Admit it: You giggled when someone who certainly was no James Earl Jones whined out Peter and the Wolf or Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait with your local community orchestra. Even worse was the suffering through the uppity soprano who mangled Pierrot Lunaire while you were in music school. And don’t even get me started on the past-Weillian spoken chorus work in Blitzstein’s Regina.
The Dutch composer Louis Andriessen has won the respect of warring factions within the contemporary-music world. At 66, Andriessen has kept his footing at the cutting edge of the avant-garde for more than four decades; at the same time, the imagination and precision of his workmanship rival those of the most mandarin masters of modernism.
Toru Takemitsu, nearly a decade after his death at 65, remains Japan’s best-known composer. His many concert pieces and more than 90 film scores echo Debussy, Messiaen, and Webern, as well as traditional Japanese music. But the largely self-taught Takemitsu maintained that his ultimate masters were Duke Ellington and nature.
Saturday night, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project presented a stirring tribute to Takemitsu, including two memorial pieces, one by up-and-coming Japanese-American composer Ken Ueno, the other by well-known, Chinese-born Tan Dun.
Next Friday at Jordan Hall, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project will celebrate the 75th birthday of one of the most individual and iconoclastic composers of the 20th century. Not that Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) is a household name, even in classical-music circles. And it’s hardly simple-minded to ask who exactly he was, since Takemitsu has been assimilated into Western tradition more fully than any other Asian composer.
About a year ago, Arsis put a big advertising push behind a CD called Songs of Love that featured the music of Bernard Rands (b. 1934) and that of his wife, Augusta Read Thomas. I kind of blew hot and cold over that disc, but not this time. This is the real deal, a three-part work made up of what amounts to three independent song cycles, one for each of the vocalists, accompanied by either orchestra or, as here, a large chamber ensemble that is one of the most striking works I can recall hearing and one that only grows in my estimation each time I listen to it.
“The greatest virtue of Friday’s “Minimalism” concert by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project was to raise the question of whether the minimalism tag has outlived its relevance. Each of the four works the orchestra presented - three by minimalism’s leading lights and one by BMOP’s composer-in-residence, Elena Ruehr - adopted some conventions of the minimalist aesthetic, but each took them in such different directions that it’s doubtful the label is now anything more than a convenient, generic shorthand. . .
“Is that a conductor’s baton or a divining rod that Gil Rose waves around in front of the musicians of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project?
. . .Thanks to a combination of Rose’s savvy programming and the notable skill of the orchestra’s musicians, BMOP is in its eighth season of orchestral concerts. But that divining rod keeps taking Rose and BMOP down even more unusual paths.
“The Boston Modern Orchestra Project filled Jordan Hall with song at its Friday-night season opener. The program, titled “Voices,” featured music for voice and orchestra delivered by a stage full of Boston’s finest musicians led by artistic director Gil Rose. . .
. . .Rose and company then dazzled with their go-for-the-gusto playing of the wall-shaking Sacred Song of Reconciliation by George Rochberg. Set to a Hebrew text, the music portrays the fearsome power of the Old Testament God. Bass-baritone David Kravitz conveyed that power in a performance of staggering impact.
“A dazzling world premiere by Evan Ziporyn and the appearance of not one but two celebrated guest soloists distinguished the final concert of this year’s Boston Modern Orchestra Project season at Jordan Hall on Friday.
Renowned “new music” pianist Ursula Oppens applied her unfailingly insightful curiosity and sublime graciousness of touch to Augusta Read Thomas’s 2000 intermittently appealing Aurora. And master clarinetist Richard Stoltzman’s playing impressed as usual in Stephen Hartke’s 2001 Clarinet Concerto....
Reza Vali, who was born in Iran, will probably be a new name to most readers. Vali is now based in the USA and has been the recipient of several prestigious awards and commissions.
Lee Hyla writes in a tremendously compressed style in which shape and gesture stand in for conventional melody despite an often clear tonal orientation. Rhythm also plays an important role in activating his musical textures and maintaining linear transparency, and it’s clear from a cursory listen to any of these three works that Hyla writes with a great deal of talent and confidence.
“The Boston Modern Orchestra Project is forever explaining its name. “BMOP” (pronounced BEE-mop) to its friends, the group’s full name encapsulates its mission: a full-sized professional Orchestra, based in Boston, dedicated to performing Modern works. Within the “Project” element lies the group’s true niche - expressing not only modern repertoire but also modern organizational structure. Artistic Director and Founder Gil Rose explains that “the whole thing was set up as an effort to create a different format for what an orchestra is.
Boston Modern Orchestra Project,
conducted by Gil Rose (New World)
“The Boston-based composer Arthur Berger died in October at 91, and this beautiful recording of his complete orchestral music makes a fitting testimonial. The five works range over 33 years, from the New-Classical Ideas of Order (1952) to the serialist Perspectives II (1985), and each abounds in pungent harmonic writing, transparent textures, and urbane sassiness.”
- Anthony Tommasini, New York Times
The music on this disc is so good, you’d be tempted to proclaim it one of the best new-music discs of the decade were the pieces not 10 or more years old.
The M.I.T-based Machover spent the late 80’s and early 90’s developing hybrid electronic instruments, though this disc shows his greatest talent is that of a composer. More than Pierre Boulez, Machover composes for electronically generated sound as if it were his first language.
Tod Machover’s Hyperstring Trilogy, on the Oxingale label and by some distance the most exhilarating disc release of these otherwise drab summer months, sets off memories of the not-too-distant past and stirs up all kinds of hopes for a not-too-hopeless future.
Artistic Quality: 10 Sound Quality: 10
Lukas Foss composed Griffelkin for the NBC television network, which broadcast the opera on November 6, 1955. Although Griffelkin is based on a children’s fable, Foss wanted it to appeal to listeners ages “8 to 80,” so he wrote in a very accessible though not simplistic musical style—and the story has enough of a mature subtext to interest adults as well as children (as all good “children’s” music must).
New Jersey-born Chasalow is Professor of Music at Brandeis University, so unsurprisingly the nine works presented on this varied and satisfying album reference a diverse range of influences and styles, from the post-modern reworkings of Beethoven and Brahms idioms (1998’s string trio Yes, I Really Did) to Jerome Kern (Crossing Boundaries), Dizzy Gillespie (Out of Joint), Eric Dolphy (In A Manner of Speaking) and the doyen of American academia Milton Babbitt.
Black Sounds, written for a ballet depicting the act of murder, is an unrelentingly intense work that packs a good deal of violence into its 17 minutes. George Rochberg thought of the piece as an “homage” to Varèse, and indeed with its stark, near-atonal language, repetitive phrases, and broad, colorful percussion array, it sounds a good deal like the French/American composer’s music, including its scoring for wind ensemble.
“...if even a conductor gets lost in the dense leaves of the modern music tree, what hope is there for the rest of us? Well, [Gil] Rose’s point is partly that no one should feel threatened by any piece of music since no particular style can claim “high ground” any longer. In other words, it is perfectly valid to simply rely on our gut feelings about which types of music we like; there is no danger of thereby committing any artistic faux pas. Yet, still, how can listeners put what they hear into some kind of meaningful context amidst such a cacophony of competing musical values?
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project—as represented by the 11 players who appeared at Miller Theater under the group’s founder and conductor, Gil Rose—is extremely able and musical. Performing Bernard Rands’s three astronomical Canti of the late 1980s and early ‘90s last Thurday, Mr. Rose and his team filled the music with rich, decisive ensemble colors and magnificent solos in scores whose dominant expressive position is one of rapture, these musicians were rapturous....