Last week was a good one for Odyssey Opera. On Sunday, the company netted its first Grammy. Then, on Saturday, it continued its Tudor-themed season with the world premiere of Arnold Rosner’s 1984 opera The Chronicle of Nine: The Tragedy of Queen Jane at Jordan Hall.
Jordan Hall in Boston was the setting for a concert version of Arnold Rosner’s The Chronicle of Nine. His only opera for full orchestra is having its world premiere. Gil Rose, recent Grammy winner for best recorded opera, finds treasures in the archives and brings them to our attention. We are fortunate indeed.
When I was still a student at the College-Conservatory of Music, I had a professor who once told the class that you could not have an opinion on a work of media unless you’ve experienced the work as a whole. Some in media criticism might call such an approach a lazy way out, but it is astounding how much can change about a work as you sit with it and wholly experience it.
Arnold Rosner’s “The Chronicle of Nine: The Tragedy of Queen Jane” is an operatic oddity of the first degree. Written on spec and finished in 1984, its score opens a portal to an alternate universe where the roughly two centuries of musical history between the death of Monteverdi and the premiere of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 never happened. Decades after its completion, it had never been performed or recorded in full.
During the early months of 1554, Lady Jane Grey sat anxiously in the Tower of London. She had come there the previous summer to be crowned Queen of England, taking over from Edward VI, who had died unexpectedly from tuberculosis. But instead, the tower had become her prison. As the English public united around the legitimate queen Mary Tudor, Jane, declared guilty of treason, awaited her execution by beheading.
The latest volume of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project finds Gil Rose directing the orchestra for a selection of interesting and contrasting works by Steven Mackey (b 1956). It is entitled Time Release (BMOP 1068) after the 2005 work that is a centerpiece of the program.
It's sometimes easy to forget that opera has a playful side, given its preponderance for serious and downright dark subject matter. Indulging that lighter side comes in handy for introducing young people to it in a manner that is both accessible and, dare I say, "fun" (in other words, maybe not Wagner or Britten). Tobias Picker's Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the Roald Dahl story, is a worthy candidate for such an endeavor.
The apartment building in which the composer Lei Liang grew up, in Beijing in the 1970s, was a musicological beehive. Its residents worked at the Music Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Arts, which had an archive of rare historical recordings that had been saved, often at great personal cost, from destruction in the Cultural Revolution.
It’s taken Tobias Picker’s second opera more than twenty years to make it to CD, but here it is at last in all its charm and considerable glory. Over the years, Fantastic Mr. Fox has expanded and contracted according to resources available; the original LA Opera staging with Gerald Finley (sporting the title character's whiskers) was sizable, but a seven-instrument reduction has been a hit at London's Opera Holland Park.
The title of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s Saturday concert at Jordan Hall, “Klezmer Madness,” accurately represented half of its program. That portion consisted of two recent concertos for clarinet and orchestra that were audibly steeped in klezmer, the folk music of Eastern European Jews. Both pieces also featured the outstanding klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, an ideal guide to the contemporary state of klezmer, who brought their solo parts thrillingly to life in performance.
BOSTON MODERN ORCHESTRA PROJECT: ‘KLEZMER MADNESS’ Klezmer clarinet maven David Krakauer is the special guest for a characteristically adventurous BMOP program that includes Mathew Rosenblum’s clarinet concerto entitled “Lament/Witches’ Sabbath” as well as Wlad Marhulets’s Concerto for Klezmer Clarinet under the direction of conductor Gil Rose.
This is an accomplished disc, essential for admirers of the talented American composer William Schuman. His ballet suites Judith and Night Journey have been recorded before but never in the kind of wide-ranging surround sound that they are accorded here. As a further incentive to purchase, the disc also contains what is (as far as I can tell) the first recording of another Schuman ballet for Martha Graham, the knottier The Witch of Endor.
Not for the casual listener, but those with a taste for the adventurous might give this unusual disc a try. BMOP is recognised as the USA’s foremost label launched by an orchestra and devoted exclusively to new music. Black Noise is performed by the enterprising musicians of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and led by conductor Gil Rose.
Large-scale works referencing the past are on offer here, music that will be unfamiliar to most listeners. Michael Colgrass: Side by Side features three of the composer’s works for large ensemble performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and led by conductor Gil Rose. An American-born Canadian living in Toronto, the Pulitzer Prize-winning and Emmy Award-winning Colgrass holds the unique distinction among prominent classical composers in North America of being the only one whose music is well known equally on both sides of the Canadian-American border.
Elsewhere in this iuue I reviewed David Stanhope's opera of Dracula. lamentlng in essence that it was bland, given its subject matter. I also think it has somethlng to do with being able to compose an opera. Tobias Picker knows how to compose an opera and has written a number of excellent works for the stage. Fantastic Mr. Fox (adapted from the Rolad Dahl stories) is delightful from beginning to end. The music is hummable, expertly crafted, and a joy to listen to. There are arias, duets, trios, and even more complicated ensembles.
Opera has done much during the past few decades to shed its elite, high-art credentials. In many ways, children's opera ticks all the right boxes in terms of accessibility, communication and participation, yet it's a genre that remains somewhat neglected. The American composer Tobias Picker's adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel Fantastic Mr Fox could change all that.
Tobias Picker's operas have had a varied reception in major venues, with Emmeline (Santa Fe, 1996) and An American Tragedy (Met, 2005) having more initial success than Therese Raquin (Dallas, 2001) and Dolores Claiborne (San Francisco, 2013). Fantastic Mr. Fox was premiered by Los Angeles Opera in 1998, with a cast including Gerald Finley, Jill Grove and Charles Castronovo.
How wonderful it is that the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and conductor Gil Rose recently honoured Michael Colgrass (1932-2019) by dedicating a full album to works by the American-born, Toronto-based composer, who passed away on July 2nd at the age of eighty-seven. Not only does the recording showcase the exemplary playing of the ensemble, it provides an excellent sampling of Colgrass's maverick sensibility.
Lei Liang (b1972) was born in China then in the grip of the Cultural Revolution, but left to study in the US and has remained there ever since, taking citizenship in 2006. The alto saxophone concerto Xiaoxiang was composed shortly
afterwards (2009, though based on an earlier piece for saxophone and electronics); it is given here in its 2014 revision. A concentrated (ten-and-a half minute) concerto-cum-tone poem, its single span was derived from an
Lei LIang (b. 1972) seeks to "create music as if painted with a sonic brush." Painting seems to be among Mr. Liang's dominant interests. These works consist of abstract strokes of shape and color, inspired by his Chinese heritage. Growing up as his musicologist mother was shipped out as a farmer in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, he eventually settled in America, where he became involved with Chou-Wen Chung. He later earned his PhD at Harvard and now teaches at University of California-San Diego (a hotbed of America avant-gardeism.)