Four world premieres in one night is ambitious even by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s standards, but Saturday’s novelty at Jordan Hall was also an old-fashioned Boston tryout for a New York opening: This week, conductor Gil Rose and the group bring the program to Brooklyn’s MATA Festival, an annual new-music showcase previously run by BMOP’s current composer-in-residence, Lisa Bielawa.
The concert began with a flourish: Alejandro Rutty’s The Conscious Sleepwalker Loops, a MATA commission, a riotous collage of Argentine tango, some over-the-top Hollywoodesque flamenco, and various other Latin tropes. Rutty layers all this into an orchestrated remix, and the result is a blaring, multi-channel, gleefully vernacular carnival. It made a terrific curtain-raiser.
Derek Hurst’s Clades, for orchestra and solo quintet (the Firebird Ensemble, energetic and precise), draws on a modernist lexicon of jabbing rhythms and redolent dissonance; the branching, contrasting evolution within each group echoes the title, a taxonomic designation of common ancestry. Hurst’s imaginative ear, and a confident performance, kept the piece interesting for a while - a long section of coiled-tension softness was particularly arresting - but the fragmented rhetoric precluded any overarching momentum, and the music ran out of steam well before it stopped.
Ken Ueno’s absorbing On a Sufficient Condition for the Existence of Most Specific Hypothesis is a concerto for himself, singing, screeching, growling, throat singing - manipulating the growl’s acoustic overtones. The opening - a recording of Ueno at the age of 6, babbling - foreshadowed serious play, the complex resonances of Ueno’s vocal excursions transformed into bright orchestral fanfares. The work’s single-mindedness proved disarmingly generous. It was the evening’s far-out highlight.
Bielawa’s Double Violin Concerto had a little bit of everything: yearning string melodies, plush harmonies, clockwork grooves, even vocals - the middle movement calls on the soloists to sing, on a text from Goethe’s Faust. Violinists Colin Jacobsen and Carla Kihlstedt performed with unfailing refinement, but for all its undeniable beauty, the concerto remained frustratingly tentative - the music again and again seemed on the verge of a sustained, big-tune peroration, only to retreat into another ratiocination of repeated motives and textural stasis.
A cladistic interpretation of the program might note family resemblances to computer music; electronically inspired loops, juxtapositions, and microtonally inflected distortions turned up throughout. But there was also a philosophical congruence: the composer as curator rather than narrator, a collector of sonic artifacts to be arranged and displayed - a liability for Hurst and Bielawa, a virtue for Rutty and Ueno. As audiences have been spoiled to expect, Rose and the orchestra presented each selected object with enviable polish and commitment.
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