Were music a liquid, the music performed in the “Monsters of Modernism” concert would be a steaming mug of black coffee. And don’t even think of asking for milk and sugar. Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s Jan. 29 concert, led by conductor Gil Rose, turned heads with its unconventional music. The composers were “uncompromising,” Rose said. “They wrote the music that they believed in,” regardless of what the popular norms were. Among the contemporary composers featured was Wellesley Music Professor Martin Brody.
Gil Rose, who has included Tufts University as one of the bases of his Boston Modern Orchestra Project, brought a group of nineteen of Boston’s best freelancers to Distler Hall on Sunday afternoon, January 30, for a program of vivid (and not at all monstrous) American works for small orchestra and chamber groups. BMOP gave the same program at Bowdoin College and Wellesley College before this well-seasoned wrap-up. The audience was smaller than it ought to have been, but the weather was certainly much to blame for that.
Wellesley College music faculty member Martin Brody will premiere his anticipated new work, “Touching Bottom,” in tonight’s concert entitled “Monsters of Modernism.” The evening’s event commences a semester of performances from Wellesley College faculty and students in collaboration with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), which is in residence at the college for the 2010-2011 academic year.
For classical music nerds, the term ‘Double Concerto’ might likely bring to mind Vivaldi’s many works for pairs of violins or other instruments, or for the more romantically-inclined, Brahms’ Double Concerto for violin and cello. But there are many examples in the 20th and 21st centuries as well, for all kinds of instrument combinations. Last Friday night, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project gave a diverse sampling of the genre entitled Double Trouble, featuring four works composed between 1938 and 2010.
Tonight, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) will be performing its second program of a three-part series at the College.
BMOP, directed by Gil Rose, plays a diverse repertoire of contemporary music. This particular program, entitled “Monsters of Modernism” is comprised of pieces from the latter half of the 20th century.
“When we think about concert music, we have this image of powdered wigs and classical composers [such as] Beethoven and Mozart,” said Associate Professor of Music Vineet Shende. “This program offers a completely different side to that common notion.”
The double concerto, pace Brahms, is a creature of the Baroque era, really a special version of the concerto grosso with a concertino of only a couple of players blending with and emerging from the ripieno. The restructuring of large-scale composition around sonata form deprived composers of the natural recurrences of melodic strands that fueled the concerto grosso, making solo concertos a more logical way to achieve timbral contrast within the continual-development process of the more modern forms; yet, some Classical-era composers could not let go.
Martin Brody writes music, he says, in the decidedly modern idiomatic zone of composers like Igor Stravinsky, Olivier Messiaen, and Elliott Carter. But, though he doesn’t know exactly why, Brody, a music theory and composition professor at Wellesley College since 1979, has always had a fondness for Felix Mendelssohn.
Virtuosity, in its traditional sense, is musical performance at its most outgoing; the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s Saturday concert — “Double Trouble,” a quartet of double concerti — revealed a plethora of extroverted strategies. The plurality of styles was a showcase for the flexibility of conductor Gil Rose’s group, switching channels with ease, burnished and rhythmically rigorous in a program marked by wide-ranging gregariousness.
First, I will clarify what I went straight to the booklet notes to find out. Rinde Eckert is the co-author of the libretto and sound design for this very unusual, not unpleasant – just kind of weird - project. In this sense, then, he does deserve credit and kudos for the project; a kind of “architect” in the sense of the piece as well as the figurative “architect” of the “dream house” of the title.
The wealth of beautiful and inventive music on this double CD is the outgrowth of a three-year residency by composer Lisa Bielawa with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. It’s a wonderful document, not only for the works included, but for the portrait it offers of a rewarding artistic collaboration.
Concerning Virgil Thomson, Leonard Bernstein was right when he said, “He is a son of the hymnal.” Listening to this recording, that seems like a severe limitation. His melodies remain almost structurally naïve, akin to the more unsophisticated guitar hymns that arose once the vernacular replace Latin in the Catholic Church; their melodies sound like the notes of arpeggios with awkward harmonizations.
For many (myself included), the music of Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) is an acquired taste. Originally I was rather put off by the harmonic simplicity (and occasional banality) of his dominant musical language – a language built almost exclusively upon simple hymnal harmonies and American folk rhythms. However, as the years have passed, I have come to deeply admire music of his work, and several pieces have become true favorites that I listen to often.
Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) is an American composer often talked about and referred to, but infrequently performed. The major record labels have pretty much ignored him, though smaller labels have done a reasonable job in representing his music. This disc, from the label of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, is a significant addition to the Thomson discography.
The more new music I review, the more I am amazed by how much good music there actually is (yes, and bad). Lisa Bielawa has the phenomenal orchestral chops to warrant a two-CD set, including one full CD of music performed by the notable Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Bielawa’s ability to write for full orchestra alone is admirable, but this composer is gifted with much more than technical competency – and she’s accessible without being trite, fun without being light, serious without being dull.
BEST ORCHESTRAL FINDS OF 2010
Virgil Thomson: Three Pictures
Virgil Thomson: Three Pictures
Thomas Meglioranza, baritone
Kristen Watson, soprano
Rose/Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Sunday at Galapagos composer/singer/multi-instrumentalist Lisa Bielawa and an inspired cast of indie classical types played a stunningly eclectic mix of new material from her two latest albums, Chance Encounter (with the Knights and soprano Susan Narucki) and In Medias Res (with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project conducted by Gil Rose).
The artistic fruits of Lisa Bielawa’s recent tenure as BMOP’s composer-in-residence are beautifully presented on this two-disc set, including her Double Violin Concerto and her Concerto for Orchestra, both of which place her hauntingly lyrical yet restlessly inventive compositional voice on full display.
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The Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose, conductor, is in residence this year at Wellesley College and presenting three concerts, of which the first, entitled, “Luminous Noise: Three Women Compose,” was presented on Saturday, December 11, at the Houghton Chapel. The acoustics there have always been excellent — the venue is often used for recording projects — and continue to be so after the recent renovation. This concert was one of three performances of the same program at Bowdoin College and Tufts University on this same weekend.
A chamber-size contingent of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and director Gil Rose visited Wellesley College on Saturday (part of a weekend tour that also stopped at Bowdoin College and Tufts University) with an all-female-composer program called “Luminous Noise.” Such a deliberate spotlight is, hopefully, not quite the necessary corrective to a predominantly male compositional culture that it would have been all too recently, but it still invited consideration of what it does — and does not — mean to be a female composer in the world of classical music.