Pousseur’s Votre Faust Finds New Life at UB
Lovers of music can experience both rarely performed contemporary ‘classics’ and new works
This year’s Wolf-Steger Fund Concert, a free event will take place in Slee Hall on the UB Amherst Campus on Friday October 13 at 7:30pm. The concert, which spotlights the work of Buffalo composers, is funded by an endowment from the late UB music faculty member Muriel Wolf and her husband, bassist Albert Steger, a longtime member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
The focus of this concert is music by the Belgian composer Henri Pousseur, who was the Slee Visiting Professor of Music at the University at Buffalo in the 1966-67 academic year. Pousseur’s most significant work is his opera, Votre Faust, composed between 1960 and 1968. Pousseur’s opera, or as it has been described more precisely, “a variable fantasy in the style of an opera” is written in two acts for five actors, four singers, twelve instrumentalists, and tape. The text is by the French experimental author Michel Butor.
Jonathan Golove, chairman of the department of music at UB, explains:” We’re playing portions of two sets Pousseur made of ‘chamber’ versions of music from his opera Votre Faust, Echoes I and Jeu de Mirrors. The former, Echoes I, is scored for voice, flute, cello, and piano (with Tiffany DuMouchelle, soprano, Emlyn Johnson, flute, Jonathan Golove, cello, and Eric Huebner, piano) and uses various combinations of the four, including a solo cello piece. The latter, Jeu de Mirrors, featuring pianist Eric Huebner and soprano Tiffany DuMouchelle, is primarily solo piano, although there is a vocal obbligato part for the movement we’ve programmed. Both Pousseur and his librettist/collaborator Michel Butor were at UB as visiting faculty in the 1960’s, Butor as Melodia Jones Professor in1962-63; some other chair holders of that period include Michel Foucault (1970 and 1972), Jacques Derrida (1975) as well as Pousseur as Slee Professor (Both of those titles have since gone from visiting posts as they were back then to endowed chairs for continuing faculty).
“Their collaboration, Pousseur’s magnum opus Votre Faust, was performed in concert versions here in Buffalo”, says Golove, “including a premiere in March 1968. Most of the texts in the pieces we are playing are not original ones written by Butor, but rather, in my understanding, are texts assembled by him. The idea of assembling verbal texts from different periods goes with a polystylistic concept in the music, which has its basis in the serialism that Pousseur was steeped in, but which is combined with many other influences. You might call this ‘post-modernism’, but it’s really unusual music even now, rarely heard and, strangely, little recorded”.
It is always very welcome, of course, to remember, and sometimes to reimagine, the work of the many influential composers who were involved in Buffalo’s emergence as a noted worldwide center of experimental music during the now legendary era of the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts at the University at Buffalo, under Lukas Foss. It just as important perhaps, to preserve the true spirit of this uniquely creative time in our history by advancing the contemporary music of our own time, as this event has, by featuring works by Robert Phillips and Moshe Shulman, composers who recently earned their PhD’s from UB.
Phillips was recently appointed Managing Director of the Center for 21st Century Music at UB, and Managing Director of the June in Buffalo Festival. About his Larghetto Rubato, a work for bassoon, guitar, and cello, Rob explains: “It was originally composed for Pascal Gallois, Magnus Andersson, and Rohan de Saram when they visited the University at Buffalo in 2010 to perform works by UB graduate composers and present their own program. Since then, the trio has toured the piece many times in Scandinavia, including at the most recent Kalvfestivalen in Sweden, as well as throughout Europe and the U.S. Larghetto Rubato plays with the relationship between the small spontaneous variations in tempi, the ‘rubato’ which robs from the beats and rhythms around it, and the glissandi drifting of the melody. Each sonic element rises and falls, increases and decreases, and coordinates its movements like a net floating on water, loosening and tightening with the passing of each wave, as each wave gently distorts the temporal and harmonic surface. The performance will feature Syracuse-based bassoonist Jessica Wooldridge King, alongside UB faculty members Sungmin Shin on guitar and Jonathan Golove on cello”.
Moshe Shulman might be best known to local musical audiences as the face of tango music in our area through his efforts to promote the genre with his different musical groups, in many and varied locations, while also performing as our local premiere bandoneon (Argentine accordion) player. The young Israeli composer is also however, a talented composer, as evinced by his 2016 work Seven Prophetesses, as he explains: “Seven biblical female prophetesses: Miriam, Hulda, Esther, Avigail, Sarah, Hannah, and Deborah, are portrayed in these songs. Inspiration for the piece emerged through conversation with Dr. Anne Harley, founder and director of Voices of the Pearl, about setting text by and about female esoterics from world traditions throughout history to reclaim their lost voices and the tradition of female spirituality. Before the spirits of these women could be brought to life through music, my friend and poet, Juli Varshavsky, was invited to develop his most reflective text about these famous, yet inaccessible women. Where information about the women was limited, Juli filled in with intuition and imagination. From the seven fine poems which resulted from this reflection, I extracted the most important lines to set to music for this composition, which Tiffany DuMouchelle will sing in Hebrew, with Miranda Shulman, first violin, Gretchen Fisher, second violin, Leanne Darling, viola, Jonathan Golove, cello and the Toronto based harpist, Kristen Theriault. This piece was made possible by a grant from the Fromm Music Foundation.
Admission to this event is free. Please be aware that a popular music concert in the nearby Center for the Arts might make parking somewhat challenging.