Monday, April 23, 2018

John Harbison: Distinguished Composer Returns to UB

The Center for 21st Century Music is delighted to welcome John Harbison as senior composer at the upcoming June in Buffalo festival. Currently Institute Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harbison has achieved a level of visibility and institutional recognition rare for a living composer. He has received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Pulitzer Prize, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, among the highest honors available to an American artist. The composer has also written for the most hallowed institutions in American art music: the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. His recent opera The Great Gatsby has been staged at the Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Aspen Music Festival, and the Semperoper Dresden. Harbison has also held composer-in-residence positions with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the American Academy in Rome. Also active in service to the field behind the scenes, the composer is trustee of the American Academy in Rome, and was President of the Aaron Copland Fund for New Music for fifteen years.

After an acclaimed appearance at June in Buffalo in 2007, Harbison returns this year to collaborate with resident ensembles on performances of his compositions, lecture on his music, and mentor participant composers. Harbison will lecture on his works at 10am on Saturday, June 9 in Baird Hall, and four of his pieces will be featured during the week-long festival.

On Monday, June 4, at 7:30pm in Slee Hall, the Center’s own Slee Sinfonietta will perform Harbison’s Mirabai Songs, settings of the ecstatic religious poetry of the eponymous sixteenth century Indian poet, with UB voice faculty Tiffany DuMouchelle as featured soloist. On the following day at 7:30pm in Baird Hall, the MIVOS Quartet performs the prolific composer’s String Quartet no. 6, originally commissioned by an impressively prestigious consortium of the Lark, Ariel, and Telegraph Quartets, and the Tanglewood Music Center.

This year’s festival also features a rare chance to hear a full concert of orchestral works by living composers, performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The concert includes two pieces by 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.”

Remembering Gatsby 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.