The latest in the Boston Modern Orchestra Project's composer portrait series focuses on Kati Agócs, a Guggenheim-winning Boston-based, Canadian-born composer of Hungarian and American descent. The cross-cultural angle plays strongly into her latest project for the omnivorous Boston Modern Orchestra Project, which hurtles themes of love and devotion through a particularly intense prism of influences and language.
The album's main course and most recent composition is The Debrecen Passion, a spiraling work for 12 female voices and chamber orchestra. A glimpse of any given moment exposes waves of Krzysztof Penderecki-like vocal clusters, pulsing chant, flurries of Baroque trumpet and sumptuous Late-Romantic orchestration.
It's an overwhelming plate of emotion and color – the music's subject matter is, after all, the Passion of Christ. Agócs filters and rearranges the story through lenses of Hungarian poet Szilárd Borbély, Kabbalistic prayer and ancient Latin, Hungarian and Georgian religious texts. But it's more than a sum of disparate influences. The Debrecen Passion is high-craft, high-drama music that, in certain ways, goes down like an old-school Hollywood score cut to fit the fast, ADDinspired edits of modern television: think chase-scene drums against big-band orchestral statements, intensely unsettling a cappella drops and religious fervor at its most intense, all within a few bars... or at the same time.
The rest of the collection progresses accordingly, an all-stops-out grab bag of lyrical subject matter and orchestrational techniques. By the Streams of Babylon – the album's earliest work – sets Psalm 137 to a restless pairing of Agócs and fellow composer-soprano Lisa Bielawa. ...like treasure in a field takes its title from the Gospel of Matthew and winds the orchestra through a maze of left turns and unexpected flashes of discovery.
The final piece Vessel acts as a meditative, lyrical aftermath to the dizzying colors and twists of the previous music. At least relatively speaking: set for two sopranos, alto and seven instrumentalists, the music simultaneously delivers three poems in three languages – English, Hebrew and Latin Texts – building over a bed of shifting tempi and orchestral colors until only a single, repeated piano note is left to drift into (as the English text, by EE Cummings, declares) "the deepest secret nobody knows."