Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts plays upon theatrical conventions, beginning with its title. Four sixteenth-century saints—St. Ignatius, St. Chavez, St. Settlement, and St. Teresa (split into two roles)—stand out from a sea of about twenty others. The singers explicitly cue the scenes, sometimes out of order, in each directionless act. And by the way, there are actually four of them.
Iranian-American composer Reza Vali (born Ghazvin, 1952) has been called the Iranian Bartók. This is apt not because his musical style is especially influenced by Bartók (in fact, Vali claims among his influences Wagner, Mahler, and Debussy, and I detect others as well) but because like Bartók, he’s a dedicated student and cataloger of folk song.
Jacob Druckman (1928-1996) was one of greatest orchestral composers – if not the finest – of the 20th century. Though his music adhered to a sometimes-difficult aesthetic, Druckman, like his great contemporary, György Ligeti, had such a command of instrumentation that he could simply draw in listeners through the engaging peculiarity of his sound world. That reality is demonstrated powerfully in BMOP’s new album, Lamia, which documents music Druckman composed or arranged over the last decade of his life.
Michael Gandolfi is one of our most unique, visionary contemporary composers. His music cuts across all manner of styles and influences, from jazz and rock to works intended for a children’s audience, such as his Pinocchio’s Adventures in Funland. Galdolfi’s music has been played by many of the country’s major symphony orchestras and audiences have consistently appreciated the approachable and eclectic nature of his work.
The music of Jacob Druckman has always fascinated me. I first became familiar with this Julliard-trained composer with his Chiaroscuro and I was immediately hooked. Druckman, who also taught at Yale University for many years, was a composer who had a gift for colorful orchestration, interesting but non-strident harmonies and some fascinating treatments of counterpoint.
Anybody who even heard the title of Michael Gandolfi's first album with Gil Rose's Boston Modern Orchestra Project, "Y2K Compliant," should already have noticed that he is a composer of genuine wit. The actual music was no disappointment: Gandolfi has a knack for deploying a lucid, ear-pleasing technique in the service of high-concept forms.
Martin Boykan may not be a household name, but judging from the nuanced orchestration and structural integrity of his Symphony for Orchestra, he should at least be better known. The 82-year-old Manhattan-born composer learned his craft under mid-century giants including Aaron Copland, Walter Piston and Paul Hindemith and later taught at Brandeis University. Boykan is fascinated with time. We listen to music sequentially, he says: "And since time passes slowly in music, we are immersed in a world that is richer and more eventful than ordinary life." And so goes this symphony.
Gil Rose and his Boston Modern Orchestra Project is, arguably, the source for new and lesser known modern music, especially that of American composers. Their catalogue includes Grammy-winning releases and a vast array of very interesting works that are, indeed, typically premieres or lesser known. This release of music by Martin Boykan is another great find!
Born in China in 1945 and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thomas Oboe Lee has lived in the United States since the mid-1960s. As you might I guess from these barest facts of his biography, they make for a rather heady cultural mix. As the composer himself disarmingly puts it: "The first thing people say after hearing my music is, 'Your stuff is all over the place. I hear jazz, I hear samba, I hear neoclassical and romantic things...'"
In this new recording of six of Lee's concertos, you hear all of that and more.
Tell me, O Muse, of the generation of many devices, who wandered full many ways. I come to generalize about an entire cohort of composers, based solely—sample size be damned—on the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s May 17 concert at Jordan Hall. A foolhardy and even dangerous venture, surely? Well, consider it, in part, payback for making me type “Gen OrcXstrated,” which is what BMOP named the program, a collision of letters that I am still not quite sure how to pronounce.
Generation X is a term used by demographers to describe the group of people born after the post-World War II baby boom. For much of the term’s history it has tended to be a little pejorative. There are many cultural events that have shaped their identity including the rise of internet culture as well as the emergence of many musical styles and sub genres including electronic and hip hop.
Ah, classical music—where else in our culture can you be in your mid-30s and be celebrated as part of a youth movement?
A small but enthusiastic audience consisting mostly of Baby Boomers and Greatest Generationers cheered on their juniors in New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall Friday as the Boston Modern Orchestra Project led by Gil Rose presented “Gen OrcXstrated,” a program of three works for large orchestra by composers born in the late 1970s.
Thomas Oboe Lee weaves many influences into a distinctive artistic voice. Born in China to nightclub singers, he spent his teenage years living in Brazil, then moved to the United States to study composing at Harvard and the New England Conservatory. Along the way he picked up the sounds not just of bossa nova and samba, but the cool American jazz of Davis, Coltrane and Evans.
Paul Moravec’s music, for me, is consistently bracing, exhilarating and entertaining. His music is written in a style and language that speaks to the logical continuation of some of the great American masters; such as Copland, Schuman and Thomson. He has written in every genre including some recent outstanding contributions to opera. Moravec won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for the Tempest Fantasy, a chamber quartet I personally love!
Boston Modern Orchestra Project's composer-centric independent label BMOP/sound gives access to Pulitzer Prize-winning Moravec's work through this marriage of four highly personal, classical pieces. The graceful title track transforms the mystique of the aurora borealis from natural phenomenon to orchestral arrangement, and "Sempre Diritto!" is an evolving, revolving musical experience written by Moravec after getting lost in Venice, Italy.
With these two recent releases from BMOP/sound we get an attractive bouquet of concertos from a couple of America's most highly regarded contemporary composers, Thomas Oboe Lee (b. 1945) and Paul Moravec (b. 1957, see below). Lee was born in China but left there with his family in 1949, spending ten years in Hong Kong and another six in Brazil. He then emigrated to the United States in 1966, where he pursued extensive musical studies, graduating from Harvard in 1981. He's received a number of outstanding awards, and now teaches at Boston College.
As we all know, the cost of orchestral recordings is a major factor for record companies. This has forced record labels’ owners to pull up their sleeves and tackle the economic effort of the recordings: as evidenced with the New Amsterdam Brittelle composers, Snider and Greenstein or with the orchestras of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra or Louisville who have elevated their organizational standards while keeping in mind the precariousness of the old system.
And now, it might be asked, should we pity the viola? It is after all consigned to an unglamorous middle range, and is ever on the receiving end of all that merciless skewering (if you don’t know what I mean, type “viola jokes” into Google, or ask anyone who has played in an orchestra).
In another masterstroke of imaginative programming for which it is renowned, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, under Music Director Gil Rose, offered a day-late billet-doux to the sultriest member of the string family at Jordan Hall on February 15th. “Voilà! Viola!” consisted of five works featuring the viola, four of them as soloist and one for an ensemble of eight. (one will have to come up with a clever collective noun for this).
Why did the contemporary-music orchestra give a concert of five works that all featured the viola?
a. because they wanted to make a pun in French
b. because it was St. Violantine’s Day
c. because there’s some good stuff for viola out there
d. the orchestra ordered up two brand-new viola pieces, never heard before