"It's funny. When it started, I really thought that after a while it would change," says Gil Rose, artistic director of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.
"It's been fifteen years, and producing concerts and making recordings has become an always and forever state. It's fun for me personally, but I really thought that it would get easier over time."
Rose's modest — and bloodless — appraisal of what it takes to start an orchestra and make it thrive, as he has done with the adventurous BMOP ensemble, skips over several crucial facts: in fifteen years the group has established a solid audience; ventured into residencies at a number of New England universities; and created BMOP/sound, a forward-looking label that guarantees a future for the hard work of Rose and his colleagues.
Sunday afternoon at Jordan Hall, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project kicks off its subscription season with "True North," a concise survey of Canadian composers. The concert includes Kati Agócs' Vessel, Colin McPhee's Symphony No. 2, Michael Colgrass's Letter from Mozart, and Claude Vivier's Orion. Like most of BMOP's programs, it grew from a small yet organic idea.
"I was working on a piece for a recording with Kati," Rose says, "and we had also just worked on Michael's piece. It also occurred to me that I'd never heard Vivier's music in Boston. And then adding McPhee's symphony after that was just a natural."
Apart from the obvious national connection, there is another commonality, says Rose, of the composers. "It's not technique, or any musical conventions. Maybe it's a sense of austerity or a distance — a pristine quality. Of course there are hundreds of Canadian composers, with a lively internal scene, but they don’t really export it that much.
"Both the Vivier and the McPhee carry a message with them," he adds. "They share a dramatic, romantic spirit, but they have a distance. They are more linked than people think sometimes, although I'm not sure Vivier would have said that. In the music, it's a pattern of open fifths and octaves, of overtones. But it's really that sense of romanticism, with a distance."
Vivier's note in the score to Orion describes the work, in part, as "Blissful destruction. Beauty, pure beauty, sad beauty, cosmetic beauty, lacquered or wild beauty, monstrous and sexual." A bit overwrought, perhaps, but Rose does characterize the work as "wild and monstrous, with a kind of sexual energy — maybe like a symphonic orgasmatron.
"The best part of a work like Orion reminds me of the best performances of Rite of Spring," Rose says. "Not the performances that are overly wild and primitive, but the ones that are primitive and still kind of cold. Not showing all the cards, I guess, is my way of putting it."
Most of the program will likely find its way to BMOP/sound, the orchestra's own recording label, which has a dozen years' worth of performances on disc, multiple Grammy nominations, and a history of glowing reviews.
Rose calls BMOP/sound the group's true "legacy."
"If we go, well, we'll have left this behind," he says philosophically. "It's something tangible, not like a performance that's just going up into the air all the time. All this blood, sweat and tears has really paid off."
BMOP's label has also served to spread word of the enterprising ensemble far outside of Boston. "We have people in Texas and California that have all the CDs, and have become substantial donors, and have never been to a BMOP concert," Rose says. "In a sense we’ve become what the Louisville Orchestra was thirty or forty years ago — known for our recordings of contemporary music."
Gil Rose leads the Boston Modern Orchestra Project in music of Kati Agócs, Colin McPhee, Michael Colgrass and Claude Vivier 3 p.m. Sunday in Jordan Hall. bmop.org; 781-324-0396.