At June in Buffalo, ‘the present-day composer refuses to die’ 

By Jeff Miers

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Renowned new music festival & conference returns under new artistic director Jonathan Golove 

The Switch~ Ensemble is to perform on June 9 / Source:

The manifesto of the International Composers Guild, founded in 1921 by composer Edgard Varese with the aim of protecting contemporary composers facing diminishing outlets for the presentation of their works, contains some dramatically declarative language. 

“The present day composers refuse to die,” Varese wrote, in part. “They have realized the necessity of banding together and fighting for the right of each individual to secure a fair and free presentation of (their) work.” 

Fans of the late American composer Frank Zappa are familiar with Varese’s words, for Zappa paraphrased them in the liner notes of the 1966 Mothers of Invention album Freak Out. It’s likely that the experimental composer Morton Feldman, who became a Professor of Composition at the University at Buffalo in 1973, was familiar with Varese’s words as well, for they might be seen as the creed behind the creation of the June in Buffalo Festival, which Feldman spearheaded in 1975.  

When June in Buffalo returns to UB’s North Campus June 6-11, Varese’s words from a century ago will still resound and offer a philosophical framework for what is at this point one of the longest-running and most impactful new music conferences of its kind.  

“Free and fair presentation” of new works remains JiB’s core goal, and this year, some 25 student composers from around the world will hear their works performed by internationally renowned musicians and be afforded the opportunity to engage in mentoring and coaching sessions, detailed rehearsals, and critical responses to their works from distinguished composers and mentors like Ann Cleare, Robert HP Platz, Mathew Rosenblum and Melinda Wagner

And for the first time since 1986, when UB Distinguished Professor David Felder began what would turn out to be a 36-year run leading JiB, the festival will have a new Artistic Director, in the form of UB faculty member and cellist-composer Jonathan Golove.  

June in Buffalo artistic director, Jonathan Golove / Source: University at Buffalo

Golove is well aware that, in taking over an esteemed position with an incredible history, he is standing on the shoulders of giants.  

“This position is very much aligned with my interests, as a composer and musician and educator,” Golove says. “The very first thing I came to Buffalo to do was to be a participant and performer at the 1994 June in Buffalo. So this is very close to my heart and to my beliefs and interests. 

“The festival, as begun by Morton Feldman, was quite a different kind of affair, and it has assumed legendary status. He brought some amazing figures to Buffalo, but it wasn’t so formalized as an annual event. When he stopped doing it, after 3 years, and then David Felder eventually assumed the mantle, JiB began to take a very discernible shape.  

“In many ways, what David did was to give the emerging composers a much more participatory role. He made it part of the project that each one of them has a piece of their music performed, and they go away with a recording, having worked through their compositions with these distinguished senior composers and musicians, who act as mentors.”  

Arditti String Quartet is to perform on June 10 / Source:

June in Buffalo offers one of the few available opportunities for emerging composers to hear their work performed by world-renowned musicians in such a setting, and then to get immediate feedback on that work. 

How important is it for young composers to hear their works performed? Vitally so, according to Golove.  

“There are few such opportunities, and those opportunities are absolutely essential for young composers of new music, but the truth is that the success of June in Buffalo has been emulated elsewhere, and there are more programs in different parts of the country that are similar to it now than there have been in the past,” he says.  

“So in a sense, it’s a more competitive environment for us than it used to be. But though there are some imitators, most of them are not going to have, say, the Arditti String Quartet, who are returning this year, or a concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, which is something that has become a time-honored part of JiB.  

“So there are things about what we do here that are very distinctive.” 

Golove never lost touch with his first June in Buffalo when, under the leadership of Felder, he felt the thrill of being welcomed into a world populated by musical heroes. In fact, it’s a core tenant of his vision of the festival, moving forward under his own leadership.  

“That sense of what this was all about, from the perspective of a student, that I learned when I came to my first June in Buffalo in 1994 – that’s one of the things I would really love to maintain about JiB,” he says.  

“I don’t ever want to lose that. You know, you always have competing demands on an event like this, and one of them is that it is a public event, and you hope that it will be well attended and that there will be some attention paid to it in the public sphere –  that’s all very important.  

“On the other hand, what I believe the pure purpose of June in Buffalo is – and this does go back to the Morton Feldman years – is that, it’s a place where composers come to talk amongst themselves about what matters to them. And while there, they are in the presence of spectacular musicians who are completely and totally dedicated to doing this kind of thing. This the very air they breathe!  So in that context, you can discuss what you feel is important in what you’re doing as a composer and you don’t necessarily feel the need to make a public statement about it.  

“That core – composers talking amongst themselves about the things that are important to them, and then hearing and sharing their music – that’s something I’m dedicated to preserving.”  

June in Buffalo takes place June 6 – 11 on UB’s North Campus. This year’s lineup of artists includes the return of the London-based Arditti Quartet; the Slee Sinfonietta, UB’s chamber orchestra in residence; the Talujon Percussion Ensemble; and the [Switch~ Ensemble]. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will open the festival on June 6. The complete schedule is available on the UB Center for 21st Century Music’s “Edge of the Center” blog.  

Jeff Miers headshot

Jeff Miers

Jeff Miers is a music journalist and musician living and working in Buffalo NY. He was the Music Critic for The Buffalo News from 2002 to 2023, and was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 2014, as both journalist and musician.