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A Musical Feast Meets Morton Feldman

Morton Feldman at the piano. (photo by Irene Haupt)

A four-day event celebrates an American iconoclast

The Burchfield Penney Art Center begins its latest RendezBlue festival, on Thursday, April 7, with “The New York School: Morton Feldman and His Time,” featuring musical performances, as well as readings, lectures, exhibitions, and screenings. A full schedule of all events is at

Feldman may well be the most original and influential composer with strong Buffalo ties. He was a pioneer in the use of indeterminacy in his compositions, and in his later works he also began to explore extremes of duration. The 8pm concert on Friday, April 8 showcases works by Feldman’s fellow composers Earle Brown, John Cage, Christian Wolff, and Edgard Varese, which are noted as non-standard, graphic scores. Master percussionist Jan Williams, who worked extensively with Feldman, performs along with John Bacon, Michael Colquhoun, Jonathan Golove, J. T. Rinker, Bill Sack, and Amy Williams. At 9:30pm, the band 1Above, featuring Burchfield Penney curator Don Metz, John Bacon, Greg Millar, and Rey Scott, will perform a three-movement piece to which artist Ilir Zefi will respond, creating acrylic abstractions inspired by the music.

Saturday, April 9, features a full day of concerts in the East Gallery devoted exclusively to the music of Morton Feldman. At 1:30pm, Jon Hepfer, percussion, Nils Vigeland, piano, and Alice Teyssier, flute, will perform Feldman’s Why Patterns?, a 1978 work that has been described as “a slow spinning out of subtly dissonant patterns, all at extremely quiet volume levels. The work doesn’t seem to start or stop. It’s as if we are dropping in on an eternal piece of music…” At 3pm, Jan Williams, percussion, Amy Williams, piano, and Alice Teyssier, flute, offer the ninety minute-long 1983 work, Crippled Symmetry, in which “the textures generally tend towards simplicity as the musical material becomes gradually denatured, though this is far from a fixed process—the complexity of the music ebbs and flows in waves, until by the end all three performers are reduced to reiterating single notes, and the music stumbles to a halt.”

At 7pm, Jon Hepfer, percussion, Jacob Greenberg, piano, and Alice Teyssier, flute, present a rare live performance of the monumental For Philip Guston, a four-plus-hour long work. A leading figure in the New York School of Abstract Expressionism that included such artists as Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, Philip Gaston was deeply affected by the political upheaval and social unrest of the 1960s with the shift in the art world toward pop art and minimalism. He attempted to reinvent story telling in painting in a deliberately clumsy style that was neither understood nor accepted by the art world. Describing For Philip Guston, British composer Robert Worby writes “wooden beaters barely touch the cold, steely surface of a vibraphone. Piano keys are depressed so softly that the player can almost feel the hammer move under his fingers. A bass flute whispers darkly—warm breath only just becomes a note. These sounds appear to be sourceless. No sweeping melody, no catchy rhythm, no arresting drama, no gushing emotion, just soft gentle chords—floating, colliding, disappearing notes at the threshold of hearing.”

At 2pm on Sunday, April 10, A Musical Feast, the resident ensemble at the Burchfield Penney, presents a program that includes a piece by Feldman as well as works by several composers that he influenced. About Feldman’s 1960 work Durations 2 for cello and piano, cellist Jonathan Golove writes: “The work gives the appearance of extreme simplicity: a series of long tones, either single notes or chords, aligned on the page. But Feldman’s performance instructions produce results of some complexity. In particular, by allowing the individual performers to determine, independently of one another, the duration of each tone, Feldman relinquished some of the usual control exerted by the composer over the harmonic content of the music. The rest of the instructions determine the music’s feel and mood: The pulse is to be slow, all the tones should be executed with a minimum of attack, and the dynamics must be kept very quiet.”

Intrigued by the life of the Irish Saint Brigid, who was named after the pagan goddess of fire whose manifestations were song and poetry, Amy Williams composed Brigid’s Flame for solo piano as a memorial for her father-in-law, a clergyman who was also a fireman. Iannis Xenakis composed Kottos as a solo test piece for the 1977 Rostropovitch International Violoncello Competition. The title refers to the name for the 100-armed titans that Zeus, father of the Olympic gods, fought and conquered.

German composer Ruth Wiesenfeld writes that in her new composition Inflexionen, “the flow of air that the performer sends through the instrument is treated in an almost sculptural way.” Composer Moshe Shulman prefers not to describe his 2009 work for solo violin, Secret Messages, prior to a performance, feeling that to do so would result in the messages in the work no longer being secret. Franck composed his Sonata for Violin and Piano in 1886 as a wedding present for the virtuoso Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, who championed the work for the next 40 years, thus contributing greatly to the Franck’s public recognition as a major composer. Generally considered one of the finest sonatas ever written for violin and piano, it remains in the core repertoire of all major violinists.

Admission is free for all events, but seating for the Musical Feast concert is limited; to reserve a seat call 878-6011. For more information, visit

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