Meyer Kupferman, Composer

Meyer Kupferman's father, Elias Staff-Cooperman, was born in Romania in 1900. A runaway youth, he fled from his stepfather and traveled throughout Europe as a gypsy folk singer, street musician who played the accordion, wrestler, cook and baker. He was conscripted into the Austrian-Hungarian army and wounded in World War I. Elias settled in the United States with his sister Clara in the early 20's. He joined the baker's union while living in New York City and changed his name to Elias Kupferman, thus severing all connection with his hated stepfather. He married a young Russian émigré, Fanny Hoffman, whose family had been decimated by Cossack raids and pogroms in Nemirov, a little Jewish village moving on the „Paleš between Kiev, Odessa and Eastern Poland. Fanny's flight to American first brought her to the mid-west where she worked in the mills and factories of Kansas. Later she joined her aging aunt in New York where she found work as a seamstress. Fanny and Elias were introduced by some friends at a wedding where Elias was hired as singer and entertainer. They fell madly in love and were soon married.

Meyer Kupferman was born on July 3rd, 1926 in New York City. The little family soon moved to Brooklyn because there were more and better jobs available for bakers. Also landlords had lowered their rents on all apartments; they were, in fact, giving away three months rent-free concessions on all new leases. Through the Depression and nearly the next ten years Kupferman's family moved to a new apartment each year. Thus as a child he had to attend a different school each year and make new friends as well as abandon old ones very often.

At age five he was given the violin, a study that was so premature and uncomfortable he has little memory of it. At age ten, almost as a joke or a dare while fooling around with his friends already in the school band, Meyer Kupferman began taking clarinet lessons. Music soon became an important part of his life and he became good at it. The idea of writing music grew more and more fascinating for him. Eventually he began teaching himself the piano, which provided a basis for his curiosity about composing and arranging music for his friends. As he grew older he worked as a young jazz musician in clubs and bars in the Coney Island area of Brooklyn. He lived through the „Big Band Eraš which provided a source of rich stimulation for him as well as all budding musicians interested in composing or arranging jazz.

Although Meyer Kupferman was entirely self-taught in music composition he received his education in theory, chamber ensemble and orchestral music at the High School of Music and Art. He also studied at Queens College. Kupferman's father encouraged his son in music and taught him many East European, gypsy and Hebrew melodies. The flavor of these tunes not only stayed with Meyer Kupferman for the rest of his life but influenced his compositional style from time to time.

As a young composer still in his twenties Kupferman because Professor of Composition and Chamber Music at Sarah Lawrence College in 1951. He continued as member of the faculty until his retirement forty three years later in 1994. During his tenure at Sarah Lawrence College he was chairman of the music department for five terms, conducted the orchestra, chorus and chamber improvisation ensemble, taught theory and music for film and wrote many experimental theatre and dance works for performing arts students at Sarah Lawrence.

Mr. Kupferman has been awarded grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Aaron Copland Fund, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts, the Library of Congress, the US State Department and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He is a virtuoso clarinetist who has premiered over sixty solo and chamber works composed especially for him and his „Music By My Friendsš ensemble.

Mr. Kupferman is an unusually prolific composer and has an impressive output of work in all forms: 7 operas, 12 symphonies, 9 ballets, 7 string quartets, 10 concertos and hundreds of chamber works. His strong interest in jazz has been abundantly shown by such „classical-jazzš compositions as Concerto for Cello and Jazz Band, Sonata on Jazz Elements, Tunnels of Love, Adjustable Tears, Jazz Infinities Three, Jazz Sting Quartet and Moonflowers, Baby!, a solo clarinet jazz work which has received international acclaim as a result of Charles Neidich's spectacular performances throughout the Soviet Union, Europe, Japan, and the USA, all these works an integral part of his „Cycle of Infinitiesš Ų a series of concert and jazz works evolved from the same 12-tone row begun in 1962. He has received commissions from the Hudson Valley Philharmonic for his Jazz Symphony in 1988 and Symphony No. 10, FDR in 1982, the Chappaqua Symphony for Wings of the Highest Tower, commemorating the Centennial of the U.S. Constitution, and the Nassau Symphony for his Double Clarinet Concerto. His cantata „Comicus Americanusš was commissioned by the Kansas City Philharmonic in 1970. The American Composers Orchestra premiered his Challenger in 1984 and the Pro Arte Orchestra of Boston recorded his Clarinet Concerto for CRI.

A forty-year retrospective of his keyboard music was performed during a nine concert tour by pianist Christopher Vassiliades. Some of his experimental works in tape-gestalt form include such pieces as Celestial City, Angel Footprints, Superflute and Illusions. Among his many film scores are such pictures as Black Like Me, Hallelujah the Hills, Blast of Silence and Truman Capote's film Trilogy, which includes the famous „A Christmas Memory

In the summer of 1990 the Lithuanian National Symphony recorded his „Jazz Symphonyš and „Challengerš (Soundspells Productions CD 104). Mr. Kupferman made the heroic trip to Lithuania for that purpose during the time of the Russian blockade. In the 1991-92 season he celebrated his 65th year with the premiere of his seventh opera, „The Prosceniumš, and several piano retrospectives with pianists Morton Estrin, Kazuko Hayami, Svetlana Gorokhovich and Christopher Vassiliades. Kupferman's book, Atonal Jazz, a two-volume, in-depth study of new chromatic techniques in contemporary jazz was released in 1992 by Dorn Publications. His „Concerto for Guitar and Orchestraš was commissioned by the Orquesta de Baja California and premiered in Mexico in 1994 with Roberto Limón as guitar soloist and Eduardo Garcia Barrios, conductor. Kupferman's brand new „Concerto for 4 Guitars and Orchestraš (1998) has already been released by Soundspells (CD124).

Recent commissions include the „Chaconne Sonataš for flute and piano, written for Laurel Ann Maurer, „Pipe Dream Sonataš for solo guitar commissioned by Robert Phillips, „Ice Cream Concertoš and „Flavors of the Starsš both for the virtuoso ATRIL5 Contemporary Ensemble of Mexico, „Hot Hors D'Ouevresš for the Hudson Valley Philharmonic and „Hexagon Skiesš for guitar and orchestra commissioned by the Orquesta de Baja California and guitarist Roberto Limón. In 1976 Itzhak Perlman gave the New York premiere of Kupferman's „Fantasy Sonataš and Martha Graham created a new ballet based on the same violin score called „O Thou Desire,š which her company took on a European tour the following year. During this period cellist Laszlo Varga premiered Kupferman's „Concerto for Cello, Tape and Orchestraš which he later recorded on a Vox CD (VoxBox CDX5158). Other recent commissions are his „A Faust Concertoš for French horn and chamber orchestra, „Moonfinger's Demonš for orchestra and „Acrobats of Apolloš for marimba, guitar and chamber orchestra, all three works composed for the Orquesta de Baja California, with Eduardo Garcia Barrios, conductor. Flutist Laurel Ann Maurer commissioned a work for the Utah Contemporary Chamber players for flute, clarinet and piano called „O North Star.š Mr. Kupferman has also written a solo guitar piece for the Mexican guitarist, Roberto Limón, called „O Luna O Sol.š Another recent project, „Percussion Symphony,š was premiered by the Ithaca Percussion Ensemble in 1998, conducted by Gordon Stout.

Meyer Kupferman's recent recordings include his Winter Symphony (1997) and his Concerto Brevis (1998) for flute and orchestra, both of which were recorded for Soundspells on CD125, by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo with the composer conducting.

Kupferman Notes by Valentine Fabian  

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