Audiophile Audition
Robert Moon
September 1, 2010

Contemporary American composer Lisa Bielawa (b.1968) majored in literature at Yale University and her love for the written word is one source of inspiration for her music. She values her relationships with the musicians she works with, and many of the compositions on this disc are dedicated to the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), where she completed a three year residency project in 2009. She tours with the Phillip Glass Ensemble and is the winner of the 2009 Rome Prize. Bielawa’s music is tonal, but she uses a wide variety of modern musical techniques that are woven together to make an aural tapestry that is uniquely hers. Roam (2001) is a tone poem that uses glissandi and smeared harmonies that suggest a mental state inspired by a section of Pushkin’s poem Eugene Onegin, where the protagonist roams the sea waiting for the right weather. It’s a contemplative and stormy musical expression of his voyage.

The Double Violin Concerto (2008) is written specifically for the two soloists (Carla Kihlstedt and Colin Jacobsen) and the BMOP. “Portico”—the first movement—is diaphanously beautiful and melodically profusive in a quiet yearning way that seems as if Bielawa is opening her soul to her friends. In “Song”—the second movement—Kihlstedt sings in a high-pitched voice as she plays the violin scordatura, with Jacobsen accompanying with scratch-like arpeggios. “Play Within a Play” combines Gypsy fiddle music (written for Jacobsen) with a wild dance episode. In the last two movements of this Concerto, there’s an unsettling nervous conflict between the two soloists that challenged this listener’s patience. Yet, there’s a drama, snatches of melody and a variety of sounds that riveted my attention and merits further listening. unfinish’d, sent, a nine-minute piece, takes its title from the opening soliloquy of Shakespeare’s Richard III, in which the protagonist blames the genesis of his cruelty on his birth deformity. Using glissandos, percussion, and her own voice singing the title, Bielawa paints an affecting musical poem that reflects the anguish and pain of Richard III.

The composer’s desire for social interaction with performers of the BMOP resulted in Synopses #1-15 and In media res, Concerto for Orchestra. Bielawa started to write solo pieces (Synopses) for the members of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project as a way of getting to know them. The title of the Concerto (in the middle of everything) is a literary/film device where the action starts in the middle and flashbacks (in this case the 15 Synopses) are integrated into the composition. Each Synopsis has a title that relates to the player of the instrument involved, e.g. Synopsis #14 “No, No, No-Put That Down” is written for trombonist Hans Bohn. In media res ranges widely in its moods: raucously exuberant, quietly contemplative, ethereally beautiful, humorous, wildly dramatic, etc. But it’s the imaginative orchestration, the clever integration of the Synopses into the whole work and the vitality of the composer’s spirit that sticks in the memory. Kudos to the soloists and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and its conductor, Gil Rose for exciting and polished performances. Those interested in contemporary music at its most creative will revel in these CDs.

- Robert Moon