UB Yesterday: 1972

Composing the Future of Music

Rehearsal of Morton Feldman’s “Pianos and Voices” in Baird Hall, 1972. Morton Feldman at piano, with, from left, Julius Eastman, Jan Williams, William Appleby (student), David Del Tredici. Photo: Department of Music Photography Collection  

By Rebecca Rudell

Between 1964 and 1980, Buffalo, and in particular UB, was an international hub for avant-garde music. The world’s most talented and provocative composers and musicians—including John Cage, Elliott Carter and Steve Reich—were lured to the university by the opportunity to work with Lukas Foss and his Center of the Creative and Performing Arts, whose members were known as the Creative Associates. Foss, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra from 1963 to 1971, founded the center with then-UB music chairman Allen D. Sapp using a $200,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation (equivalent to $1,563,000 today) to develop a music program focused on contemporary composition and performance.

Lukas Foss in 1968. Photo: Jim Tuttle/University at Buffalo Music Library

Each of the men pictured here (except the student, second from right) is a 1972 Creative Associate who taught at UB and helped shape contemporary music in his own way. The late Morton Feldman, a center director, founded June in Buffalo, the internationally renowned new-music festival, in 1975. The late Julius Eastman, a visionary composer and performer whose revolutionary output is only now getting the recognition it deserves, was among the first to combine minimalism with pop music. Jan Williams, who drummed on everything from piano strings to coffee cans, founded UB’s Percussion Ensemble in 1964. And David Del Tredici, who conducted one of his first “Alice Pieces” (based on “Alice in Wonderland”) with UB musicians in 1972, received a Pulitzer Prize for a composition from the same oeuvre just a few years later.

By 1980, funding for this unique musical program had dried up and the center ceased operations. But not before nearly 120 Creative Associates shared their minds and souls via more than 1,100 musical works and 300-plus performances. Their legacy continues today through UB’s Center for 21st Century Music, the Slee Sinfonietta and, of course, June in Buffalo, which is still going strong after 42 years.