Wednesday, October 31, 2018

HANATSU Miroir: creating interdisciplinary connections

 Invited by the Center for 21st Century Music and as part of a tour that will take them to Spain, Canada and the United States, France-based artistic collective HANATSU Miroir will hold a residency at the University of Buffalo, where they will give a concert and workshop pieces written for them by some of the Composition PhD students.

Formed in 2010, HANATSU Miroir is characterized by what they describe as an “intentionally multidisciplinary approach”, which relies on collaborations between artists from different disciplines, such as dance, visual arts and theater, to put together multimedia musical events. Their aim is to make the new music repertoire, which can at times be perceived as esoteric, more accessible by virtue of its interaction with other arts. Additionally, the ensemble does extensive community outreach, aiming to create new audiences by engaging in pedagogical activities, performing concerts specifically designed to introduce children—but also other groups of people—to new music.

(HANATSU Miroir)

However, interest in pedagogy is not restricted to the activity of the ensemble. Some of their members apply this ethos individually as well. Samuel Andreyev—the oboist of the ensemble, and one of the composers whose work HANATSU will perform—has a very active online presence, with a youtube channel including videoscores of his music, but also Q&A sessions about contemporary music and practical aspects of musical composition, interviews with other artists, and analysis of masterpieces of the 20th Century.

Their concert, which is free and open to the public, will take place at 7:30 PM on November 7th at Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall. It will include three works by Samuel AndreyevStrasbourg Quartet, for flute, clarinet, percussion and cello, Five pieces, for flute and percussion, and the oboe solo Locus Solus—and two by Kenji Sakai: Howling/Whirling for flute, clarinet and percussion, and Monopolyphonie/Defiguration, for solo cello.

Sakai was born in Osaka (Japan), and studied at the Kyoto University of Fine Arts and Music, after which he traveled to France to continue his education in composition, piano, electronics and analysis at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris, and then Haute Ecole de Musique de Genève in Switzerland, and at IRCAM. He has been a member of the French Academy in Madrid for 2012-2013 and a fellow of the French Academy in Rome at the Villa Médicis for 2015-2016.
Andreyev is active as is a composer, oboist, poet and teacher. He studied composition with Allain Gaussin in Paris, then at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he obtained a masters degree in composition under Frédéric Durieux, and a prix d’analyse under Claude Ledoux. He also studied electroacoustics at IRCAM from 2011-12. His composition Night Division was awarded the grand prix of the Concours Henri Dutilleux in 2012. In the same year, he was awarded a one-year residency at the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Welcoming new students

The UB Composition doctoral program is delighted to welcome three very talented composers, with unique aesthetic backgrounds and diverse geographical origins. We’ll take this opportunity to get to know them and their work, as we look forward to the music they will create in the coming years.

Although originally from New Jersey, Edgar Girtain comes to Buffalo from Chile, where he has been living with his wife for the last few years. Edgar writes music for orchestra, voice, and chamber ensembles. When the opportunity permits, his art is meditative and often has an explicit philosophical message. His motivation to create comes from a dual desire to lead both himself and his audience to truth and enlightenment. His influences include the minimalism of Steve Reich, modernism's use of color and texture, the philosophical/spiritual discourse of Brahms and the expression of carnal pleasure from contemporary popular music.

Strongly interested in music's potential as a source of social improvement and community building, Girtain has been active as a performer, music teacher and choir conductor. When asked about a musical experience that was important for him, Edgar mentions choral singing: "Singing with the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York completely changed my approach to music. Nikolai Kachanov, the director, is an amazing musician--a man of vision, talent, passion--who opened my eyes to a way of making music that I had never encountered before. The past few years for me have been completely shaped by processing, working through, and fleshing out the many, many fascinating ideas I encountered singing there."

