And from conductor Andrew Clark and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project comes The Prairie (1943) by Lukas Foss, using Carl Sandburg’s poem from The Cornhuskers. This ambitious cantata includes four excellent soloists—Elizabeth Weigle, Gigi Mitchell-Velasco, Frank Kelley and Aaron Engebreth—and another chorus new to me, the Providence Singers (of which Clark is artistic director), all of whom make Foss’s spacious landscape spring to life.
Though the Grammy Awards have never held quite the same cachet in classical music as they do in pop, they still carry a good deal of weight, especially for listeners seeking to navigate a bewildering array of new compositional voices and a thicket of recordings of standard repertoire. And this year’s nominations in classical categories, announced last week, include three with especially strong local connections.
A stellar disc of this epic work inaugurated the Boston Modern Orchestra Project's invaluable CD label.
The 2009 Grammy Award nominations were announced today and among them was Sanford Sylvan, baritone soloist featured in BMOP/sound's Charles Fussell: Wilde. Sylvan has been nominated for Best Classical Vocal Performance, making this his fourth Grammy Award nomination.
Just as the 2008 presidential election exposed and ultimately crossed gender, racial and generational barriers, many of the year’s notable recordings explored and wrestled with different kinds of boundaries — some musical, some cultural, and some almost unimaginable if not for the power of music.
Album: Gunther Schuller: Journey into Jazz
Song: Concertino for Jazz Quartet & Orchestra
Artist: Gil Rose
Composers of today’s Olympian jazz-classical concertos would do well to listen to these deceptively understated, coolly creative pieces that capture the zeitgeist of the 1960s. These three newly recorded 20-minute works (dubbed “Third Stream” by Gunther Schuller himself) explore and synthesize myriad interactions between a jazz combo improvising and a chamber orchestra reading a through-composed score with some big band gestures.
Nice. Charles Fussell has established his career in New England. He studied at Eastman with Thomas Canning and Bernard Rogers but has also worked with Boris Blacher and Virgil Thomson. His musical orientation is largely tonal (although structural elements of serialism hover at the edges), with no fear of dissonance.
The end of the CD era, we have long been told, is near. And it’s true that the onetime flood has narrowed to a flow, sometimes steady, sometimes faltering. But a few major labels and many small ones keep putting out many excellent recordings, as represented by the two dozen examples here, chosen by classical critics of The New York Times as records of the year.
Michael Gandolfi: Y2K Compliant
Boston Modern Orchestra Project, conducted by Gil Rose
Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project present, more often than not, anthologized programming: one-night overviews of a single tradition, composer, or genre. Such concerts can veer toward stylistic diffusion, but Friday’s collection of string-instrument concertos presented the opposite danger - a surfeit of similarity.
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project performed new works in Jordan Hall on Friday evening by Martin Boykan, Robert Erickson, Elliott Schwartz, and Ken Ueno. The concert closed with Shoenberg’s Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra, a very liberal arrangement of a Handel Concerto.
The Providence Singers continue their quest to bring forgotten choral works by American masters to the stage with a performance this weekend of Dominick Argento’s Jonah and the Whale, an eclectic concoction that blends fugues, hymns and sea chanteys with a text that spans many centuries. Performances at Blessed Sacrament Church on Academy Avenue are slated for tomorrow night and Sunday afternoon, as part of the ongoing FirstWorks Festival.
During each of jazz’s growth spurts, opportunity for greater complexity and freedom arose. When jazz went from Dixieland to hot, the improvisations and prominence of the soloist’s voice grew. Then from hot to swing and the big band era, the arrangements began to take on a new complexity. The music during the big band era further absorbed colors for its palette from the modern classical music coming out of Europe. Groups lead by Claude Thornhill, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman were some of the main proponents of furthering the sophistication factor on the bandstand and in compositions.
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project and director Gil Rose have cultivated a fascinating niche: aural snapshots of particular countries or national traditions. The past couple of seasons witnessed programs spotlighting France and Armenia; on Sunday, a concert sponsored by Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Judaica Division of the Harvard College Library celebrated Israel’s 60th anniversary.
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project performed alongside guest artist Kenneth Radnofsky to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence at Sanders Theatre on Sunday evening.
The concert, “Israel at 60: Six Decades of Innovative Music,” marked the world premiere of Israeli composer Betty Olivero’s composition Kri’ot, the first piece of Israeli classical music to join a solo saxophone—played by Radnofsky—and a string quartet. Oliveros’s premiere received a five-minute standing ovation from the audience.
The late 1940’s to the early 1960’s witnessed several cross-fertilizations of then-contemporary classical music and modern jazz fashions. Given Gunther Schuller’s strong background in both worlds, it made sense for him to try and synthesize the two, decades before polystylism became a norm.
A glance at the above cast list might prove to be confusing. Here real people are juxtaposed with characters from a play. What kind of opera is this? A finely crafted, cleverly inventive one. Librettist John Shoptaw has combined a play (Our American Cousin by Tom Taylor, 1851) and real history (the assassination of President Lincoln, April 14, 1865). The assassination is told from the perspective of the actors performing the play at Ford’s Theater in Washington. Backstage and audience realities alternate with (decidedly unfunny and rather too many) scenes from the play.
This is a wonderful surprise. When the Editor proposed the disc, from the title I suspected it would be about the Lincoln assassination, as Our American Cousin was the name of the play performed that evening in Ford’s Theater. But I did not know the composer, Eric Sawyer (b. 1962), nor his librettist John Shoptaw, and knew nothing of this opera, which is truly “hot off the press,” having been premiered in Boston just last year.
Gunther Schuller is not merely an award-winning composer, former principal horn of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, retired artistic director of the Tanglewood Music Festival, and member of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, he also wrote the book on jazz. Two books actually, Early Jazz and The Swing Era (both Oxford University Press), and over a long and acclaimed career he has collaborated with or performed music by such distinctive jazz artists as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans, and the Modern Jazz Quartet, among many others.
This fascinating recording is a window into one of the most underreported cultural stories of our time: the decisive effect of jazz on 20th Century classical music - greater in the long run, as Constant Lambert predicted in the 1930s, than the influence of serialism or neoclassicism. Written in the late 50s and early 60s for symphony orchestra and jazz ensembles, these rather austere but vital works by Gunther Schuller come in the middle of a phenomenon that began with Gottschalk and continues with Golijov.
Composers of today’s Olympian jazz-classical concertos would do well to listen to these deceptively understated, coolly creative pieces that capture the zeitgeist of the 1960’s. These three newly recorded 20-minute works (dubbed “Third Stream” by Gunther Schuller himself) explore and synthesize myriad interactions between a jazz combo improvising and a chamber orchestra reading a through-composed score with some big band gestures. All the new recordings reward relistening.