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UB Reporter

Williams’ 75th birthday with musical tribute

Published July 3, 2014

The Burchfield Penney Art Center will celebrate the 75th birthday of legendary percussionist Jan Williams, one of the most important figures in contemporary music and a former chair of the UB Department of Music, with a special tribute concert.

The concert will take place at 7 p.m. July 16 at the Burchfield Penney, 1300 Elmwood Ave. on the SUNY Buffalo State campus.

Williams will conduct many of his former students in a performance of “Ionization,” Edgar Varese’ iconic percussion composition for 13 performers.  “Ionization,” written between 1929 and 1931, has been hailed as the first musical composition to be written for percussion alone.

Admission is free for BPAC members; $5 for all others.

A native of Utica, Williams earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music at Manhattan School of Music, where he studied percussion with Paul Price and he was a member of the American Symphony Orchestra from 1962-1964 under conductor Leopold Stokowski.

He was selected in 1964 to be part of the first class of Creative Associates affiliated with UB’s Center of the Creative and Performing Arts. When that appointment ended he remained at the university, where he founded the Percussion Ensemble in 1964, was appointed to the music faculty in 1967 and served as department chair from 1981-1984. He also was artistic director of the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts from 1974-1979 and served as its resident conductor from 1976-1980. He co-directed, with Yvar Mikhashoff, the North American New Music Festival from 1983-1991.

Williams retired from UB in 1996.

He has appeared as percussionist, conductor and instructor throughout the United States and internationally, including with orchestras in Paris, Berlin, Israel, Detroit, New York and Copenhagen. Composers who have written works for him include John Cage, Elliott Carter, Joel Chadabe, Luis De Pablo, Gustavo Matamoros, Frederic Rzewski, Iannis Xenakis, Morton Feldman, Orlando Garcia, Nils Vigeland and Lukas Foss.