Thursday, May 23, 2019

Stephen Hartke: Imaginary traditions

We continue our series of profiles of the Senior Composers at this year's June in Buffalo with a short introduction to the work of Stephen Hartke. Born in Orange, New Jersey, in 1952, Hartke began his musical career as a boy chorister, performing with, among others, the New York Philharmonic and the American Symphony Orchestra. He studied at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Santa Barbara. He taught at the University of Southern California—from where he retired as Distinguished Professor Emeritus after a 26 year tenure—and as Fulbright Professor at the Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil. He has been Professor and Chair of Composition at Oberlin Conservatory since 2015.

(Stephen Hartke)

Hartke's output is extremely varied, from the medieval-inspired piano quartet The King of the Sun, and Wulfstan at the Millennium, an abstract liturgy for ten instruments, the blues-inflected violin duo Oh Them Rats Is Mean in My Kitchen, and the surreal trio The Horse with the Lavender Eye, to the Biblical satire Sons of Noah, for soprano, four flutes, four guitars and four bassoons, and his recent Symphony No. 4 for Organ, Orchestra, and Soprano, commissioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He has composed concerti for renowned clarinetist, Richard Stoltzman, and violinist, Michele Makarski, and his collaboration with the internationally-celebrated Hilliard Ensemble has resulted in three substantial works, including his Symphony No. 3, commissioned by Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic. Other major commissions have come from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and the Harvard Musical Association, the IRIS Chamber Orchestra, the Kansas City Symphony, the Library of Congress, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Barlow Endowment, Chamber Music America, the Fromm Foundation, the Institute for American Music at the Eastman School of Music, Meet The Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, among others.

Stephen Hartke has also won the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, two Koussevitzky Music Foundation Commission Grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Stoeger Award from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Charles Ives Living from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Deutsche Bank Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin.  In 2008, Hartke's opera, The Greater Good, commissioned and premiered by Glimmerglass Opera, received the first Charles Ives Opera Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2009, he was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Most of Hartke's music is available on commercial CDs released by Albany, BMOP, Bridge, Cedille, Chandos, CRI, Delos, ECM New Series, EMI Classics, Genuin, Naxos American Classics, New World Records, and Soundbrush Records.

A Senior Composer in the 2014 edition of the festival, Hartke is no stranger to June in Buffalo. This year, in addition to lecturing and conducting master classes, he will attend performances of three of his works. On Tuesday 4th, the Slee Sinfonietta will play Ship of State, from 2017, a chamber concerto for piano and 20 players inspired by The Building of a Ship, a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Three days later, Dal Niente will perform Meanwhile, a work from 2007 for flute, clarinet, viola, cello, percussion and piano. The composer gave the piece an evocative subtitle: "Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays", and states that the composition grew from his fascination for Asian court and theater music. Although played as a single movement, the work has six sections: Procession, Fanfares, Narrative, Spikefiddlers, Cradle-songs, and Celebration. This work earned Hartke the Grammy award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition in 2013.

The last of Hartke's work that Buffalo audiences will have the chance to hear at the Festival is Pacific Rim, from 1988, which will be performed on the June 9th Sunday matinee concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.  The piece, described by the composer as a processional and a fugue, provides another opportunity to observe how certain aspects of extra-European musics have affected Hartke's work.

(Hartke's Pacific Rim)

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