(Edgar Girtain)

With respect to his work as a composer, Girtain is resolved: "Though the style of my music varies from piece to piece, I always strive for originality and a clear affect. I tend to write for the moment; I think more about specific performance contexts, and collaborative relationships, than necessarily "achieving" anything with my music. My more frequently performed works lean conservative (go figure). But whenever I get the chance to write for stellar players who are down to try new things, I definitely search for novel sounds and ways of pushing the notation. In general I prefer writing for genres that lack substantive repertoire. (women's choir, brass groups, violin quartets, anything with organ, etc)."
Below is a recording of his 2013 work Trio, for flute, violin and violoncello:

Born in Manchester, England, in 1992, John Aulich is a composer, performer and recording artist. Before coming to Buffalo to study with David Felder, he has studied extensively with Bryn Harrison and Aaron Cassidy at the University of Huddersfield. His work has been performed across England by artists such as Richard Craig and Tom Bell. In addition, he has participated in workshops with Philip Thomas, Peter Veale and Carl Rosman. John’s most recently finished projects include a miniature for the flautist Kathryn Williams and his second record as one half of the improvising avant-garde sort-of-Jazz band Aulich/Wood trio, released on Silent Howl. As a performer, John was heavily involved in the premiere performances of Tim Parkinson’s experimental opera, Time With People, at City University, London Contemporary Music Festival and Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.

(John Aulich)

"My most recent work has mostly been focused around visceral feelings (of empathy, of disgust, of frustration, etc.)" states John, while mentioning 
the physicality of performance and the ontology of musical materials as other areas of interest. "I try to creatively reimagine instruments: the flute is a snorkel, the timpani is a loom. I think of my music as an interacting network of forces constantly weaving a qualitative fabric of sensation: structural, formal, notational, physiological and psychological elements working in tandem to rupture or bind, make ambiguous or clarify, and propel or freeze the experiences of engaging with it either as a listener or performer. I am interested in the social and material relations brought about by various forms of notation and the sounds it gives rise to. For me, the music inscribed in my scores is incomplete without the input of performers and listeners: I try to invite people to become entwined with its interiority rather than gaze upon its surface."
Flesh brittle as I can think it, for two electric guitars, is a recent composition by John.

Matías Homar comes to Buffalo from Argentina. Originally from Salta, in the north of the country, Matías started studying electric guitar at the age of 14. By the age of 17 he went to the School of Fine Arts at the University of La Plata in Buenos Aires. There he began his formal music studies, which he finished with the degree of Professor of Music and Graduate in Composition.
He has presented works for soloists, small ensembles, and electroacoustic music, with particular attention to the saxophone. As a performer, Homar has been active in new music concerts, but he has also been part of several popular music groups, among which were a tango ensemble, a children's music band and the Imaymana duo, where he filled the roles of composer, arranger, guitarist and double-bassist.
As a scholar, Homar was a member of the Tonal Musical Language research group at the University of La Plata, where he worked on the music of folk composer "Cuchi" Leguizamón. He presented his conclusions at the last IASPM-LA Musicology Congress in Cuba, in the summer of 2016.

(Matías Homar)

In Buffalo, Matías has been able to hit the ground running: "This year has begun with great opportunities for me by writing a piece for HANATSU Miroir Ensemble and by collaborating with Mary Sullivan, who is doing her M.F.A in Dance at UB. I’m also very enthusiastic on expanding my boundaries as composer, musician and human being by getting to know and work with very interesting people. As a student I know that I will be pushed and motivated to go further in my education and knowledge by taking courses and lessons with amazing professors and composers. As a TA I am excited about learning new ways to deepen my pedagogical practice and my theoretical knowledge from the professor in charge of the course. And as a musician/composer I am sure that I will be experiencing new ways in which I will have to study harder and prepare myself more thoroughly to be up to the challenge of writing and performing music."

