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.

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