David Del Tredici’s ambitious ‘Child Alice’ reveals a complicated vision.
The capacity crowd at Jordan Hall Friday night knew they were gathered for an Event. For only the second time, and probably the last time in his lifetime, composer David Del Tredici heard his complete Child Alice, the hugest and most elaborate of his many settings from Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. Thanks to the generosity of the Recording Industry’s Music Performance Trust Fund, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s superb show with soprano Courtenay Budd under the direction of Gil Rose was free.
Let’s say for the sake of context that I first became aware of the American composer David Del Tredici and his extensive string of extensive works based on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” fantasies through a 1983 recording of “In Memory of a Summer Day,” the first part of a larger work, “Child Alice” (1977-81). It’s fair to say that I’d been waiting three decades to hear “Child Alice” in full. The opportunity came at last on Friday in a concert presented at Jordan Hall by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project to conclude its 20th-anniversary season.
BOSTON — Cast your eye over the orchestral landscape, and the big picture could be seen as one of institutional malaise: deficits, labor strife, cowardly programming. All of which makes it imperative to celebrate those ensembles that, through luck, skill and diligence, pull off what the symphonic behemoths too rarely achieve: diverse repertoire and financial equilibrium.
It’s rare that I find much to enjoy in contemporary music but BMOP have provided me with two examples this month and Naxos with another. Chinary Ung was born in Cambodia and now works in the USA and his blend of East and West is very appealing. You don’t even have to get into the intricacies of the Buddhist philosophy which underlies much of his work to enjoy his music, though for me it’s an added bonus.
Regular readers will know how averse I am to the sort of avant-garde music which merely seeks to annoy old fogies like myself – if that’s the intention, it surely works – and how delighted I am to be able to welcome works by contemporary composers which are a joy to listen to. There’s the odd item here that I shall have to come to terms with but nothing that I find harder to absorb than, say, the music of Toru Takemitsu.
Lukas Foss’s four symphonies span most of the 20th Century. Foss made a reputation as a dabbler by midcentury, but in reality was essentially a neo-classicist of great gifts who was sidetracked by opportunistic avant-gardeism after he became Schoenberg’s replacement at UCLA. The symphonies represent the outer halves of his journey and bypass the unfortunate middle period. All of them are in the traditional four movements, and they are generally thoroughly tonal.
Youngish composer Mason Bates (b. 1977) has a directly visceral approach to composing for orchestra that makes his music in-demand on concert stages throughout the world. The Boston Modern Orchestral Project under Gil Rose has recorded an anthology of Bates' works on the recent album Mothership
Cambodian-born composer Chinary Ung shows us in his latest collection of orchestral works, Singing Inside Aura (BMOP/sound 1044), that he is a major figure on the modern music scene. His childhood was spent absorbing the traditional music of his homeland, including the extensive vocalizations found in a small village setting of his original home. By the time he came to the United States to study under Chou Wen-chung, he had also thoroughly immersed himself in the study of western music.
The latest in the Boston Modern Orchestra Project's composer portrait series focuses on Kati Agócs, a Guggenheim-winning Boston-based, Canadian-born composer of Hungarian and American descent. The cross-cultural angle plays strongly into her latest project for the omnivorous Boston Modern Orchestra Project, which hurtles themes of love and devotion through a particularly intense prism of influences and language.
Ever since the extravaganza of the YouTube Symphony’s premiere of Mason Bates’ Mothership at the Sydney Opera House in 2011, the piece has taken off (sorry), popping up in the programs of major orchestras across the US and abroad. Mothership is perhaps the most direct and largest-scale representation of Bates’ style as an ensemble composer, which blends contemporary American classical composition with jazz and electronic sounds. Its driving, grooving feel is positively addictive, like Short Ride in a Fast Machine seen through a smoky jazz/electronic kaleidoscope.
Le jeune compositeur américain Mason Bates (qui est aussi DJ) est l’un de ceux (avec John Adams) dont la musique est le plus souvent entendue dans les concerts symphoniques aux États-Unis, mais je ne crois pas qu’on l’ait jamais entendu chez nous… C’est donc encore une fois une excellente occasion que nous offrent le Boston Modern Orchestra Project et son chef Gil Rose de découvrir une partie de ce qui se fait aujourd’hui chez nous voisins du sud.
Mason Bates is, in my mind, one of the best and most promising younger generation American composers. His music is always refreshingly different with its reliance on a blend of electronic sound sources and live sampling plus traditional acoustical sources. He is not afraid to be just a little coy, humorous or shocking in his aesthetic, either, but always amazing!
A few months ago, Gil Rose, the founder and artistic director of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, attended a party for an art opening. During a conversation, he related during a recent interview, he told a guest that he was a musician. She replied that she and her husband were big fans of classical music—new music, in particular, was their passion. In response, Rose mentioned that he runs an institution called the Boston Modern Orchestra Project—kind of a big deal.
Perhaps this should have been a job for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, in tribute to Lukas Foss, its music director from 1981 to 1986. But it is no less welcome in these fine performances by Gil Rose and his Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Foss fled Nazi Germany with his family in 1933 and arrived in America in 1937.
By the time I became a bonafide, dedicated follower of new classical and avant garde music, that is in the early '70s, Lukas Foss (1922-2009) was at a peak in public recognition as one of the leading modern compositional voices in the USA. I am thankful for that because it gave me the chance to hear much of his work, as recordings of it were fairly plentiful and readily available. His notoriety faded somewhat in later years as did the popular attention to new music and subsequently too my undivided attention to it for a decade or so.
The recorded repertoire of the music of Lukas Foss remains somewhat small. Much of what there is has been immured in multi-disc collections or features on multi-composer albums or is available only to download. I hope that the fact that the 2008 Harmonia Mundi recording of his Piano Concertos, with Foss himself among the soloists, has fallen into the last category is not an ominous sign for new recordings of his music (HMU907243 – from eclassical.com or Qobuz, both mp3 and lossless – NO booklet).
It was Lukas Foss' Quintets for Orchestra that lingered in memory long after encountering it at the July 27 concert of the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra led by Michael Tilson Thomas. As if on cue, just after the last summer review was filed, arriving in the mailbox was a new double-disc set of Foss' complete symphonies from BMOP Sound, the house label of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and conductor Gil Rose. I was soon devouring more from this unpredictable and often overlooked master.
The orchestra is a vessel for swirls of colour and animated incident in the creative hands of Donald Crockett. The three works the Boston Modern Orchestra Project perform on this new disc show the American composer fully engaged with nature, especially as experienced in his home state of California, as well as myriad emotional states. Crockett has a knack for developing musical kernels and summoning rich contrasts of atmosphere.
Lukas Foss’s short essay on composition, included with the recent release of his complete symphonies by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, says that incorporating multiple techniques makes “the resulting music more challenging. One is more likely to want to hear the piece again.” It’s a simple, insightful window into “Lukas Foss: Complete Symphonies,” which BMOP astutely performs under the baton of artistic director Gil Rose.