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"Give Me Dangerous Music"

Wooden Cities at a recent concert at Pausa art house.

Wooden Cities, a new music ensemble with close ties to the University at Buffalo, will present the inaugural Muriel Wolf and Albert Steger Endowment Concert, a free public event sponsored by the UB Music Library, on Friday, February 7 at 7:30pm in Slee Hall on the UB Amherst campus.

Muriel Wolf (1925-2009) taught voice and opera studies at UB until her retirement in 1993, directing more than 30 major opera productions. She was married to composer Anton Wolf (1914-1989) a member of the music faculty at Buffalo State, and his solo piano work Sonatine is on the program. Albert Steger, a bassist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for more than 30 years, knew her husband from their days together in the WPA Detroit Civic Orchestra during the 1930s. After Anton’s death he helped organize the composer’s scores and papers, and it was their wish that funds from their estate be used to produce concerts of music from Buffalo.

UB can justly lay claim to being one of the most influential locations for the development of new American music in the post World War II era, due to the creation of its Center of the Creative and Performing Arts, co-founded in 1964 by composer Lukas Foss and Allen Sapp, chair of the Music Department from 1961 to 1975. While this concert honors that legacy by reviving some of the seminal works from that now legendary time, it also continues that legacy in the best possible way, by introducing new works by contemporary composers.

Sapp wrote his And the Bombers Went Home for violin and piano while he was working as an Army cryptanalyst during World War II. A concert commemorating the legacy of the Center of the Creative Arts has to include a work by Foss, the former wunderkind who became the driving force behind its existence. In his 1968 work Paradigm, the instrumentalists speak, whisper, or shout words, “resulting in a jazzy, quasi-theatrical musical game,” making the piece “a statement on various forms of contemporary composition.” The final movement is based on the text of a Foss lecture. The musicians command, “Show me dangerous music,” something that Lukas Foss continued to do throughout his career.

Creative Associate Lejaren Hiller’s wild 1968 mixed-media theatrical piece An Avalanche for Pitchman, Prima-Donna, Player Piano, Percussionist and Pre-Recorded Playback uses a text by Hiller’s friend, playwright Frank Parman, while the composer used a computer for the generation of the music sequences printed on piano rolls. The members of Wooden Cities have reconstructed the piece, a satirical look at contemporary art in America in the late 1960s, tracking down the original player piano rolls and re-punching and re-recording them for this performance.

Commissioned by the Friends of Vienna, Looking at / Towards / On Top Of: Mount Agrı, by the young Turkish composer and avant garde vocalist Esin Gündüz, features settings of texts by Pushkin, Nietzsche, and Turgut Özakman. While UB professor of cello Jonathan Golove partnered with Güdüz in her ethereal vocalizations at the work’s well received premiere in the FOV series this past October at the Unity Church, cellist T. J. Borden will be featured in this performance.

In the best traditions of the now legendary Center for Creative and Performing Arts, the program will also feature the premiere performance of five new works:

Jeffrey Stadelman, chair of the UB Department of Music, writes, “In 2007 I sketched a very large musical structure to be built up over many years out of small, disparate parts. This project, Koral, will in the end include hundreds of pieces, to be played individually or in groups.” Koral 8 sets a text from “Analects” by Paul Valery, while Koral 12 uses lines from John Ashberry’s “Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse”.

Composer and pianist Michael McNeill says the text of Heptagram “comes from Charles Eisenstein’s 2011 book Sacred Economics. The members of the ensemble alternately speak segments of this text and perform seven segments of notated music, sometimes together and sometimes moving independently, guided by the conductor.”

According to Brendan Fitzgerald, his “with.against is a piece that places two individuals in the same musical space. A computer selects by chance which musical ideas will activate the chord tones at what time.”

Nathan Heidelberger describes his Occasionally, music as “a set of two ‘crab canons’—in each movement the cello plays the same notes as the violin in reverse. The piece draws upon a spare, dramatically reduced palette, consisting mostly of single, unadorned pitches.”

Zane Merritt says that his Burning Cities “ended up sounding quite incendiary and active. This is, however, a fire of spirit, energy, and playful pandemonium (which I think is a good characterization of Wooden Cities) as opposed to a fire of death, destruction, and chaos.”

The program will be previewed at the free Slee Hall Brown Bag concert at 12:05pm on Tuesday, February 4. For more information, visit

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