One of the reasons John Harbison (b. 1938) is now probably our country’s premier serious composer is the comprehensive range of his catalog. He has made a conscious effort to address all of the various classical genres, from a three-act opera to many kinds of miniatures, both vocal and instrumental.
Inaugural Ditson Festival of Contemporary Music Features Boston’s Leading Musicians, Composers, and Ensembles
2008 Ditson Festival is Co-Produced by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston
The Institute of Contemporary Art continues to push boundaries in its fall lineup of performances, and this year a lot of these boundaries are musical.
“The artistic goal of our performing arts program is to present to Boston the full range of what artists are doing across disciplines,” says David Henry, the ICA’s director of programs. “For the first year and a half we highlighted dance. But you cannot ignore music.”
John Harbison’s ballet Ulysses (1984, rev. 2003) was inspired by the final scenes from Monteverdi’s Ritorno d’Ulisse, where the hero strings his bow and goes on to win back both his kingdom and his wife. The ballet is in two large parts, ‘Ulysses’ Raft’, and ‘Ulysses’ Bow’, the latter having been previously recorded by the Pittsburgh Symphony on Nonesuch. This is the first recording of the complete ballet, which (incredibly) still awaits staging.
Arnie the Hep-Cat. Gunther Schuller became a working musician at the young age of 16, picking up professional gigs as a horn player in New York. By the time he turned 18, he was principal horn of the Cincinnati Orchestra under Goossens. By 20, he had joined the horn section of the Met Orchestra. He also became a busy studio musician. Perhaps his most famous dates came to him as a player in the Gil Evans-Miles Davis Birth of the Cool sessions.
A Neo-Romantic smash. John Harbison has always commanded the respect of his fellow composers, although the public at large, I think, has yet to tumble to him. He has written music in every genre, including a few operas, concerti, sonatas, religious choral works, oratorio, and string quartets. He studied with Piston, Sessions, Kim, Blacher, and Dallapiccola, among others, and ended up going his own way. He has received the MacArthur “genius” award.
Perfomance: FIVE STARS
Sound: FIVE STARS
John Harbison’s Ulysses ballet is undoubtedly one of his most colourful, accessible works, and a far cry from the cool convolutions of his Great Gatsby opera. Fragments of the ballet floated around the concert world during the 1980s, but the first complete performances and recording did not occur until the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Music Director Gil Rose undertook this truly heroic task in 2003.
NORTHAMPTON - It is rare to encounter an opera premiere outside the big cities or big festivals but Amherst composer Eric Sawyer and Berkeley poet John Shoptaw have done the almost-impossible. They raised $100,000 (from foundations and generous individuals), enlisted the talent (some of it from Opera Boston), and produced their new opera, Our American Cousin, on Friday at the Academy of Music in this town. This was its first fully staged performance. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project was in the pit, led by Gil Rose.
NORTHAMPTON - In opera, anything can happen as long as you sing about it.
In Eric Sawyer and John Shoptaw’s new opera Our American Cousin, the events immediately surrounding President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination were examined operatically through the eyes of the actors in the play the president came to Ford’s Theater to attend that fateful evening.
The opera premiered Friday evening at the Academy of Music Theater.
It sounds like the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question, history category: What was playing at Ford’s Theatre the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated? The answer, for those not up on their Civil War-era minutiae, is Our American Cousin, a rather slight comedy of manners by British writer Tom Taylor.
BMOP/sound, the nation’s foremost label launched by an orchestra and devoted exclusively to new music recordings, announces the release of its fourth CD Gunther Schuller: Journey Into Jazz. Representative of the “Third Stream” genre, a revolutionary style of music brought forth into the mainstream by Schuller in the 1950’s, the three pieces on this album unite the structural complexities found in contemporary classical music with the improvisational elements of jazz.
Eighteen years since he and librettist John Shoptaw “tossed around” the possibility of writing an opera about the night President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, composer Eric Sawyer is about to see the full realization of that idea.
The opera Sawyer and Shoptaw wrote, entitled Our American Cousin after the Tom Taylor Broadway comedy Lincoln and his wife were attending at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., that fateful night, receives its world premiere fully-staged performances on Friday and Saturday at the Academy of Music in Northampton
Backstage at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. on the night of April 14, 1865, Ned Emerson is rehearsing his sneeze.
Fellow actor Harry Hawk receives bad news. The man he paid to perform his service in the Civil War, ended just five days earlier, has died in combat.
Actor John Wilkes Booth, a familiar face, though not in the cast that evening, approaches Jack Mathews with a sealed letter and a request to deliver it to John Coyle, editor of the National Intelligencer, the following day.
It’s hard to believe that Pulitzer prizewinning composer John Harbison, who turns seventy this year, composed a full length ballet nearly a quarter of a century ago and it has yet to be staged. Ulysses (1984/rev, 2003), has been played piecemeal by various orchestras over the years; Andre Previn and the Pittsburgh Symphony recorded its second act, “Ulysses’ Bow,” for Nonesuch; but it wasn’t until 2003 that an orchestra performed the work in its entirety.
MICHAEL GANDOLFI’S music has some of the rigor of the mid-20th-century atonalists, but it also draws on the richness of melody and timbre prized by the neo-Romantics. You would not put his work firmly in either category, and that’s probably for the best, since much of its appeal is in the ease with which it moves between those poles. One moment you’re taken with its braininess, its structural logic and textural intricacy; the next you’re struck by the flow of fresh ideas, vivid orchestration and rhythmic vitality, all of which give it a visceral punch.
Four out of five stars
John Harbison’s Ulysses has been a long delayed release, but, anxiously awaited, it was composed in 1983 and is also the inaugural release from the new music recording label BMOP/sound. Indeed it is a wonderful first CD by the new label.
The Y2K doomsday scenario and all its associated satire had grown tiresome long before 1999 was up. Neverthless, this hasn’t stopped composer Michael Gandolfi revisiting the topic with his latest release Y2K Compliant.
This is a wonderful collection of pieces. Although all 3 pieces are unique, they compliment each other well musically and thematically. A set of music that provides a welcome hour of enjoyment. Overall the CD has a variety of styles that each work for the individual pieces.
The music of American composer Michael Gandolfi (b. 1956) is the subject of another winning release from BMOP/sound (see the newsletter of 15 April 2008). Many will remember this composer for his large, extended orchestral work The Garden of Cosmic Speculation released last year, but here we have three of his smaller-scale pieces. If anything, they show he can do even more with less, and is a master colorist in the best sense of the term.
Centuries of upheaval have made the Armenian diaspora one of the world’s largest; by some estimates, almost three times as many Armenians live outside the country as in it. Charting Armenian music and inspiration, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s season finale, “Armenia Resounding,” balanced perspectives from within and without.