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Felder to premiere major new work at UB

The commission for “Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux,” is David Felder’s second from the Koussevitsky Foundation, which permits only two such commissions in an artist’s lifetime. Photo: DOUGLAS LEVERE


Published March 21, 2013

British music critic Hans-Theodor Wohlfahrt has written of composer David Felder that “he combines his deep knowledge of the past and the present with a constant searching on a philosophical, human and musical level—a Gustav Mahler for the 21st century."

Felder, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Birge-Cary Chair in Composition in the UB Department of Music, is an internationally acclaimed composer of contemporary music, with his works known for their highly energetic profile, lyrical qualities and use of technological extension for the elaboration of musical materials. His work masterfully combines widely ranging materials in surprising way, achieving a new synthesis.

On April 23, the Office of the President and the Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21 Century Music at UB will present the world premiere of Felder’s “Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux,” a complex song cycle for two solo voices, a 35-piece orchestra and 12 channels of electronics. It represents the pairing of the composer with two celebrated performers: dynamic soprano and UB alumna Laura Aikin, and bass Ethan Herschenfeld. Felder wrote the piece specifically for their voices.

Bass Ethan Herschenfeld. Photo: MARA CATALAN

The premiere will be the focal point of a two-day program that marks the start of a new university tradition, which President Satish K. Tripathi is introducing as a way to celebrate the university community’s rich and thriving legacy of innovation and distinction in the arts and letters. Other programming being held as part of this celebration includes a rehearsal open to the campus and local community; a brown bag lunch discussion with the composer, conductor, and musicians; a panel discussion with faculty and students focusing on the interpretation of texts as works of art; and an alumni-sponsored reception and Q&A with the composer and performers.

“UB has a long and storied tradition of creative excellence and innovation at the vanguard of the arts,” says Tripathi. “This event is a wonderful opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of the outstanding individuals who embody this tradition, from David Felder’s visionary achievements in contemporary composition, to the expression of that vision by world-renowned alumni like Laura Aikin and the distinguished faculty performing in the Slee Sinfonietta, to poets like the late Robert Creeley, whose voices are woven into the performance in surprising and remarkable ways. I am very much looking forward to what will surely be an evening to remember.”

The concert will begin at 7 p.m. in Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall, North Campus.

Advance tickets are available at the Center for the Arts box office. Prices are $12 for the general public; $9 for UB alumni, faculty, staff and seniors; and $5 for students. Tickets also may be purchased at the Slee Hall box office on the night of the performance; prices are $20, $15 and $8 (students).

Soprano Laura Aikin. Photo: L. CAPUTO

The program will open with “Tweener,” a 2010 Felder composition for solo percussion, electronics and large chamber ensemble. The soloist will be Thomas Kolor, assistant professor of music at UB and one of the country’s top young specialists in late 20th-century American percussion music.

The orchestra for both compositions will comprise ensembles dedicated to the presentation of contemporary chamber orchestral music: the acclaimed Ensemble Signal, conducted by world-renowned Brad Lubman, and the Slee Sinfonietta, the flagship professional chamber orchestra of the Morris Center.

Both works employ electronics, with “Tweener” utilizing the KAT mallet controller as an addition to the wide variety of traditional percussion instruments that make up the battery of resources used in the solo part.

One of the most important elements of “Les Quatre…” is the poetry that Felder has incorporated into the piece. It includes the eponymous “Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux,” a poem composed by French poet René Daumal near the end of his life.

Daumal’s early career emphasized the conversion of poetry into a form of theater in which speech, gestures, breath, voice stops and other elements of performance form a totality.

Brad Lubman conducting Ensemble Signal. Photo: STEPHANIE BERGER

“Later,” says Felder, “after his contact with ancient Hindu texts that detail the aesthetic purposes of poetry and theater, Daumal reconsidered his purpose and his late poetry is simple, profound and luminescent. ‘Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux’ is one of his last two poems and alludes to times of the day, the four elements, the four seasons and the four corresponding ages of life, emphasizing the trans-personal. 

“The work also employs the texts and even the voices of other poets reading their work that, while more personal to them and located in a specific time and place, nevertheless reflects Daumal’s allusions,” he says.

Audio recordings of authors reading their poems—“Spring Light” and “Buffalo Evening” (Robert Creeley), and “Insomnia” (Daniel Gioia)—are incorporated into the piece, with the poets’ voices used as source material and electronically transformed. The commission for this composition is Felder’s second from the Koussevitsky Foundation, which permits only two such commissions in an artist’s lifetime.

Felder serves as the artistic director of June in Buffalo, UB’s pioneering annual festival of new music. He is founder and director of the Morris Center and artistic director and founder of the Slee Sinfonietta.

His music has brought him dozens of important commissions and honors too numerous to cite, including the 2010 Music Award—a career recognition award—from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.