The Performances! Oh, the Performances!!!

   This is a continuation of the series related to June in Buffalo. The original post has been updated with links to the topics listed by bullet points


   June in Buffalo is many things--lectures, masterclasses, rehearsals, and performances of attendees and by resident ensembles generally featuring the works of the guest composers. There were two performances every day during JiB, except Sunday that just had a performance by the Buffalo Phil.

   One of my first ideas going into JiB was to write concert reviews. That's been a running theme for me, eh? Not writing the reviews, but the IDEA of writing the reviews. But, after attending a few concerts, I thought better of it. My acerbic wit and biting criticism don't mesh well with the current climate of music criticism. Instead, I'll focus on broad themes rather than specifics.

   First off, the rehearsal experience with Ensemble Signal. Awesome. Rehearsals during JiB are often open. However, Brad Lubman, esteemed conductor for Signal, called for their first rehearsal to be closed. I thought (as most composers probably do) that this meant everyone but them. So I wandered in, shook some hands, and then Brad told me "The first rehearsal is closed to everyone. We'd like time along work through the piece, figure things out, then bring up concerns, ideas, and such tomorrow" (paraphrased, of course. It HAS been a month).

    My first reaction was "huh?" That was soon followed by "FUCK YEAH! GREAT IDEA! PEACE!!!" I didn't quite say it that way...but it was close. I think I said "Oh, that's a great idea! I have no real reason to be here anyway, I'm sure all of you "get" the piece and will do awesome. I'll drop by tomorrow then. Have fun!" Yeah, that seems more like what I said. I do wonder what they thought as I almost skipped out of the auditorium, more than happy to let an ensemble do what it will do.

    The next day I came by and there were, of course, concerns. A notational thing here or there, better to write things this way, this might sound better up an octave. I took a bunch of it in stride, made a few quick choices, scribbled all over a score. When asked, I made quick decisions, described what I wanted, frowned when I realized things didn't work and scribbled away. I never once asked them to stop, rather content to accept my defeats and fix them in a resulting later draft. There were only a few small changes to things, namely a few horn bits that moved from stopped to open, and a note or two changing octaves. Easy stuff.

     What happened in the concert, however, was exactly what I wished to have happen. I wished my piece came later in the week, being on the second attendee concert only gave the piece so much "weight." Perhaps I should say...levity? The first two pieces were fairly long, somber, and somewhat Romantic in style. I glanced around the auditorium often, seeing people straining to keep attention through the 15+ minute works. We were all still acclimating--not quite used to the week, but not quite falling over tired (as happened on Saturday during a particularly long concert). We were adjusting.

    The first couple concerts provided music that were somewhat expected--the first was percussion ensemble Talujon playing attendee works. Most of the pieces went well over 10 minutes, up into the 15+ range. There was an extreme focus on timbral combinations, which is quite in vogue these days. The evening concert with Talujon and JACK went from classics, such as Reich's Drumming, to a newer Ferneyhough work, Exordium. Still, the landscape was what I expected in most "new music" concerts.

    I tell you this to setup what happened when Signal play All Things Are Not Equal--Sinfonietta Edition. This piece is not standard new music fare. It's a jazz/funk/groove piece reorchestrated for a classical group. It's what a jam band might play on a Saturday night gig when everyone wants a solo (along with Street Cleaning, of course). My thought, in re-orchestrating the piece, was to create something that a group could put on a concert that'd change the mood, break the all too powerful fog of concentration, and give everyone something fun to do.

   My piece starts with what I'd like to think of as a fake out. It's not the most convincing fake out (Augusta Read Thomas had some things to say about it...), but, it's something that I think, in context, worked really well. Everyone hears large snap pizz chords in a somewhat off kilter rhythm. The winds come in, same idea, then--glissandi, harmonics, a smattering of melody in the horn. It's just a fake out...

    In a concert of new works, the hope is the beginning gets people thinking "Ok, some sort of post-minimalist thing, maybe some sort of standard new music idea..."

   Then the groove starts. And it's funky. In fact, it's a pretty straight forward funk tune.

    And then the groove keeps going. and going. Little bits layer in over top, but it's about that groove. Then, the groove switches, and solos start.

    By the time the solos start, I'm hoping everyone has gotten the joke, and tongue in cheek "HA! It's a funk/jazz tune and you thought it was gonna be something else! Now relax, because music can be fun!"

    After the piece finished, the applause was more than polite. I won't say it was "enthusiastic" but it was an applause that definitely said "Thank you!" Thank you for something different, thank you for a breath of fresh air, thank you for something that's nothing more than what it is, simply, music.

    Ensemble Signal played the hell outta the piece. They made it work. They deserved the clapping far more than I. And I did what any good composer would do, offered to buy them drinks. Sadly, they didn't come out to the post evening concert carousal, but my pocket book probably thanks them for it. I WOULD have bought an entire round--with 9 players, that would have a been a bit expensive, but completely worth it.

    A final quick note. I waited till the aisles cleared a bit, then bee-lined for the stage, shaking hands, sincerely offering drinks, and congratulating all around. One other composer had headed down quickly...the others headed down after I started shaking every hand in sight. Always remember to thank the performers during your applause AND after the concert! Music happens on stage, after all. Don't be timid or nervous about it, but jump right into the fray. I'm NOT particularly a people person, and I dislike crowds in small spaces (by dislike, I meant I have some mild anxiety about it), but I am always as gracious as possible to my performers, no matter how tight the bar happens to be.


The series is moving right along. Perhaps I'll talk about some more generalities on what I heard at the concert, as far as "good, bad, and ugly." But, more than likely, I'll wrap up some ideas later. There was, after all, this academic conference in Portugal I went to where all sorts of interesting things happened...


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