Matías shared with us his Dans av de Nordlige Stjerner (Dance of the Northern Stars), for saxophone duo. The work was written for Anja Nedremo and Morten Norheim, and it was premiered at the Nordic Saxophone Festival earlier this year. This piece is based on the structure of a traditional folkloric dance from the northern region of Argentina, and it involves a symbolic reinterpretation of its melodic, rhythmic, formal and choreographic features. In its origins, this traditional music was a representation of courtship between lovers; the final moment, with both lovers looking into each others' eyes, symbolizes the encounter of their hearts.

Edgar, John and Matías join second year student Tomek Arnold, a Krakow-born musician who has been working and living in the US for several years. Tomek's areas of musical interest include: composition, percussion performance (solo and collaborative), electronic music and improvisation. In his work he tries to develop a language of understanding that can function across a variety of genres and musical expressions. Five times winner of international solo marimba and percussion competitions between 2006 and 2011, Tomek has performed as a soloist and ensemble member in Poland, USA, Germany, Lithuania, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Croatia, Switzerland, Mexico and China. Before coming to UB, Tomek earned an MA in composition from Wesleyan University, an MM in classical percussion from the Manhattan School of Music, and Bachelor of Music degrees in percussion and composition from the Eastman School of Music.

(Tomek Arnold)

Dance and Noise, the work Tomek shared with us, shows multiple sides of his musical personality: composer, performer, improviser, and programmer.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Brad Lubman and Ensemble Signal pay tribute to Oliver Knussen

 Ensemble Signal will offer a tribute to recently deceased British composer and conductor Oliver Knussen on Monday, October 15th at 7.30 P.M. The concert will take place in Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall, in the University at Buffalo’s North Campus in Amherst. Conducting the ensemble will be, as usual, longtime friend of the Center Brad Lubman, for whom this will undoubtedly be an important evening, given his strong professional and personal connection to Knussen since he worked as his assistant at Tanglewood between 1989 and 1994.

 Signal will perform four works by the British composer, from different moments of his creative trajectory: Hums and Songs of Winnie the Pooh, for voice and ensemble, and Sonya’s Lullaby, for piano solo, are earlier works. The former was written in 1970 and later revised in 1983, whereas the latter is from 1979. The other two works, Secret Psalm, for violin solo, and Songs without Voices, for ensemble, are from the beginning of the ‘90s, a time in his career when more and more of his time was being devoted to conducting. Also included in the concert will be two pieces by composers much admired by Knussen: Triple Duo, by Elliott Carter, and Rain Tree Sketch II, by Toru Takemitsu.

(Ensemble Signal and Brad Lubman)

 As Buffalo audiences have had many chances to witness, Ensemble Signal’s presentations are synonymous with outstanding performances. The last two times they played at Lippes Hall, they offered memorable versions of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians and David Felder’s Jeu de Tarot. In this occasion they will lend their talents to a repertoire they are familiar with, since they have performed Knussen’s music before, including a portrait concert in the presence of the composer himself in 2013, at Miller Theater in New York City.

 Oliver Knussen was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1952, and not only was he an admired composer and conductor, but he reached that status at an early age. He was a musical prodigy, who conducted the London Symphony Orchestra—where his father was the principal double bass— when he was 15 years old to premiere one of his works, a later withdrawn Symphony No. 1. He studied with John Lambert from 1963 to 1969, and later with Gunther Schuller at the Tanglewood Music Center in the US, between 1970 and 1973.

(Oliver Knussen)

 As a composer, he worked slowly and deliberately, focusing on the smallest details and revising his work often until he was certain he was satisfied with it. Timbral and textural inventiveness are immediately noticeable characteristics of his music. Also, not strangely for someone who once described himself as an “unwilling grownup”, he had a penchant for working with children’s books. That is the case not just of his two operasWhere the Wild Things are and Higglety Pigglety Pop, both with libretti by their author, Maurice Sendakbut also of one of the works Signal will perform at the concert: Hums and Songs of Winnie the Pooh, based on the famous character created by A.A. Milne. Scored for soprano and five players, the piece begins with the episode where Pooh, assisted by a balloon, raids the Hunny Tree. Two of Pooh’s songs form the second and third movements. In the piece, the soloist shifts from passages of humming and nonsense texts, to elegiac melodic writing, to passages where the voice leaps about in a very high register. 

