Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Mourning Charles Wuorinen

We are mourning the recent passing of Charles Wourinen, frequent honored guest at the University at Buffalo Center for 21st Century Music and the June in Buffalo Festival. Wourinen was an exceedingly rare musician with an exceptional ability to also perform and conduct complex contemporary music, making his role as an advocate for his work, and that of his colleagues, authoritative and invaluable. 

Wuorinen with conductor Brad Lubman
during his 80th birthday portrait concert

Throughout his long career, Wuorinen has been a frequent guest at UB. Charles served as guest professor for several years in the early 1990’s, commuting to Buffalo from NYC and his New Jersey farm for several semesters. He has served as a senior composer at numerous June in Buffalo festivals, from the early days of the Festival in the 1970s all the way through to 2015. In turn, the festival has had the opportunity to present many of Wuorinen’s works over the years, including large-scale works such as the complete Fenton Songs (performed by Ensemble Surplus in 2006), the orchestral Microsymphony (performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic in 2007), and the cantata It Happens Like This (performed by the Slee Sinfonietta in 2013). Building on this long-standing relationship, the State University of New York awarded Wuorinen an honorary doctorate during the 2013 June in Buffalo Festival, where an honorary ceremonial was followed by a portrait concert. Further, an 80th birthday concert was produced by the Slee Sinfonietta featuring Ensemble Signal, and conductor Brad Lubman, only a few short years ago.

Charles Wuorinen conducting and rehearsing at June in Buffalo 2013

Wourinen has had many, many works featured at the June in Buffalo Festival, since its reincarnation in June, 1986, under David Felder’s direction, and he has been invited to the festival numerous times as a senior composer, dating back to the performance of his String Sextet (1989) on June 5, 1991. His orchestral piece Bamboula Squared (1984) was performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under his baton in 1993 and many other compositions were performed throughout the years by both Ensemble Signal and the Slee Sinfonietta. Other works performed by the BPO at June in Buffalo include Microsymphony, Bamboula Beach, and a premiere of a version of The River of Light (CW conducting) among others.

As an example, Wourinen's second attendance at the June in Buffalo Festival was in 1992 where his chamber ensemble piece On Alligators was performed. He returned to the festival in 1993 and 1994 with performances of his orchestral piece Bamboula Squared and Sonata for Violin and Piano by pianist Margaret Kampmeier and violinist Curtis Macomber respectively. In 2006, during a visit, Wourinen's Epithalamium was performed by trumpeters Nelson and Levine, and in 2008, during another visit, his compositions The Blue Bamboula, performed by pianist Alan Feinberg, and Spin 5, were both featured on a concert.

In April 2011, a Slee Sinfonietta concert was dedicated to the works of Charles Wourinen. His works Salve Regina: John Bull, Metagong, Fifty Fifty, and Canzona were all programmed on the concert and performed by the contemporary music specialists that comprise the Slee Sinfonietta. Fifty Fifty featured pianists Eric Huebner and Stephen Gosling, who were later joined by percussionists Tom Kolor and Daniel Druckman for Metagong. In April 2018, for his 80th birthday, Wourinen gave a lecture at a concert of his works presented by Ensemble Signal. Ensemble Signal was joined by soloist Eric Huebner on their performance of Megalith, violin soloist Olivia de Prato on Spin 5, and oboe soloist Jacqueline Leclair on Iridule.

Charles Wourinen applauding the Slee Sinfonietta and Ensemble Signal
after the performance of Megalith at his 80th birthday portrait concert

Other works performed at June in Buffalo – and this is not by any means an exhaustive list, include: Archaeopteryx, Percussion Symphony, Hyperion, On Alligators, Ashberyana
His lectures at June were legendary; unforgettable events that live in the memories of those fortunate enough to be in attendance.

In the next concert season, we’ll offer a performance of his most recent Second Percussion Symphony, and hoist a martini in tribute to this lion of post-war American composers. We shall not ever see his like again… and he will be sorely missed.

David Felder and Charles Wuorinen
at the Buffalo Marriott in 2018



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