Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Ensemble Signal presents 21st-century gems for Pierrot ensemble @ June in Buffalo 2019

The extraordinary success the June in Buffalo Festival has enjoyed for more than 30 years derives in great part from the many alliances it has forged with key actors in the new music scene. Such is the case of the partnership June in Buffalo has developed with cellist Lauren Radnofsky and conductor Brad Lubman, who co-direct NY-based Ensemble Signal. Signal, described as “one of the most vital groups of its kind” by the New York Times, has become a constant in June in Buffalo’s roster of visiting ensembles over the past several years, providing composers—both seasoned and emerging—with world-class performances of their works.

(Ensemble Signal performing Reich's Music for 18 Musicians)

Signal’s first concert at June in Buffalo 2019 will take place on June 5th at 4pm in the University at Buffalo’s Baird Recital Hall, where they will bring to life pieces by half a dozen of the festival’s participant student composers. The ensemble will then dedicate the next two days to add the finishing touches to a selection of 21st century chamber music gems by June in Buffalo’s senior composers, which they will perform on Saturday June 8th at 7:30pm in Slee Hall.

Anna Clyne

Signal’s Saturday concert will open with Anna Clyne’s Just As They Are (2015), scored for what has become a standard formation in modern chamber music: the Pierrot ensemble, comprised of flute, clarinet, piano, violin and cello, and named after Schoenberg’s iconic Pierrot lunaire (1912). The title and conceptual inspiration for the work come from an interview John Cage gave shortly before passing, in which he said, “I love sounds just as they are. I love the activity of sound. I don’t want a sound to pretend that it’s a bucket or that it’s president or that it’s in love with another sound. I just want it to be a sound.” In its compact five minutes, Just As They Are superimposes audio fragments from this interview by Cage with a modern-day passacaglia—an originally Baroque musical form based on a repeated bass line and recurring chord progression.

The next two pieces on the program rely on the same Pierrot instrumentation as well and, coincidentally, they also utilize quotes by other artists as their starting points. Lei Liang’s Aural Hypothesis (2010) builds on Chou Wen-chung’s evocative analogy that “calligraphy is music in ink, and music is calligraphy in sound” to propose how basic lines, i.e. a simple curve or a straight line, might be translated into music. Listeners aware of Liang’s inspiration will soon find the audiovisual correlations the composer intended, such as, for instance, long sustained notes to represent straight lines or upward scales to depict ascending ones.

Then, Signal will play Norwegian composer Rolf Wallin’s The Age of Wire and String (2004). This work borrows its title, and the titles of each of its eight miniature-like movements, from the eponymous collection of short stories by Ben Marcus. Marcus’ inventive stories paint bizarre, almost-familiar worlds in which the laws of nature are different from ours, which the composer found to be a fitting analogy to “the abstract world of music, especially modern art music, with its ability to transport our mind to places never visited before.”

Wallin's The Age of Wire and String (2004), performed by the Bodø Sinfonietta

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Slee Sinfonietta showcases powerful solos at June in Buffalo 2019

David Felder, the Center for 21st Century Music’s Artistic Director, founded the Slee Sinfonietta in 1997 for the purpose of producing accessible world-class performances and iconic recordings of important repertoire from both established as well as emerging composers, particularly in the context of the annual June in Buffalo festival. Comprised of a core group of faculty members from the University at Buffalo and other visiting artists, the Slee Sinfonietta will kick off this year’s June in Buffalo—as it has done for over two decades—with two concerts. An admission-free, 4pm matinee on June 4th in Baird Recital Hall will be June in Buffalo’s first public event, showcasing pieces by student participant composers. Then, the Sinfonietta will present an evening concert at 7:30pm on June 5th in Lippes Concert Hall with a program of major works by some of the festival’s senior composers; a solo cello performance of Brian Ferneyhough’s In Nomine by TJ Borden will be followed by three works for chamber orchestra (including two concertos): Rolf Wallin’s Under City Skin, Matthew Chamberlain’s Science Fiction Music , and Stephen Hartke’s Ship of State. Chamberlain will also be the guest conductor in both concerts, a capacity he has filled with the Sinfonietta since 2016.

