Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact
Previous story: How Sweet It Is
Next story: Left of The Dial

Eight For the Vanguard

Hallwalls debuts eight new compositions for soloists this weekend

Pictured: Alice Shields (left), Joan LaBarbara (right)

Meet the Composer, the preeminent commissioning organization in America, steps out from behind the scenes to present three concerts across New York State this month. The programs to be presented are entitled New Music for Soloist Champions and are the culmination of a year-long project in which eight soloists—all major figures in the new music world—collaborated with eight diverse contemporary composers to create a wide-ranging body of new solo works.

A grant from the New York State Music Fund made the collaborative effort possible. The eight composers were each commissioned to compose a new work, about 12 minutes long, to be performed by a solo instrumentalist or singer, though several works also use pre-recorded sounds, and one work employs both a singer and an instrumentalist.

Broad spectrums of musical genres are explored in the eight pieces, reflecting the diversity of 21st-century America. By assembling such a rich variety of performers and composers and presenting their work to three distinct audiences across New York State, Meet the Composer hopes to foster appreciation for musical innovation while empowering soloists to continue their passionate advocacy for new music.

All eight works receive their world premieres in Buffalo at the first event in the series on Saturday, March 15, at 8pm in Asbury Hall at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center at Babeville. The concert will be repeated on March 19 at the prestigious Symphony Space in New York and finally at SUNY Purchase on March 24. The concert will be something of a marathon session, presented in three parts, each 30 to 40 minutes long, with two intermissions.

Here is a rundown of each of the compositions and of the artists performing them on the program:

Composer Alice Shields, influenced in her wide-ranging music by classical Indian music and dance, wrote her work River of Memory, which includes computer generated sounds, for Monique Buzzarté, known as a champion of women’s music. Shields explains, “River of Memory is a meditation and reflection of memories in sound. The tempo is slow, like calm, deep waves flowing between minor and major tonalities, with little crests in major tonality, which soon subside into the next pool of mixed feelings.”

Ushio Torikai, whose widely commissioned works reflect her Asian heritage and Western training, composed her Metal Songs, featuring live percussion and pre-recorded sounds, for percussionist Dominic Donato, a member of the Talujon Percussion Quartet and a performer with numerous other new music ensembles. The first part of the concert ends quietly, but effectively, with the work Still, composed by Jason Eckhardt, whose work explores perceptual complexity and performance virtuosity. According to Eckhardt, “The title of this work intentionally encourages the consideration of the word’s multiple meanings. The stasis of the music may evoke a sense of motionlessness, or something at rest. The persistence of the musical materials also suggests something that remains, perhaps in the face of adversity. As a proper noun, the title is an homage to the sensuality and depth of Clyfford Still’s penetrating paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which I had the opportunity to revisit while composing this work.” Eckhardt wrote the piece for the baritone saxophone player Taimur Sullivan, who has given over one hundred world premieres.

The middle section of the program begins with Skin, by Steven Burke, whose works are known for their distinctive combination of beauty and compositional rigor. Cellist Ted Mook will accompany mezzo-soprano Mary Nessinger, a singer with a first-rate classical technique who also loves to perform new music. Skin, one of the longer works on the program, begins, according to Burke, with “the pain of a failed love affair and the inevitable questions of why. What follows is a search for the answer and the metamorphosis into self-awareness.”

Michael Lowenstern, a producer and composer of electronic music, composed Mash Up, for violin, electronic sounds and laptop computer, for Todd Reynolds, a violinist and electronic musician whose talents span most music genres. “Mash Up comes from my interest in electro-funk-hip-hop-tv show theme-eclectic music mashups made popular by underground DJs such as Team Canada,” explains Lowenstern. “The basis for these sorts of mixes is two or three disparate tunes mashed together in various ways, paired by key, content and/or theme. But when the Beatles are put with Biggie Smalls and Radiohead with Spinal Tap, something magical happens; the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”

A work by Joan LaBarbara, perhaps the best-known composer on the evening’s program, begins the final and longest section of the concert. LaBarbara is a composer/performer/sound artist who explores the human voice as a multi-faceted instrument expanding traditional boundaries, creating works for multiple voices, chamber ensembles, music theater, orchestra and interactive technology, developing a unique vocabulary of experimental and extended vocal techniques. ATMOS, for flute, movement, pre-recorded sounds and lighting, features flutist Margaret Lancaster, known for her interdisciplinary works that incorporate dance, drama and electronics. LaBarbara explains, “As the work evolved, I found myself constructing powerful force fields, intensely rhythmic sections, sounds in motion propelling both the activity of the live musical overlay and the performer’s actions. ATMOS is a work about primal energy, particles and matter, interlocking systems, overwhelming and untamable forces of nature and visceral reactions.”

Composer Huang Ruo offers Written on the Wind: A Multimedia Drama for Pipa, Voice, & Kinetic Painting. The piece kinetically incorporates the art of Norman Perryman while integrating the voice of Min Xiao-Fen, soloist on the pipa (Chinese lute), with Chinese folk music, Chinese folk-rock and avant-garde explorations. Huang Ruo offers her thoughts on her work: “Before I started working on this piece, I thought to myself how the experience would change if there were a moving visual element accompanying it. With this idea in mind, I asked British-Dutch painter Norman Perryman, a dear friend of both Xiao-Fen and mine, to create a kinetic painting. We have worked closely together so that the music and images develop simultaneously, sometimes occurring synchronously and at other times happening asynchronously. The goal is to create a context of artistic freedom and randomness so that the music, kinetic-painting and live performance each exist freely, but also respond to one another.”

The evening ends with 7 Etudes for piano and voice, a work by composer Don Byron, whose singular voice explores the divergent traditions of Latin, Afro-Cuban, hip-hop and klezmer music. Byron says, “Originally, I conceived a work inspired by the sound poetry of Kurt Schwitters, but I changed my mind after a pianist showed me some etudes by Brahms. I immediately knew there would be seven (it just sounds great), and planned specific stylistic choices for each etude according to its numeric position…A famous Picasso painting inspired one movement, a long-forgotten ad campaign for a soft drink inspired another, while another explores the rhythmic structure of the Wiener Waltz…The first etude is entitled ‘Guernica.’ The fourth etude contains a poem by ee cummings.” Lisa Moore, the founding pianist of the acclaimed and long-running new music group known as the Bang on a Can All-Stars, ends the evening vocalizing while playing this highly energetic, exciting composition on a Steinway concert grand piano.

Asbury Hall at Babeville, 341 Delaware Avenue. $18 general admission, $15 members/students/seniors. Information: