Research Critical to Composer's New York

Composer David Felder.

Published May 29, 2013

The music of David Felder, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Birge-Cary Chair in Composition at the University at Buffalo, proves that the fruits of research are not confined to the hard sciences, or even the representational humanities.

“Artistic research can be very wide-ranging in its manifestations.”
David Felder, Professor, Composer
University at Buffalo

On April 23, the UB Office of the President and the Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music at UB presented the world premiere of Felder’s “Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux,” a song cycle for two solo voices, a 35-piece orchestra, and 12 channels of electronics.  It featured two celebrated performers: soprano Laura Aikin, and bass Ethan Herschenfeld; Felder wrote the piece specifically for their voices. The program opened with “Tweener,” a 2010 Felder composition for solo percussion, electronics and large chamber ensemble.  The soloist was Thomas Kolor, assistant professor of music at UB and one of the country’s top young specialists in late 20 century American percussion music. The concert was held in Lippes Concert Hall, Slee Hall, UB North Campus.

After the premier, Felder talked about the importance of research to his compositional process. “Artistic research can be very wide-ranging in its manifestations,” he noted. “For me, personally, I reject what some call ‘experimental’ music or art. There is a prolonged period of trial and error in any new work that I make, a process wherein formal, and perceptual ideas are proposed, and vetted. … I create and evaluate through living with the sound materials of a potential musical passage or the entirety of a work in my inner ear, my inner life. Over time, a lived experience with the materials, I know what to do with them.”

For “Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux,” that meant following “lines of investigation” suggested by the poetry that inspired the music, written by René Daumal (whose poem also provided the composition’s title) as well as Pablo Neruda, Dana Gioia, and former UB poetics faculty Robert Creeley. The poems presented challenges in responding to and incorporating not only their images, but also their words. “In the music that I write,” notes Felder, ‘line’ is critically important, and the process of perceptually following various lines that co-exist simultaneously, is the single most critical aspect … Such lines may produce the ‘aha’ or ‘eureka’ moments; or even the physical responses that one can characterize as the chill running up an down the spine. I work very, very diligently on these levels of a work.”

Describing his process with the poetry, Felder adds, “In a work with text, connections among poetic images, the sounds of the words themselves, the rhyme schemes, and the formal organization of the poems are all wonderful reservoirs replete with fecund possibilities. … A chord, a vertical sonority was made, that I named and characterized as the ‘dazzling’ chord, and some potentialities inherent within this sonority were utilized throughout the entirety of the fifty-two minutes.” The use of voices singing and reciting the poems—both prerecorded and live during the performance—added to the complexity and richness of the piece, informing Felder’s innovative use of electronics. Felder says, “The voice, the human utterance from speech through sung music, is the entirety of the work. All of the electronic sounds are generated from the voice itself, or upon modeling of the voice.”

The world premier was an exciting start to the “Signature Series,” launched by UB President Satish K. Tripathi as a new spring tradition aimed at highlighting the university’s creative excellence, ingenuity, and imagination. It began on Monday, April 22 with an open rehearsal of “Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux,” and continued with a luncheon dialogue featuring David Felder on Tuesday, April 23, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Cristanne Miller, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Edward H. Butler Professor of Literature. The interdisciplinary panel—with speakers from the departments of English, Music, and Theater and Dance—included performances of the poems used in Felder’s composition, as well as a critical discussion. Later that evening came the world premier.

Felder says that future plans for the music include a period of revision, followed by more performances, and eventually a recording for commercial release. “The work will be presented again at UB in June 2015, at June in Buffalo (with more precise lighting and staging) and at the Boston Modern Orchestra Series in the 2014-15 season. There seems to be strong interest from other conductors and groups,” Felder adds, and he looks forward to seeing, and hearing, how the music grows and evolves as he continues to revise it.