(A performance of In Nomine by Lucas Fels (Arditti Quartet) in the premiere of Umbrations)

TJ Borden, the Mivos Quartet’s recently appointed cellist, will open the June 5th show with In Nomine, the fourth of eleven works comprising Ferneyhough’s large Umbrations cycle, premiered less than two years ago. Umbrations stands out in Ferneyhough’s output for directly referencing music written in the past by a Western composer—in this case, a set of works by English Renaissance composer Christopher Tye (1505-1572)—a popular trend in much of contemporary music which Ferneyhough has generally steered clear of. Interestingly, these pieces by Tye also appropriated earlier medieval melodies, adapting them into the framework of the viol consort that was so much in vogue during the Elizabethan era.

The medieval theme continues in Norwegian composer Rolf Wallin’s Under City Skin (2009) for solo viola, string orchestra and surround sound. Inspired by alchemical or otherwise absurd powers attributed to animals in bestiaries from the Middle Ages, Wallin chose to pursue the idea that “maybe we still hold an unconsciously mythological relation to the world around us, in spite of our modernization and urbanization.” Consciously fashioned after Hector Berlioz’s viola concerto Harold en Italie, Under City Skin presents its solo violist as an explorer of sound-producing objects and events one finds in a modern city, e.g. “The Mercedes” or “The Cash Register,” in a quest to reveal these sounds’ “hidden meanings [and] histories of power, fear, yearning, and bliss.” Wallin has adapted Under City Skin for solo violin, and legendary British violinist Irvine Arditti (of the Arditti Quartet) will solo with the Slee Sinfonietta on the June 5th concert.

(The Oberlin Sinfonietta under Tim Weiss performing Chamberlain's Science Fiction Music)

After a brief intermission, the concert will resume with Chamberlain’s Science Fiction Music, commissioned last year by Tim Weiss for the Oberlin Sinfonietta. Chamberlain describes Science Fiction as an imagination of a future “in which this piece is widely loved, its sensibility appreciated, its craft revered.” The composer’s tongue-in-cheek assessment of his work might prove more prophecy than science fiction, however; in 2018, Science Fiction Music earned Chamberlain the very rare merit of a “PhD with distinction,” unanimously bestowed upon him by his PhD committee at the University at Buffalo.

Finally, the Slee Sinfonietta will close its concert with Ship of State, a chamber concerto for piano and 20 players by Oberlin Conservatory’s Chair of Composition, Stephen Hartke. Ship of State takes its inspiration from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Building of the Ship, a long poem that draws on an allegorical comparison between the responsibilities of a sea captain and those of a statesman. The dedicatee and original soloist, Xak Bjerken, who has collaborated with a host of noteworthy living composers and has built an internationally-renowned career as a new music champion , will make the drive up from Cornell University in Central NY to June in Buffalo and solo with the Sinfonietta.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Irvine Arditti celebrates 30-plus years of partnership with David Felder at June in Buffalo 2019

There are interesting parallels between the lives of noted British violinist Irvine Arditti and the Center for 21st Century Music’s Artistic Director, American composer David Felder. Both men were born in the same year, 1953, and came of age in the mid-1970s, displaying a precocious musical maturity and aptitude for contemporary music. Felder’s "opus 1"—Nexus, a daring solo work for bass trombone—was written at the same time that Arditti founded the ensemble that would earn him countless accolades in the four and a half decades since, the Arditti Quartet. Toward the end of the 1970s, Arditti chose to leave his post as the London Symphony Orchestra’s Co-Concertmaster to devote more time to the Arditti Quartet, and Felder quit his teaching job at the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music to pursue a PhD at the University of California, San Diego. As difficult as these decisions might have seemed at the time, both proved wise in the long run. The Arditti Quartet would go on to become worldwide leaders in the promotion of contemporary music, and Felder would likewise build an award-winning career that would distinguish him as a leader of his generation of composers. So, at that juncture in the 1980s, it was only a matter of time before the paths of these two luminaries of contemporary music crossed.

Brad Lubman, Signal Ensemble's director, Felder, and Arditti discuss Jeu de Tarot (2018)

An important part of Felder’s trajectory included the revival of the University at Buffalo’s June in Buffalo Festival in the mid-1980s, which had been dormant since Morton Feldman founded and led it between 1975-80. Soon thereafter, June in Buffalo’s gravitational pull brought Arditti and his Quartet to Buffalo in 1988 to premiere Felder’s first string quartet, Third Face, commissioned by the Quartet and the North American New Music Festival.

