The June in Buffalo Festival is upon us once again. The annual musical event returns with its usual mix of adventurous performers and compositions, some successful and others not, but all with an unspoken promise to listeners that if they’re patient, they’ll hear something they’ve never heard before or, at least, not often.
Mornings are filled with lectures by established composers and performers; afternoons generally belong to young, untried composers whose works receive performances and critiques; while the evenings are reserved for scores by some of the most-honored composers in modern music – Pulitzer Prize winners, MacArthur Fellows and influential university professors.
Monday night’s program was an interesting mix of strings and percussion. It also showcased an unintended feature of the festival – a fluid approach to programming that delivers surprises at almost every concert. The order of works played shifts compared with the program guide, and compositions scheduled for performance give way to others.
“Imaginary Landscapes” no. 3 was the John Cage percussion score that would have started off the show, but it gave way to another Cage work, “Third Construction.” String quartet compositions by David Felder, Augusta Read Thomas and Brian Ferneyhough changed position, as did Steve Reich’s classic percussion piece, “Drumming: Part One.” In fact there was a revision of the first scheduled revision as Ferneyhough’s second string quartet gave way to “Exordium,” a piece written in honor of Elliott Carter’s centenary.
It really didn’t matter when you get right down to it because the performances by the Talujon Percussion Ensemble and the JACK Quartet were interesting and authoritative.
Cage’s “Third Construction” is a masterpiece of rhythm played on unusual instruments, including an assortment of cowbells, claves, drums, cymbals, what appeared to be “tuned” coffee canisters and, for good measure, a conch shell that doubled as a wind instrument.
Felder and Ferneyhough both wrote works (“Stuck-stucke” and “Exordium”) that featured short phrases and advanced playing techniques, with the former providing an austere yet beautiful finale that stood well in comparison with the kinetic approach that began the piece, while the latter’s brief sonic flurries were an effective tribute to a master musician.
Read Thomas’ string quartet (“Rise Chanting”) was perhaps the most “conventional” piece heard during the evening. She took a different road in her experimentation, one that subtly heralded back to sonic elements found in Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Debussy but with a twist that placed it well within the scope of 21st century musical expectation.
The Reich piece closed out the evening with an impressive show of rhythmic complexity handled well by the talented Talujon Percussion Ensemble.
Part of June in Buffalo Monday evening in Lippes Concert Hall, UB North Campus, Amherst.