These works were composed over a span of 30 years from 1976 to 2007; 3 of them (Nos. III, V, and VI) were revised (with one, No. III, now with the subtitle “Another View,” having been essentially completely reconstructed) for the performances and subsequent recording by BMOP over the past 2 years. The result is a set of very compelling eclectic pieces that make for enjoyable repeated listening.
The classical CD world may be down, but it’s not out. To a great extent, recording companies are recycling older material, yet there is a lot of good, new stuff out. Here are a few that captured my attention.
La Passione and other works by Louis Andriessen, with Gil Rose conducting the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.
Andriessen is a Dutch minimalist whose many compositions include stage and dance works. His style borrows from Stravinsky, jazz, and American minimalism and especially Terry Riley. His music is anti-German and anti-romantic.
The long-awaited CD of all Maine composer Elliott Schwartz’s chamber concertos has finally been released by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP/sound, 1013) and it lives up to expectations. Conductor Gil Rose and his orchestra are among the foremost interpreters of modern music, and their performances of these six works, from 1976 to 2007, with the composer’s input, can be considered definitive.
After a 43 year stint at the College, former Robert K. Beckwith Professor of Music Eliott Schwartz has one more accomplishment to add to his list: the recent release of an album featuring six chamber concertos of his own composition.
The album is titled Elliot Schwartz: Chamber Concertos and will be released through the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) label this month.
Schwartz, an internationally regarded composer, retired from Bowdoin’s faculty in 2007, with 12 of his 43 years in the music department spent as department chair.
Composer David Rakowski’s jocularity is well known. His many piano etudes (88 at last count) feature a number of sly allusions to other styles and works, as well as more overt zaniness; one even requires the performer to play pitches with their nose! His previous concerti have featured various subterfuges in which the soloist is upstaged by the orchestra. And, famously, goofiness abounds on his website. But alongside Rakowski’s penchant for light-hearted expression are consummate craftsmanship and music of considerable poignancy.
While the recent passing of Lukas Foss (1922-2009) strikes a sad note for many of us, the release of this superb recording of The Prairie serves to both celebrate and elucidate his unique genius and extraordinary life. Born Lukas Fuchs in Berlin, Germany, Foss received his early training as a pianist and composer with Julius Goldstein (who, upon emigrating to the United States, changed his last name to Herford and ultimately became one of the most significant teachers of conducting and score study in American history).
As clarinetist and composer alike, Derek Bermel is a product of the contemporary accessibility of, and fascination with, the diverse musics of the world. Gone are the days when the Austro-Hungarian, or even the wider European, traditions could constitute any kind of workable definition of ‘serious’ music. Just as, once upon a time, European literature woke up to – and creatively embraced – literatures far beyond the previously monolithic Latin and Greek tradition, so Western music has widened its horizons enormously.
“My purpose is to eliminate purpose.”
There are marvelous ideas in David Rakowski’s music. At the very end of the slow movement of his Piano Concerto (2006), for instance, the soloist suddenly switches to a toy piano to play a flourish that’s at once otherworldly and mischievous. Similarly, the jazzy syncopations and riffs in the movement that follows convey simultaneous feelings of playful spontaneity and lurking menace.
Dutch composer Louis Andriessen is known for his eclectic, experimental style. This collection - released to mark his 70th birthday, features two of his muses, Italian jazz and new music singer Cristina Zavalloni and American violinist Monica Germino.
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project had a good idea last weekend. They paired with the Florestan Project, a superb vocal group, to present three days of concerts named “Voice of America” at Tufts University’s Distler Performance Hall. Florestan presented the complete songs of Samuel Barber, some 75 in number. The Sunday afternoon concert I attended then featured a chamber-music-sized BMOP with concerted songs of Samuel Barber and Virgil Thomson. Florestan and BMOP together offered a sublime tribute to the voice.
I’ve been slow to post my thoughts on the second half of the “Voice of America” concert I heard last Friday, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t enthusiastic about it. Indeed, this was probably the most rewarding Boston Modern Orchestra Project concert I’ve yet heard. Although I confess I don’t often hear this group; to me, there’s sometimes a problem built right into their concerts - they’re funded by the composers being played. I don’t mean to criticize this as a way of getting new music out before the public, and to be honest, what I’ve heard at BMOP has always been highly accomplished.
Samuel Barber (near left, with his lover Gian Carlo Menotti) once described himself as “a living dead composer,” and indeed, for most his life his commitment to romantic feeling in the modern age consigned him to the dustbin of critical opinion. But history has a way of upending that dustbin, and Barber’s gift for lyrical simplicity, cemented in the popular mind by his Adagio for Strings, has enabled him to outlast his detractors.
The conductor Gil Rose, after curating last year’s Ditson Festival of Contemporary Music, is admirably keeping alive the vision of a local new-music festival in late September. This year’s iteration, entitled “Voice of America,” is underway at Tufts University’s Granoff Music Center. It does not have the Ditson Fund’s generous backing so it paints on a necessarily smaller canvas, but last night’s opening performances made clear that it should be a richly rewarding weekend of American vocal music.
This evening’s double concert in the Distler Performance Hall of Tufts’ Granoff Music Center began a 3-day festival involving a partnership between the Florestan Recital Project and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project to highlight American vocal music. The former’s presentation was the 1st of 3 concerts which together would span the entire vocal opus of Samuel Barber, aptly titled, “BarberFest,” while the latter highlights contemporary compositions for vocalist(s) and chamber orchestra.
September is usually the quietest month of the year for local classical music, with the summer activity largely vanished and the fall tumult yet to descend. Last year was an exception, with the Alice M. Ditson Fund throwing a big new-music party for most of the established local ensembles over four days at the Institute of Contemporary Art. As groups collaborated and programmed on a broader canvas, the festival energized the local scene, and many musical insiders hoped it could become a fall tradition.
This is an important album – to the uninitiated, it may seem strange, but stay with it, there’s a payoff at the end. Louis Andriessen is no stranger to adventurous listeners: he’s been a fixture of the avant garde for over forty years. This album begins with a carillonesque instrumental and then a series of art songs, all but one based on poems by legendary, mad Italian poet Dino Campana. Campana spent much of his life institutionalized, including his final years: his surreal, twisted, horrific imagery and sense of anguish compare with Baudelaire at his most crazed.
Full Moon in March (1977) is John Harbison’s adaptation of a nasty Yeats “chamber play” dealing with the beheading of a filthy Swineherd (James Maddalena) who dares to court a bitchy virgin Queen (Lorraine DiSimone). His head winds up impaled on a stake, and the Queen does a hysterical dance (soprano DiSimone is replaced by a dancer). The piece is a small-scale but demonstrative Salome substitute set in Harbison’s pungent 70s Princetonian-Stravinskian style, his scoring embroidered with colorful prepared piano sonorities in the small accompanying ensemble.
Presented by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) in partnership with the Florestan Recital Project and Tufts University Department of Music, the Voice of America Festival will showcase a series of American vocal works, both new and unknown to Boston audiences, and bring an unprecedented diversity of American vocal music to Tufts University.
This new recording from Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project of music by Louis Andriessen carries a catalogue of disappointing turns and insipid organizational processes of otherwise promising musical events. The players themselves certainly deserve no rebuke. It is a sound, engaging, and artful execution that because of the clarity and precision of an accomplished performance, cannot help exposing some of the shortcomings in the writing itself.