Music of David Felder (1995) included a recording of  Third Face by the Arditti Quartet; this CD is available for purchase via this link

Their collaboration had undeniable chemistry, and the partnership between Arditti and Felder grew stronger and stronger as the years went by, leading to several additional residencies at June in Buffalo and two more commissions for the quartet: Stuck-Stücke, premiered in 2007, and Netivot, an ambitious multimedia work for string quartet, electronics and an optional video component from 2016. Most recently, Felder collaborated extensively with Arditti to produce a half-hour-long violin concerto, Jeu de Tarot. As it has been discussed at some length in an earlier post, Jeu de Tarot consists of seven movements in which the soloist and the ensemble explore a scene suggested by the rich symbology of images found on Tarot cards. Arditti and Signal Ensemble premiered the work a couple of years ago at the University at Buffalo's Lippes Concert Hall.

Arditti soloing with Signal Ensemble in Felder's Jeu de Tarot

In early May 2019, as detailed in a recent post, the Arditti Quartet arrives in Buffalo to present a program comprised by Jeu de Tarot and the three monumental quartets Felder has written for the group over the past 30 years. About a month later, Arditti returns sans the other three members of his ensemble to present a solo recital at June in Buffalo 2019. Arditti's recital takes place on Thursday, June 6th, at 7:30 pm in Baird Recital Hall, and will include Felder’s Another Face for violin and electronics, along with other works by Brian Ferneyhough, Rolf Wallin, and the festival’s participant student composers.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Mivos returns to June in Buffalo 2019 to present a mind-bending program

Recently recognized by the prestigious Dwight and Ursula Mamlok Prize—awarded to “an ensemble making a significant contribution to the performance of contemporary music”—the Mivos Quartet has enjoyed a fruitful partnership with the University at Buffalo for many years. Our shared history has shaped the ensemble’s trajectory in very real ways; in 2018, for instance, recent UB alumnus Tyler J. Borden was chosen to become the quartet’s new cellist, and current PhD candidate Alex Huddleston won the incredibly competitive 8th Mivos/Kanter String Quartet Competition Prize. As Mivos enters its second decade, poised to become an even more influential actor in the American new music scene, UB and the Center for 21st Century Music are proud to welcome them back to this year’s June in Buffalo for their 3rd residency in a row since 2017.
Mivos will perform two concerts at June in Buffalo 2019. On June 5th, they will present a program of works by some of the festival’s senior composers, and two evenings later, they will perform string quartets submitted by the festival’s student participant composers.

A performance by the Arditti Quartet of Ferneyhough's Second Quartet

Brian Ferneyhough’s Second String Quartet (1980) will kick off Mivos’ June 5th program. Ferneyhough is “a controversial figure of world renown, bent on making the most out of music” by a constant reliance on relentless complexity (Ross Allan Feller), but his Second Quartet is one of his “most approachable and outgoing pieces,” (Lois Fitch) clocking in at just under 10 minutes—an ideal show opener.

Next, Mivos will tackle a piece by June in Buffalo’s own Artistic Director, David Felder. Commissioned by the Siemens Foundation for the Arditti Quartet in 2007, Stuck-Stücke has evocative markings throughout—like “effervescent!” or “perky,” to name a few—which seem to “be trying to put something into music that cannot be put into music,” such as “murmuring, or dancing, or breathing” (Buffalo News). Stuck-Stücke and 3 other works are featured in BoxMan, a CD released by Albany Records several years ago and available for purchase on their websiteLei Liang’s Serashi Fragments (2005), a tribute to the Mongolian chaorer (an ancient two-string fiddle) player Serashi, is third in the program. Following a centuries-long tradition in Western music, Liang employes the notes Sol, La and Si—G, A and B—in various forms as musical inscriptions of the artist’s name. 

Clyne's Roulette is featured on her CD Blue Moth (Tzadik)

Finally, Mivos will close the concert with Anna Clyne’s unique Roulette (2007)Roulette features an electronic track, composed of processed recordings of choral singing, sharp breaths, and other noises, which, according to the composer, are “sounds that (…) both complement, interact with, and oppose” the gestures of the live string quartet. Tzadik Records released Roulette and six other stunning electroacoustic chamber works by Clyne in a CD entitled Blue Moth in 2012.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Felder Portrait Concert

The Center for 21st Century Music is pleased to announce a portrait concert featuring UB Distinguished Professor and Center Director David Felder’s works for string quartet and his more recent violin concerto to take place on May 9th, performed by two world-class new music groups: the Arditti Quartet and Ensemble Signal.