Another piece to be performed at the concert, the piano solo Sonya’s Lullaby (1979), had for Knussen a more personal kind of connection to childhood. Its title makes reference to the composer’s daughter, mezzo soprano Sonya Knussen. The post-impressionist work makes prominent use of ostinatiespecially an ascending B-F diminished fifthand repeated notes, intercut with arpeggiated figuration. The other solo Knussen piece in the concert, Secret Psalm, for violin, often described as “meditative”, is a short work of decidedly solemn mood. The composer originally wrote it in 1990 to be played at a memorial concert for Michael Vyner, who had been the artistic director of the London Sinfonietta for many years. The piece was revised in 2003.

(Elliott Carter)

The more recent work in the program, Songs without Voices, is a collection of four short pieces for a chamber ensemble of flute, English horn, clarinet, French horn, piano, violin, viola, and violoncello. According to the composer, three of the pieces are songs with poems set to the syllable, except that the melodies are sung by instruments rather than voices. The remaining piece is a melody written after Knussen heard of the death of Andrzej Panufnik, whom he greatly admired.

To learn more about the importance of Oliver Knussen’s work and his example as a conductor, Edge of the Center recently contacted Brad Lubman -- this is what he had to say: “Olly was one of the most selfless conductors there ever was, completely at the service of the music and the performers. With his very clear and very musical technique, his mindbogglingly awesome ears, and very logical and musical rehearsal technique, Olly gave us revelatory performances by some of the great composers of the past and the recent past. Moreover, he tirelessly championed younger and lesser known composers, giving us striking performances and recordings which shall remain a vibrant legacy to some very important music of our time (including his own excellent and inspiring works of jewel-like, crystalline wonder). This sort of thing is a role model for all conductors. He had this incredible knack for being able to say two or three things to an orchestra or ensemble after only playing a few minutes at the first rehearsal, that would then enable the orchestra to understand exactly what would make things sound immediately better. He would make just a few comments and the orchestra would then grasp the style and then proceed to polish and refine things right away. With clear, precise, and musical rehearsal technique and baton technique, Olly would achieve the greatest results. It was a miracle to watch, especially with the fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra; he would get the most amazing results in no time at all. He would look through any score and be able to sum up what the piece was about, where the trickier parts might be, what would need more rehearsal time, what would come together easily… He just seemed to be able to know everything at just a glance.”

(Toru Takemitsu)

Lubman also reflected back on Knussen’s qualities as a mentor: “He was able to objectively guide a young composer to find ways in which said composer could find their voice, or become themselves. He did this with the greatest amount of support and enthusiasm, always maintaining the most positive atmosphere.” The importance of Knussen’s own music was a subject Lubman was also eager to address: “Olly’s compositions all exhibit the highest possible level of craftsmanship, but also (and equally as important) the highest level of imagination, mystery, color, and engagement. His works are all like finely wrought crystalline jewels. He wrote music which is utterly mesmerizing, filled with magic, childlike wonder, and the most amazing colors, the most wondrous things you could imagine. His knowledge of instruments and orchestration was truly formidable, a true master. His sense of harmony (in both tonal and non-tonal realms) was absolutely amazing. He was one of the very few greatest composers of our time.”

With respect to the relation between the Takemitsu and Carter pieces completing the program and their composer’s connection with Knussen, Lubman said: “I think the music of Carter and Takemitsu represented the two sides of Olly’s compositional thought processes and things he admired in general in contemporary music. There’s the allure and provocative nature of Takemitsu’s music, and then the dazzling narrative and sparkling surfaces of Carter’s intricate music. One can see and hear influences of both composers in Olly’s music (and very important influences from the music of Henze) as well as a kind of childlike sense of fantasy.”

For details about tickets, visit Slee Hall’s website.