Boston lowbrow
Bryce Lambert
January 25, 2010

The BMOP continued its season last Friday with their Band in Boston concert, celebrating 20th and 21st century music for wind ensemble with two repertoire mainstays by Stravinsky and Percy Grainger, as well as some newer compositions by Harold Meltzer, Wayne Peterson, and Joseph Schwantner. Robert Kirzinger’s excellent program notes make the case that band music has lost some of its historical prestige because the bands (military, university, etc.) have themselves lost their prestige, despite their ability, popularity, and cultural and social significance. Leave it to BMOP to reinvigorate the tradition, providing new music that, like most of BMOP’s programming, is both obscure and accessible. Their concerts never feel arcane and one doesn’t have to try hard or have read The Rest Is Noise to like the music. It’s a shame Friday’s concert wasn’t better attended, because they’re always more exciting and fresh than your average BSO performance.

The program began with Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920), composed when Stravinsky first moved to France. We all know what Stravinsky can do with a wind instrument from that iconic bassoon passage that begins The Rite of Spring. This fragmented piece has that same ominous tone, with touches of pastoral expansiveness. Symphonies takes that eeriness of Rite and carries it through the entire piece. In parts it seems to become something foreign–an extraterrestrial ritual–but then returns to a more familiar and earthly landscape. The BMOP flute section (under Sarah Brady) performed exceptionally well and conductor Gil Rose had a good sense of the music’s hardness, jagged transitions, and fragmented tempos and themes.

Next on the bill was Harold Meltzer’s 2008 piano concerto Privacy. The program book quoted Meltzer; “the soloist might crave space, independence, serenity, but until the end is subject to continual intrusions by the ensemble of winds, brass, percussion, and celesta. It’s essentially an anti-concerto…” The music wasn’t dissonant, but there was a clear dissonance between soloist Ursula Oppens and the wind ensemble and the piano part seemed to not only be “interrupted,” but to interrupt itself. It struck me as a mash-up of three of four genres, rather than an original exploration into the dynamics between soloist and orchestra.

Percy Grainger’s The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart (1953) features a soloist on an electric organ banging out hymnal themes similar to those that might emanate from a Southern strip mall chapel. It’s campy, but becomes engrossing, as the themes are luxuriantly echoed and developed by the large wind ensemble, transformed into soft melodic lullabies. Wayne Peterson’s And the Winds Shall Blow (1994) featured the PRISM (saxophone) Quartet. The piece incorporated modern jazz rhythms, smooth ringing harmonies, cinematic passages evocative of Bernard Hermann, and broad and powerful strokes matched with thundering resolutions. PRISM played with convincing chemistry and the trumpet section of the orchestra belted it out with impressive swiftness in the piece’s big band finish.

The concert finished out with Joseph Schwantner’s Recoil (2006), which also had cinematic qualities, but here more like foley effects. Loud, blaring percussion was countered by soft, soothing voices. BMOP is holding a Club Concert February 2nd @ the Moonshine Room. Tickets are only $20, $15 students.