Published May 22, 2020
June in Buffalo, UB’s internationally celebrated contemporary music festival, will break new ground this year and be presented as a remote event bringing together emerging artists and master composers through Zoom videoconferencing from June 1-7.
David Felder, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Music and Birge-Cary chair in Music Composition at UB, has produced 35 previous June in Buffalo festivals. The highly respected annual event that combines lectures, workshops, classes and performances has inspired a host of worldwide imitators, but for all of Felder’s genius as a composer and organizer, he has never had to consider adapting the intensity and social dynamic of the festival to an online platform ─ until now.
Given June in Buffalo’s multifaceted nature, the forward-thinking Felder recognized the necessity of exploring possible variations even before the ban on non-essential activities.
Despite the scope of the challenge, Felder’s extensive experience with online teaching ─ a reality due in part to his reluctance to fly ─ gave him a creative head start when it came to thinking about reorganizing June in Buffalo for the web.
At a fundamental level, Felder’s distance-learning background includes years of delivering online lectures, but he has also developed complex remote sessions and has invited others to take part in composition seminars in much the same way, when scheduling restrictions prevented participants from coming to UB.
“I’ve also thought having familiarity with online teaching could be a valuable curriculum offering for our PhD students,” says Felder, who is widely recognized as one of the leading composers of his generation. “So I was in some ways prepared for the changes we had to make.”
Prepared, yes. But Felder and his team had only two months to transform what history had established into what circumstances now demanded.
“Of the 24 participants chosen by a rigorous international selection process, 16 elected to remain involved in this year’s festival, while the others elected to defer their attendance to 2021,” Felder says. “I’m really thrilled that in one way or another all the participants decided to remain involved in the festival.”
He says the lectures will continue, but instead of master classes, attendees will receive individual composition lessons with the festival’s faculty, something he calls “a rare opportunity.”
Those emerging composers would ordinarily have one of their pieces performed by the festival’s participating musicians. This year, the rehearsals and coaching, like the individual lessons, will be conducted remotely. The musicians would then record at a later time, adopting social-distancing measures and safety precautions. Factoring in location and timing, this will be the first June in Buffalo festival that, once complete, will likely include activity in months other than June occurring in places other than Buffalo.
“I anticipate everything being done during the summer,” Felder says. “We’ve been in close contact with UB’s College of Arts and Sciences, our Department of Music staff has been helpful, and my managing director, Rob Phillips, is doing a sensational job trying to put all of this together with me.”
He says there will not be evening concerts this year featuring the work of the festival’s senior composers.
“That load would have been impossible to produce,” he explains. “I made the decision that it’s more important that we provide content for the emerging composers rather than the senior composers who have regularly scheduled performances of their work anyway.
“Those concerts will be recorded and at some point we’ll be able to post them online.”
The format for June in Buffalo 2020 is novel, but the praise continues.
Felder says he’s receiving excited messages from colleagues hearing the news about this year’s remote version of June in Buffalo, the only major contemporary music festival that hasn’t been cancelled.
“It’s important to keep events like this going in order to provide students with opportunities to meet other musicians and where they can have their work performed,” he says.
“It’s such an important part of their education and I’m so happy we’re able to do this.”