- Lou Harrison (1917-2003)
- Boston Modern Orchestra Project
- Gil Rose, conductor
The deep, milky gongs of Lou Harrison’s American gamelan slowly chime as a violin soars among and above in tender elegy, singing just for you. Then light, lucid bell-like sounds enter, making this musical sky more and more densely starry, in an expansive yet deeply intimate meeting of cultural traditions that I find more moving by the day.
Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of champions for contemporary music and we have a great one in our midst, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project led by Gil Rose. If Bernstein and Boulez are great ways to immerse oneself in 20th Century music then the BMOP’s recordings are a lesson in music of the 21st. They had a stunning CD this year, with the late Lou Harrison’s “La Koro Sutro,” paired with his “Suite for Violin (Gabriela Diaz) with American Gamelan.” Like most of the survivors of the 20th century survivors of the tonal vs.
The American maverick composer Lou Harrison (1917-2003), like his colleague John Cage, was a pioneering explorer of Asian music. He was also an innovative builder of instruments. He and his lifelong partner, Bill Colvig, built sets of tuned percussion instruments that they called the American gamelan. This rewarding new recording offers a captivating performance of a Harrison masterpiece for this instrument, the Suite for Violin with American Gamelan, with the fine violinist Gabriela Diaz as soloist.
“Old Granddad” sounds like something you might ask a bartender to mix up, but it’s actually what you get when you manipulate scrap metal, trash cans, and oxygen tanks into a percussion instrument played with baseball bats. Given its resemblance to a gamelan it is often also referred to as an “American Gamelan,” but I think we can all agree that “Old Granddad” is a much cooler name. It was built by Lou Harrison and his partner William Colvig and is heard throughout Harrison’s Suite for Violin with American Gamelan and La Koro Sutro.
One of BMOP’s most memorable concerts of the last several years took place in 2009, a Jordan Hall performance that culminated in George Antheil’s brutalist percussion symphony, the “Ballet Mécanique.” But Antheil’s paean to pounding — a prime specimen of Machine Age interwar modernism — was preceded by another percussion work that seemed to drift in from an altogether distant cultural universe, tranquil and sun-drenched: California of the early 1970s.