Carolyn Gregory
May 28, 2010

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project commissions, performs, and records music of the twentieth and twenty first centuries exclusively, allowing listeners to hear full-sized orchestral performances of modern compositions, previously performed more typically by small groups like the Kronos Quartet and the Chameleon Arts Ensemble.

Anthony De Ritis’s Legerdemain was a wonderful beginning, full of synthesizers and multiple microphones placed in different sections of the orchestra. Percussion joined to somewhat creepy strings developed an angst-ridden, very blue twilight followed by a woodwind battle and rising emotional crescendo which somehow reminded me of Britten’s altered state in Death in Venice. The piece moved forward, suggesting a stand-off between two unknown players, using excellent haunting horns and robust orchestral fullness.

Steven Stucky’s American Muse for Baritone and Orchestra came next, based on four poems of John Berryman, E.E. Cummings, A.R. Ammons, and Walt Whitman. The well known baritone soloist, Sanford Sylvan, joined the BMOP for this piece and it was rewarding. Mr. Sylvan’s voice was resonant, lyrical, well articulated with a rare high range tremulo. A spidery climb of violins supported the Berryman text, followed by vibraphone and frenzied strings with wild intermezzi for the Cummings’ poem, seeming almost jazzy at times and the most imaginative rendition of Cummings I have ever heard. The Ammons’ poem had bell-like vibes, spinning tonal colors into a watercolor. The Whitman poem was orchestral and dynamic.

Leon Kirchner’s Orchestra Piece began with turbulent percussion, then slowed around a horn pivot. Shifting between an inner storm and plaintive horns, the music moved like a den of leaves or perhaps goblins freed from their box. There was the sense of an ancient world struggling to push into the modern on horse hooves.

The young composer Kati Agócs’ Requiem Fragments introduced a lyrical violin followed by a sweep of strings and spectral dissonance. A humming core continued with rattling and shaking percussion. There were interesting underlayers of classicism along with expressionistic fragmentation. The piece could have used more of a central dialectic but held interest throughout.

Last up was Martin Boykan’s Symphony for Baritone and Orchestra starting out with nice harp playing and then Bartok-like restlessness. The principal violinist’s playing was strong at this point. Mr. Sylvan returned as soloist in the third movement and his voice again was lyrical, caressing the poetic texts, both pensive and aspiring.

This was a wonderful evening of music. Based on the individual performances, I think we can continue to expect very high level work from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project who support important composers such as Andy Vores, Scott Wheeler, John Harbison and Tod Machover. Dynamic, engaging, exciting and challenging—the kind of performance Boston deserves and needs.