(Arditti Quartet)

The first part of the program will feature the acclaimed Arditti Quartet playing Felder’s three works for the medium: Third Face, from 1998, Stuck-Stücke, from 2007, and Netivot, from 2016. All three pieces were written for and premiered by the Ardittis, as part of a collaborative process dating back more than twenty years.

In Third Face, Felder was inspired by the 1964 novel The Face of Another, by Japanese author Kōbō Abe, although the music doesn't illustrate the action but rather takes the rough scenario as point of departure. With respect to the musical structure, the program notes tell us that "the work sets up a linear series of coded fragments based upon interval. These fragments are then layered through four contrapuntal passes through the materials, each pass separated by increasingly lengthy passages solely in harmonics. As the work unfolds the ‘coded fragments’ begin to coalesce eventually becoming melodic line."

Stuck-stücke, the second work in the program, is concerned with short form. It consists of a set of thirteen miniatures in three discontinuous, but related, streams of musical material. However, Felder preserves continuity by means of temporal proximity, since the pieces are to be played in close juxtaposition to one another, with minimal transition. The insistent iteration of small gestures in many of the pieces is what gives them the "stuck" character addressed in the title.

In Netivot—the more recent quartet, more inwardly oriented than the previous two—the material is "abstracted from an array of some biblical text", in the words of the composer. It also resulted from a larger collaboration, because its live performance requires the projection of a video consisting of images of Nature recorded in the American West by visual artist Eliot Caplan.

(Caplan: still image from Netivot Video)

The second part of the concert will consist of the performance of Felder’s Jeu de Tarot, a concerto for solo violin and sinfonietta from 2017 which draws its inspiration from the card deck long used as a divination method. Irvine Arditti, for whom the work was written, will play the solo violin part, accompanied by Ensemble Signal conducted by Brad Lubman.

The composition is in seven short movements, titled after seven selected cards from the twenty-two major arcana of the Tarot deck. They are: The Juggler, The Fool, The High Priestess, The Hermit, The Empress (Whorld), The Hierophant and Moonlight. In each movement, soloist and ensemble explore a scene suggested by the interpretation of the cards made by Russian polymath P.D. Ouspensky in his 1919 publication A new model of the Universe.

Due to the technical and logistical requirements of the pieces, the concert will take place in two different venues at UB’s Department of Music. The first part will be in Baird 250, the recital hall at Baird Hall, while the second part will be in Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall. The concert will begin at 7:30PM.

As part of their visit, the Arditti Quartet will also conduct a workshop with UB graduate composers, lending their expertise and virtuosity to works written for them by Kenneth Tam, Tomek Arnold, Matías Homar, Igor Coelho A.S. Marques and Edgard Girtain.

Purchase tickets here: https://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/1748415/tfly

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

More on the pieces for ELISION's workshop

In our previous post we presented the work of ELISION ensemble in the context of their visit to the University at Buffalo. We wanted to know more about the second event of their residency, so we asked the four students who composed pieces for them to write short texts about their works.

John Aulich’s work is titled The angles which wound me, and it is written for Uillean pipes, lap steel guitar and contrabass.
“I began preparations for this piece in the middle of last semester with my head full of detritus relating to ritual, futility, pointlessness and transcendence, so in a very broad way that’s what the piece is ‘about.’ The normal meaning of the word ritual needs no further elaboration, but I would also hazard invoking it in a more ostensibly banal sense. That is, in terms of those things we do with as much regularity as is necessary to draw boundaries; to keep ourselves from spilling over and to define ourselves against everything else.
So, there are definitely embedded in the piece - hopefully in more than one way - notions of drawing, navigating and perhaps transgressing or transcending boundaries through ritual acts.  On the other hand, significant aspects of the piece were in large part inspired by an advert for a children’s toy called Transformers, which I’m led to believe is a franchise in itself with movies and everything. In entirely unrelated news, a large number of scientists are currently searching for new means to quantify ‘mouthfeel’ (supposedly) in the service of the food-industrial complex; sensation comes before sermon, so I’ll leave it you to imagine what other complexes we might soon be forced to contend with.
I would like to thank members of Elision for their time and work so far in helping me put this piece together. Their advice and encouragement has been invaluable to the compositional process, and I very much look forward to working with them when they arrive here.”

