, this work also derives from an abandoned opera project, in this case based on (onetime Buffalo resident) F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. The composer explains how the work portrays the novel’s scenes:

The piece…begins with a cantabile passage for full orchestra, a representation of Gatsby's vision of the green light on Daisy's dock. Then the foxtrot begins, first with a kind of call to order, then a [1920s] tune I had written for one of the party scenes, played by a concertino led by a soprano saxophone. The tune is then varied and broken into its components, leading to an altered reprise of the call to order, and an intensification of the original cantabile…A brief coda combines some of the motives, and refers fleetingly to the telephone bell and the automobile horns, instruments of Gatsby's fate.

Harbison explains how the piece emerged from unlikely circumstances of his biography: “My father, eventually a Reformation historian, was a young show-tune composer in the twenties, and this piece may also have been a chance to see him in his tuxedo again.”

The concert also features two movements from Center artistic director David Felder’s Six Poems from Neruda’s “Alturas…”, based on the poetry of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It is fitting that the Buffalo Philharmonic will perform this piece, given that New York State Council on the Arts commissioned it for the Orchestra, who premiered it in 1992.

The work, a sample of whose score is available online, has the additional distinction of being the only American orchestral composition selected by the international jury of the International Society of Contemporary Music (ISCM) in 1994, leading to its performance in Sweden. The quality of the piece lead Mode Records to release it on disc; the liner notes explore the nature of this music’s unique poetry:

Like Neruda's cycle of twelve poems on which it is based, the music weaves together images and themes such as reverence for nature, cyclical aspects of regeneration, irresistible death and its accompanying transience of the individual against a background of the collective vastness of time. This is accompanied by a strong sense of individual isolation and alienation and a powerful feeling of loss and longing for a discovery of a greater identity.

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