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SUNY Distinguished Professor
Birge-Cary Chair in Music Composition
Ph.D. University of California at San Diego
116 Slee Hall
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14260
tel: (716) 645-0658
fax: (716) 645-3824
Interviewed by Joshua Mailman, Spring, 2003
When and how did the June in Buffalo Festival start?
In 1975, Morty Feldman and his assistant, Renee Levine, the Administrator for the Center for the Creative Associates at UB decided to start a summer program for the presentation of composers and their works in concert and lecture. Young composers were selected to participate as attendees at the events as well.
How has it evolved since its inception?
Well, Morty ran the Fest until 1980 when he decided to stop it. There were apparently many reasons why he decided to call it quits, some personal, some professional. When UB recruited me to the Faculty in 1985, Morty, the UB administration, and I explored my re-starting the event as a part of our discussions. We came to a mutual agreement and the Fest was begun again in 1985-6. There was one very important difference at that time: I was and am committed to realizing the compositions of the young composers selected to participate in fully professional performance in the same way that the more 'famous' faculty composers, and the audiences heard their work.
Also, in the first incarnation the festival ran two-three weeks. It has been done in one week since 1985.
To answer about its evolution, well, I believe that the level of performance is much higher than it was then, and that the addition of master classes and first-rate performances for the younger composers are of a great benefit to now several generations of composers… such overt concern for the emerging generation was not a part of the former approach.
How is it different from a European contemporary music summer course, such as Darmstadt? (How is it the same?)
Well, which Darmstadt? The old one from the 50's, 60's, and 70's was an obvious model for the former JiB. The more modern D-town, which I participated in twice in the late 80's and early 90's was like a middle eastern bazaar; composers hawking their wares, lousy performances, and a circus atmosphere, complete with the foulest smelling 'food' … it took place in a high school! I feel very confident in stating unequivocally that our Festival is a huge improvement upon what I experienced; far better organized, finer performances, and of more substance for the younger composers.
Why or how did you choose "music and the visual image" as the theme for this festival?
In 2000 I started 'thematic programming' as a way to focus the festival some. And things that I have been interested in, like the interactions between music and image, motivate me to begin to examine how these interactions could be presented in concert. I greatly regret that due to time and of course budget constraints, we can only present mere slices of the 'field'; this year the moving image was the slice of the larger. Glass, Corigliano, Reich all have worked extensively with film and video, in a variety of circumstances; Wuorinen's work has a strong tie to choreography, and my pieces are hooked in to video, and also choreographic image in the impeti for the works BoxMan and partial [dist]res[s]toration respectively. Next year is "Music and Computers".
According to the categories musicologists and critics use, the composers featured in this year's (and previous years') June in Buffalo festival tend to occupy opposite poles: minimalism and maximalism.
Fortunately for me and no doubt everyone else, I am not a musicologist, and so I feel no responsibility for how music is described. In fact I find musical descriptors laughable, though I can understand why they are deployed.
How do you view your own music in relation to these tendencies or stylistic categories, if you regard as such at all?
I leave the discussion about my music to others. This is a somewhat 'dangerous' position in today's market-driven and media-hypoid world, but its the way I feel most comfortable. I don't want to tell people what to listen to and how to hear music.
How have the other composers in the festival influenced your own composition?
The most obvious thing I can think of on a technical basis is Reich's music. I was delightfully shocked and moved and excited when I first heard Music for 18 Musicians in 1979. In examining the work and trying to find historical and technical precedents for it, and due to my own background and interests, I was deeply motivated to look at canonic procedures and structures, which I've incorporated as a very important factor in my music. But, there is little surface resemblance. And Wuorinen's music is just so incredibly well made and beautiful, but in a completely different way. I count Charles as a friend and am anxious to hear each new piece that he writes. I follow only a handful of composers myself and he is at the top of my list.
And I should say that each member of this year's group inspires me in very specific ways. I deeply admire them all.
Is it a coincidence that the set of invited composers spans the range from minimalist to maximalist or?
No coincidence—each year I try to bring in a wide spectrum of 'positions' and let them grind against each other. Friction produces heat and sometimes light… especially for the young composers.
How would you characterized the styles, or range of styles, of the younger composers participating in the workshop?
Whatever map you have, they would be all over it.
How has the work of these younger composers surprised you, or not surprised you, in relation to what you would have predicted five or ten years ago?
No real surprises…the competence level is up these days, but there is a deep conservatism, especially in the US composers. Some may suggest that this is some sort of 'victory' for 'values', but I see market forces at work unfortunately.
Could you describe or give some background on your two works partial [dist]res[s]toration
Written in 2001-2 for the Fromm Foundation at Harvard and for the New York New Music Ensemble; with some live electronics that are optional. Last year we did the premiere with the electronics; this year we reprise it withOUT…and we are recording it as well. It takes some 'textural washes' that i first wrote in 1982 as a part of a commission for a Dance piece from the Rockefeller Foundation and the American Dance Festival as source materials. The title refers to both the phenomena of 'distressing' which 'ages' new material, and 'restoration' which takes old stuff and attempts to bring it back to some original condition. And 'partial' refers both to the ubiquitous harmonic series, and to incomplete or fragmentary readings of musical materials. its about 20 minutes long in 7 connected movements…
A piece written for the great trombonist Miles Anderson. He is my long time friend and we started working on a piece which would include all of his outboard electronic devices (boxes) in 186-88. It morphed into a huge piece that is just about the hardest thing ever written for the instrument; and has a video wall component as well. We won't do the video this time although I'll show some of it in my lecture on Wednesday morning.
There are new electronics that were remade in 1999 that exploit the Max/MSP program to accomplish what formerly were about four foot-pedals, six outboard machines, tape playback, etc.; and Max allows for some very nice new additions as well.
There is a novel by Kobo Abe entitled The Box Man that provided the inspiration, along with Anderson's DEEE-VICES, and coincidentally Konrad Lorenz's work On Aggression…