Roberto Azaretto:
Registral extremes are the areas of pitch space where the material nature of sound, the fact that we are dealing with vibration, with molecules moving in space, bodies affecting bodies, becomes most clear. Sound is a haptic phenomenon: we sense low register sounds as much in our stomachs as in our ears. The vocabulary we use to describe pitch space manifests this to a different degree depending on the language we speak. Whereas in English, sounds are placed in a vertical line, a continuum between low and high, in Spanish, my native tongue, sounds themselves are conceived as bodies: high sounds are agudos (which means sharp or piercing) and low sounds are graves (heavy, big).
Historically, most music has taken place in the central region of this space, probably because this is the optimal area for the identification of pitch patterns, but there is also a growing body of works where the primary concern is the investigation of registral extremes. I have been interested in exploring the structuring capabilities of register for several years, so when I learned that ELISION was coming to UB I decided to take the opportunity to concentrate on dense sonorities in the lowest part of the register, writing for a quartet of contrabass clarinet, baritone saxophone, trombone and double bass. The result was a piece where the highest notated pitch after transposition is a major third below middle c.
The title of the piece, eigengrau, alludes to another semantic field common in discussions of sound: that of color. The term means "intrinsic grey" in German, and denotes the uniform dark background that many people report seeing in the absence of light.

Igor Coelho A.S Marques:
Noturno is a sort of autobiographical piece for actor/poetry reciter, an 8-piece mixed chamber ensemble, and a stereo fixed media track, in which I deal with some of my nightly anxieties via three poems by Brazilian poet Ferreira Gullar. The first, Teu corpo, explores the inconsistency in seeking to define one's identity in the notion of an unfathomable soul, rather than in the concrete realities of their body. Then, Exercício de Relax emulates an insomniac's self-soothing bedtime routine, and Dentro sem fora closes with some paradoxical ontological aphorisms.
While the focus, sonically and theatrically, remains on the actor reciting the poems, the instrumental ensemble and the electronics play a crucial role in inflecting the text and spinning a narrative from the juxtaposition of these three different poems. A counterpoint of breathy and airy noises with metallic and distorted ones populates the first third of Noturno, while the drummer's gestures rise in entropy, painting a picture of increasing tension that counterposes the relaxing affirmations of Exercício de Relax. Relaxation eventually comes in the form of tonal and metrical stability, but this stability--or the illusion thereof--is short-lived, and quickly erodes away as the actor closes the work by reciting Dentro sem fora three times, each more disconsolate than the previous.

Alex Huddleston:
"My piece is titled Books II III VI VII XI XVII XXIV XXIX XLI. I would like to tell you some details of its construction. It is scored for Tenor Trombone, Bass, Soprano and Tenor Saxophone, Contrabass and Soprano Clarinet, seven guitar Pedals and Amplifier, fixed electronics, with limited amplification. Of the five musicians, all excepting the guitar pedals will be arrayed in a partial arc on the stage. The Clarinetist will sit closest to the audience on the right-most end of the arc, facing to the left; beside him will be the bass, beside her will be the Trombone, beside him will be the Saxophone. The manipulator of the pedals is seated behind them. The two speakers, stereo, will be rotated from their traditional position at the far left and right of the stage, such that the L channel will sound in the rear left corner, while the R channel will sound in the front left corner.
Both the trombone and the guitar pedals will have their sounds taken into a microphone, and displaced to the rear left corner. The piece is 25 minutes long. There are 6 autonomous musical strands occurring simultaneously - Each of which is an exploration of continuity as foundation - none of which are coordinated in any musical, or technical way. Each autonomous musical strand equally divides the total duration into some number of equal segments - the electronics are in 7 parts, the guitar pedals in 11, the Trombone in 17, the Bass in 24, the Saxophone in 29, and the Clarinet in 41. When conveyed through notation, each segment is indexed to the page - thus every page within a single stream is exactly the same length of time. Rhythms, Meters, & Tempi are not employed for the structure of time. A page may contain more or less material, having a clear sonic impact - more material within the same page = less time = faster. less material = more time = slower. In this way, the material of the music is imbricated in a notational network of nested imprecisions, ambiguities, aleatorea.
I have focused my descriptions to the structural elements of this work, rather than those of emotion or phenomenon. They have been written into the music, and cannot be rewritten in prose here. Therefore I invite you to hear the work for yourself with or without the information above in mind as you listen."

Alex also wrote a blog post about this text, and more generally about the possibilities and problems of connecting verbal language with music.

We look forward to listening to these works during ELISION's workshop, which will take place on April 24th at 2 PM in Lippes Concert Hall at Slee Hall.