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The Pausa Connection

Pianist Eric Huebner

Pianist Eric Huebner and friends offer a mini-festival of modern music

One of the unique things about the newest music venue in town, the Pausa Art House on Wadsworth at the foot of Allen Street, is that along with a wide variety of jazz and off-beat forms of popular music, it is the only club in town that features classical music on a regular basis. After a summer lull, a pair of September concerts a week apart at Pausa will bracket a groundbreaking performance by the Slee Sinfonietta at Slee Hall at UB, with pianist Eric Huebner prominently featured at all three events.

In addition to being assistant professor of piano at UB, Huebner is also the staff pianist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and he accompanied the orchestra on its extensive European tour this past spring, performing in Dresden, Vienna, and Istanbul.

Huebner’s solo recital at PAUSA on Thursday, September 5 at 8pm, will feature works by two doyens of modernism: Elliott Carter, who was composing until he died this past November at the age of 103, and Pierre Boulez, who is still composing and conducting at the age of 88, as well as Psychomechanochronometer, a new work by the young American composer Eric Wubbels.

Psychomechanochronometer was commissioned with support from the Yvar Mikashoff Trust for New Music,” says Huebner. “Yvar was one of my most esteemed predecessors at UB and so it was a great honor when composer Eric Wubbels and myself were awarded a grant in 2012. The work is centered around highly idiomatic gestures for the piano, played rapidly and often spanning a wide range of the keyboard. To contrast this material are various pointillistic gestures that contain within them various melodic lines and phrases that help connect the work’s more dramatic, virtuosic passages. The title refers to a repeated note motive on the highest note of the piano that occurs several times in the work. The note is muted with Blu-Tak and the resulting sound is a percussive beating, almost like a metronome. I first performed the piece at June in Buffalo this past summer and am looking forward to a repeat performance.

“As for the rest of my program,” says Huebner, “I felt I needed to include something by Boulez—not least because when you enter Pausa, on the right hand wall next to the bar you’ll notice two pictures: one of Jon Nelson and one of his wife, Lazara [Pausa’s owners] with Boulez. In fact, Lazara is actually giving Boulez a big kiss! Notations is one of Boulez’s earliest published works. The 12 short pieces that comprise Notations reflects Boulez’s interest in the 12-tone technique of composition and each short piece is exactly 12 measures long. I thought it would be interesting for Buffalo audiences to hear this early work just a week before hearing one of Boulez’s most recent, his Dérive 2 performed by the Slee Sinfonietta.”

Case Scaglione, assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, will make his Slee Hall debut when he conducts the Slee Sinfonietta on Tuesday, September 10 at 7:30pm, in a program featuring Dérive 2, which Boulez wrote in 1988 for Elliott Carter’s 80th birthday. At its first performance, the New York Times noted it “had the merit of extreme brevity,” but the work was subsequently described by the Times as “the very definition of a gift that keeps on giving,” since it had grown to 53 minutes in its final form: “a huge score now, it unfolds organically, with intricate rhythms and pointillistic textures giving way to insistent, forward drive and richly contrapuntal sections.”

Dérive 2 is certainly among the most ambitious works the Slee Sinfonietta has ever performed,” Huebner says. “The Center for 21st Century Music has put together a star roster of Sinfonietta players, and I’m very excited for rehearsals to begin and look forward to a memorable performance.”

The Slee program also features a rare performance of Boulez’s arrangement of Ravel’s brief Frontipice, originally composed for the highly unusual combination of two pianos, five hands. Songs for voice and piano, including Ravel’s Un Grand Sommeil Noir and Mélodies hébraïques and Edgar Varèse’s own Un Grand Sommeil Noir, will be performed by Huebner and mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley, well known to Buffalo audiences from her appearances in the Musical Feast series.

The action swings back to Pausa on Thursday, September 12 at 8pm, for a program centered on a pair of French horn trios by Wuorinen and Ligeti. “The Ligeti certainly makes many unusual demands on the hornist, and Adam Unsworth is one of the best there is,” says Huebner. Unsworth will also perform a solo piece, Samskara, originally written for trumpet by Dave Ballou, for Jon Nelson, while Yuki Numata takes on Berio’s challenging Sequenza VIII for solo violin, rounding out the kind of program seldom, if ever, heard in a bar.

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