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Library helps revive legacy of unsung composer Julius Eastman

Julius Eastman, right, performs on the piano, accompanied by UB faculty member Jan Williams on the marimba. Photo: Christine Rusiniak, courtesy of the Burchfield Penney Art Center

By MARCENE ROBINSON

Published February 9, 2017

The provocative words and performances of the late music pioneer Julius Eastman are on display in a new exhibit, “Performing the Music of Julius Eastman,” in the UB Music Library.

Eastman, a brilliant singer and extraordinary pianist known for his outrageous personality and politically charged work, was one of the first musicians to combine minimalist elements and pop music.

His work left a significant impact on the New York classical music scene. However, by the time of his death, most of his scores were either scattered or lost, largely erasing him from public memory.

Julius Eastman with the violin. Photo: Courtesy of the Burchfield Penney Art Center

But led by artists who worked with Eastman throughout his career, the UB Libraries and the Burchfield Penney Art Center are helping to revive Eastman’s legacy.

“It is exciting to witness how the perceptions of Julius Eastman’s talents and music are changing as a result of recently published research and recordings,” says John Bewley, UB associate librarian and curator of the Eastman exhibit.

“Once known to a relatively small number of musicians, Eastman is now recognized as an important contributor to the world of contemporary music from the 1960s until his death in 1990, both as a performer and composer. The merited attention comes too late to change his life, but he will no longer remain a lost, forgotten figure.”

“Performing the Music of Julius Eastman,” is on display in the UB Music Library in Baird Hall on the North Campus. Visitors can view a collection of photographs and texts on Eastman’s compositions from his time in Buffalo and at UB.

Library hours are 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday

The exhibit was organized in conjunction with a scheduled performance of Eastman’s music on Feb. 10 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State as part of the M&T Second Friday celebrations.

The free event, “The Scores of a Man: A Revival of Julius Eastman,” will take place from 5:30-9 p.m. at the BPAC, 1300 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo. The evening will also include a lecture by Renee Levine-Packer, co-author of “Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and His Music.”

Performances include:

  • “Buddha,” Sotto Voce Vocal Collective, 5:30 p.m., Burchfield Rotunda, and 6:30 p.m., East Gallery.
  • “Stay On It,” Buffalo Chamber Players, 6 p.m., Reception Space.
  • “Gay Guerilla,” Buffalo Chamber Players and Bufluxus, 7 p.m., East Gallery.
  • “Crazy Nigger,” Amy Knoles, 8 p.m., Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Auditorium.

Julius Eastman rehearsing Peter Maxwell Davies' “Eight Songs for a Mad King,” Nov. 1, 1970. Photo: Jim Tuttle, Courtesy of the Digital Collections, UB Libraries

A former UB faculty member, Eastman was also a creative associate in the UB Center of the Creative and Performing Arts, a music fellowship program that brought more than 100 of the nation’s prominent performers and composers to UB.

Known for his challenging and complex scores, Eastman used his works to comment on the country’s conservative social and economic stance during an era of non-inclusion and bigotry that afflicted the African-American and LGBTQ communities. His compositions included bluntly confrontational titles, such as “Evil Nigger,” “Gay Guerilla” and “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?”

His compositional style combined a collage of multiple unsynchronized layers, electronic manipulation, repetition and parts of pop music.

The UB Music Library is home to 10 of Eastman’s 16 surviving scores.