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.
Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s innovative semi-staged concert production of the complex, rich and fanciful two-act opera, Haroun and the Sea of Stories deserved more than the single Boston premiere performance Saturday at Jordan Hall. The multiple levels and nested plots of the story have so much depth that listeners need multiple iterations fully to appreciate the work. Based on the children’s novel by Salman Rushdie, with 12-tone music by the contemporary American composer Charles Wuorinen and intricate libretto by James Fenton, a renowned British poet and friend of Rushdie, this satirical 2004 work was created in the post 9-11 era, yet it is even more than relevant to our times. Opera News entitled a conversation about the New York City Opera’s opening night as a “Fearsome Fairyland;” their writer Leighton Kerner had interviewed Wuorinen and Rushdie together, and that seems apt. Gil Rose made use of all of the score’s electricity, eerie sounds, fright, joy and fancy to go along with a production replete with bright costumes, mechanical birds, water genies and beautifully bizarre beasts.
The orchestral and chamber music of Chinese composer Chen Yi is atmospheric and extravagantly colorful, full of delicate percussion showers, swooping glissandos, and shivery bent notes. Much of it is chant-like, some of it is songful, and sometimes it is relentless and brutal. It is full of adventure, eschewing the Yellow River Concerto cliches that bedevil a fair amount of contemporary Chines music.
Once again, my list includes a release from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s ongoing and indispensable series of recordings. I’ve long enjoyed Peter Child’s excellent music and have reviewed a past album of his chamber music. This release of his orchestral works is anchored by a particularly strong piece, Shanti, which gives the album its title.
Selling recordings has never been a strength of classical music. In fact, now it’s not strength of any kind of music. But classical music ensembles have found a way — with limited pressings, direct sales from web sites, recording live performances, touring and selling disks like the entrepreneurs they are — to make the economics of recording feasible.
With their now customary elan and enterprise, Gil Rose and Boston Modern Orchestra Project enlightened, stretched, and amused the audience Friday evening with its concert in Jordan Hall. “Trouble” reflected at least two nuances of the programming: an engaging work of that very name by Vijay Iyer (b.1971), played fearlessly and flawlessly by guest violinist Jennifer Koh, and a 1966 example by Lucas Foss’s Cello Concert (1966), played equally stunningly by Opera Boston’s principal cellist David Russell.
When a new release arrives from the auspices of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, I generally perk up. It is because I know that whatever they are up to is a good thing, really. So a few weeks ago the anthology of Leon Kirchner (1919-2009) Music for Orchestra (BMOP 1060) was in my mailbox and I was intrigued. I had found years ago
American composer Leon Kirchner was a student of Arnold Schoenberg, though he did not use the 12-tone system or other strict organizational methods, and favored a generally dissonant and free atonal style with ambiguous tonal inflections. As a result, his music more closely resembles the flexible approach of Alban Berg, and the orchestral music on this 2018 release from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project bears this out.
At the end of last September, BMOP/sound, the “house label” for the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), celebrated its 60th release with an album consisting entirely of orchestra music by Leon Kirchner. Prepared by conductor Gil Rose, the “program” of the album consists of five of Kirchner’s orchestral compositions presented in
Oftentimes, music is perceived foremost as an exploration of harmony — how different sounds work mutually, usually conjunctly, and always carefully to create a pleasing, uncontroversial sound. Yet music is as much, if not more so, about its contrast as it is about its homogeneity: It explores the sonic relations between consonance and dissonance, between order and chaos, between sparseness and abundance.
Essential in its role as the major large orchestra in Boston for the music of living composers, Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) stayed true to form at Jordan Hall on Friday, where Gil Rose took the podium for “Time Release.” This first concert of the season included the music of Steven Mackey, Hannah Lash, and Harold Meltzer, most of whom were in attendance. This concert was part of the third annual Boston New Music Festival, a celebration of new music through the collaboration of Juventas New Music Ensemble and other local new music groups; BNMF continues on October 26th with Kadence Arts and the start of another Boston Opera Collaborative’s “Opera Bites” cycle.
Leon Kirchner (1919 - 2009) was totally American, a major figure for a half century. He was a respected teacher and won a number of awards for his music. A prolific composer, Kirchner wrote primarily chamber music, much of which has been recorded. His orchestral works will be new to most listeners, although they have been championed by major conductors.
Another BMOP SACD offers unusual works by virtually unknown composer, Chen Yi. Born in 1953, she was a violinist and focused on composing music for string instruments. She met conductor Gil Rose when they were members of the Board of Advisors of the American Music Center. Rose, intrigued by Yi's music, suggested they make these recordings. The major work is Yi's Violin Concerto No. 2 called Springtime in Dresden, written in 2005 for Mira Wang, soloist on this recording.
The deep, milky gongs of Lou Harrison’s American gamelan slowly chime as a violin soars among and above in tender elegy, singing just for you. Then light, lucid bell-like sounds enter, making this musical sky more and more densely starry, in an expansive yet deeply intimate meeting of cultural traditions that I find more moving by the day.
This album was my introduction to the music of Peter Child. Like Lindberg’s works, Child’s music is multi-faceted and adaptable to whatever idea is at hand. The wild and exuberant Jubal is essentially a symphony-concerto for orchestra,
compressed into one 15-minute movement.
This album was my introduction to the music of Peter Child. Like Lindberg’s works, Child’s music is multi-faceted and adaptable to whatever idea is at hand. The wild and exuberant Jubal is essentially a symphony-concerto for orchestra, compressed into one 15-minute movement. Adirondack Voices consists of settings of folk songs that were brought to America from UK and spread through Adirondack logging communities. These aren’t simply transcriptions: the textual content of each song informsthe musical content.