We'll call it in the air: 2015 is going to end up being a great year for music. The albums that have impressed us the most over the year's first six months are a varied lot. There's enormous ambition on display here, epic works crafted to bust boundaries or reshape at will (check out that three-hour debut album), but also intensity in small gestures: a pair of devastating albums about loss, two more anchored in the sounds of sisterly harmonies. As we reach the year's mid-point, take a moment to listen with us, ears wide open to a great six months of music. Let's hope the second half of 2015 lives up to it.
BOSTON MODERN ORCHESTRA PROJECT
Play (Andrew Norman)
Just how good is Andrew Norman's Play? It might just be the best piece of large-scale orchestral music so far in the 21st century. Scored for full orchestra plus piano and extra percussion, Play is a rigorously constructed, wildly rambunctious beast in the spirit of older works like Olivier Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony and new ones like Thomas Adès' Tevot. From the opening seconds, Norman, a Californian in his mid-30s, sets up a symphonic thrill ride. Through its three levels (not unlike a video game), Play unleashes spasms of melody and whiplash transitions, but also unveils landscapes of serene beauty. Late in the piece, he carefully builds an extraordinary crescendo, topped with a sweet oboe line soaring over an orchestra that twitches and roils. Play is a staggering achievement, built with wit and wonder. Yet for all its flamboyance — made all the more brilliant in a brave, exacting performance from Gil Rose's Boston Modern Orchestra Project — the piece, like most great art, is a fascinating journey, one you'll want to take again and again.