A few minutes into the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s performance of Pascal Dusapin’s chamber-ensemble piece Coda, Gil Rose brought the music to a sudden halt. He calmly explained to the audience that he’d just encountered “every conductor’s nightmare”: He’d turned three pages in his score at once. And when that happens, he said with a small smile, there’s nothing to do but start over.
The audience laughed and clapped good-naturedly; after seeing enough performances run with almost mechanical precision, it was refreshing to be reminded that musicians onstage are as prone to mishap as the rest of us. It also gave listeners a welcome chance to rehear the first part of Coda, one of four challenging works on BMOP’s “French Counterpoints” program. Despite the music’s restless sound and ricocheting musical motifs, it had a sense of stability, with repeated notes and timbres offering a listener guideposts along its somewhat tortuous road.
There was a similar feeling of rootedness in Dusapin’s Galim, for flute and strings. The title means “wave” in Hebrew, and the piece is built on the slow rocking motion between the notes B and C-sharp . The music slowly blossoms outward, climaxing in a breathless cadenza for the flute before subsiding into its calm sonic ocean.
Opening the program was the first performance of Jour B (B Day) for orchestra, by Betsy Jolas . It celebrates two birthdays: BMOP’s 10th and Jolas’s 80th . It’s an extended series of variations on the familiar “Happy Birthday” song, except that the famous melody never really appears. Instead it lurks, in slightly misshapen fragments, within Jolas’s busy textures. It’s complex, energetic, and festive, the perfect gift for both ensemble and composer.
The second half of the program was given over to Le Sette Chiese (The Seven Churches), an orchestral work by Bruno Mantovani. The title refers to a series of churches in Bologna , but there is little serenity in the piece. This is instead vast and terrifying music. It moves in blocks and exults in hammering dissonances, with a liberal use of microtones and quarter tones. Mantovani’s emphasis on the percussion and brass, as well as his use of repetition, make clear his debt to Messiaen, who is eulogized in the fifth movement. It was impressive in a stark and terrifying way, and not necessarily a piece you want to return to immediately.
Rose conducted strikingly assured performances, and the playing was up to BMOP’s usual high standards. Alicia DiDonato was the excellent soloist in Gamil. Jolas and Mantovani were on hand to receive the audience’s acclaim.
© Copyright 2007 New York Times Company