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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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
Charles Ives you can look to as the father of disparate conjoinings and aural collages when Modern North American composition styles developed and flourished in the last century through to today. Others have followed of course, people like Henry Brandt and, lest we forget, Michael Colgrass. The estimable Boston Modern Orchestra Project gives us the music of the latter with the three-work offering Side By Side (BMOP/Sound 1064). On these works one can note the back and forth one gets from the concerto in Western Classical.
Afro-American composer David Sanford shows a musical Modernism with a healthy admixture of "Jazz" influences on his recent recording of orchestra works Black Noise (BMOP Sound 1063). The three works so nicely captured by Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, along with the cello solo vibrancy of Matt Haimovitz for the "Scherzo Grosso" work.
In relation to music, noise occupies a particularly complex position in the history of African American musical cultures. Historically, white listeners musically and culturally disenfranchised enslaved African Americans by characterizing their drumming and spirituals as noise out of fear
of violent revolt. The descendants of these same listening practices have labelled certain jazz idioms, rap, hip-hop, and their stylistic progeny as forbidden and dangerous, but these characterizations neglect the validity and reality of African American experiences expressed in
Three pieces choreographed by Martha Graham. These are all ancient tales set in Schuman's advanced Americana style with tall chord harmony and Schoenberg-inspired lines.
As the Miller Theater at Columbia University begins to wrap up its 30th-anniversary season — a Composer Portrait concert featuring David T. Little’s music comes next, on Thursday — I’ve been thinking about some of the best concerts I’ve heard there in recent years.
Chinese-born composer Lei Liang brings to us a completely lucid sensibility and a most articulate and evocative syntax. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project album of three recent works shows us glowingly the vitality of his invention. A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams (BMOP Sound 1061) gives us the title work recently (2017)
commissioned by BMOP, plus his "Xiaoxiang, Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra" (2009, rev. 2014), and "Five Seasons" (2010, rev. 2014).
American composer David Sanford (b. Pittsburgh 1963) came from a highly musical family. He always had a keen interest in jazz, big and music, and played the trombone. He attended the University of Northern Colorado, The New England Conservatory of Music, and Princeton. Now he is a faculty member at Mount Holyoke College. After studying in Italy in 2002, he formed the Pittsburgh Collective which included both classical and jazz musicians.
Over the last several seasons, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) has featured concerts devoted to music by members of that greatest generation of late-20th-century American composers. Three years ago, they presented David Del Tredici’s Child Alice; two years past, it was a Philip Glass evening; last winter brought an engaging Joan Tower survey. On Saturday night at Jordan Hall, the ensemble and conductor Gil Rose turned their focus to the music of John Corigliano.
Those of you who are faithful Schmopera readers will likely recall that, when I reviewed Brokeback Mountain at the conclusion of last year’s New York City Opera season, I pointed at the paradox of Wuorinen’s highly dissonant score used to depict a romance, and the ways that paradox works in that opera’s favor. At the time, I figured it was a logical choice, considering how Annie Proulx’s prose worked to set up such a paradox.