The January program in the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s season almost always emphasizes Boston-based composers of the present day or recent past. On Friday night Gil Rose led the group in three world premieres by composers of whom two still live and work in the area, while the third studied and taught here before moving elsewhere. The three pieces were very different in character, all worth hearing, and all extremely well played.
The “modern” in Boston Modern Orchestra Project varies in its meaning. Sometimes it refers broadly to music of the past several decades, such as its recent revivals of operas by Virgil Thomson and Michael Tippett. On Friday at Jordan Hall, though, its focus was on the other sense of the word: what’s happening right now. On the bill were three world premieres, all commissions from composers with local connections and associations with BMOP. This was, to my mind, the group at its vital, cutting-edge best.
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project gave world premieres by three of its veteran composer colleagues Friday night at Jordan Hall.
The sonic worlds explored in the works by Elena Ruehr, David Rakowski, and Ken Ueno covered a wide range of what is meant by “new music” today. The first two recast familiar idioms in bracing new ways. The latter explored more ear-bending sonorities. For each, Gil Rose and the BMOP orchestra provided bold advocacy.
These three Gandolfi concertos spotlight less familiar instruments: bass trombone, bassoon and alto-saxophone. The orchestra responds quickly with glittering colors with little introspection in these briskly moving, extroverted essays. Gandolfi dabbles with popular styles: Jazz/rock explicitly for the
In the early 90s, I sang a small role in Jacob Druckman’s opera Medea in the Juilliard Opera Center’s semi-staged production of it. I was struck by its synthesis of old and new, and demanding yet felicitous writing for the voice. Later I worked with Druckman at the Aspen Music Festival and saw him again in a masterclass at Boston University. At the latter he seemed unwell, but retained his charisma and sense of humor. Little did I know that he was terminally ill with cancer; he passed away some months later. Although my contacts with Druckman were brief, I miss him.
"Möbius Loop" is an apt enough title for composer Mathew Rosenblum's new record from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP). Like that topological construct, the album's titular concerto for the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet, presented here in versions with and without orchestral accompaniment, is both a mind-bending illusion and an elegant feat of mathematics – and so, for that matter, is every other composition on this disc.
History is a relentless homogenizer. What begins life as a blooming, buzzing confusion, continuously evolving in manifold and unpredictable directions, once passed through the coarse sieve of history, becomes calcified, reified, downgraded from a vital, animate organism into an abject fossil. Time as one part petrification, one part putrefaction. Take the great late Renaissance polyphonists, Lassus, Palestrina, and Victoria.
Like almost everyone else (I'd bet), I went to the recent Boston Modern Orchestra Project production of Four Saints in Three Acts out of pure curiosity. Could Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein's freak success of the 30's really be the unique marriage of fetching music and confounding text that everyone claims it is?
On Saturday the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) presented a concert performance of Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts (1928) in Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory.
“But stories are only stories,” Gertrude Stein once put it as only she could, in other words: Who needs them? Certainly not, in Stein’s world, a modern opera!
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.