When preparing to webcast 24 hours of orchestral music written in the 21st century, it is advisable to seek out expert opinions. For Q2 Music's Symphomania: 24 Hours with the 21st-Century Orchestra, we turned to champions of the field for their take: What are the thrills and challenges of conducting this music? Have any trends emerged among new works? How, if at all, is the symphony orchestra evolving?
The four orchestral works of composer Elena Ruehr that are assembled on this alluring disc by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project are striking for their combination of rhapsodic, almost sinful lushness and a robust force that keeps the effect from cloying. Her signature orchestrational move is to pull you in with the strings and then let the brass punch you in the gut, and it works every time — even when you know it’s coming. Even the overall course of the disc works that way.
“Play,” which the Boston Modern Orchestra Project commissioned from the fast-rising composer Andrew Norman in 2013, is being talked about as the most important long orchestral work of the 21st century. That kind of hype can often be misleading, but in this case it’s quite likely accurate. The 45-minute, three-movement work, which encompasses various meanings of play — some lighthearted, some sinister — begins in an almost spastic fit of energy; musical ideas ricochet off one another furiously, almost too quickly.
Disastrous winters live long in historical memory. For example, there is the blizzard that hit the Great Plains in January of 1888, which caught many who lived in the Midwestern territories unawares. Known as the Children’s Blizzard, the storm trapped students and teachers in their one-room schoolhouses where they remained for days. Many who ventured out into the storm succumbed to frostbite. Others froze to death. In conservative estimates, several hundred people died.
If you’d like a glimpse of the future of symphonic music — or if you just want to know what devilish majesty the New York Philharmonic will shortly unleash — this two-year-old YouTube video from the Proms in London is a good place to start. It shows the world premiere of Thomas Adès’s Totentanz (Dance of Death), which the Philharmonic will perform March 12 through 14.
To the list of those such as Toccata who fill the gaps of neglected music, I’m happy to add the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Some of their releases have been too avant-garde for me, but there’s nothing about these recordings of the music of Irving Fine to scare the horses. In fact much of the music is as direct in its appeal as fellow American composers Aaron Copland – Fine’s older contemporary – and Leonard Bernstein.
Boston's Jordan Hall was host to a concert version of Tobias Picker's 1998 setting of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox on December 7. A good-sized crowd from very young to older folks had assembled to hear Gil Rose lead his two ensembles, Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Odyssey Opera, in a costumed semi-staged performance of this "family opera". Picker prefers to use this term to describe his morality tale, fearing that "children's opera" is a term frightened with an assumption of "dumbing-down".
This is one of two recordings from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) of which I received an mp3 preview. I regret that the other was well removed from my comfort zone.
I’m not aware that I have encountered the music of Elena Ruehr before, though there are two recordings of her music on Avie, one of which, also recently released, with the generic title Lift, contains chamber music (AV2319). The earlier CD, of music for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra was well received, though we seem to have missed it here at MusicWeb International (AV2263).
Irving Gifford Fine (1914-1962) was an American composer. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Fine studied with Walter Piston at Harvard earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. He studied conducting with Serge Koussevitsky and composition with Nadia Boulanger. At the time of his death at age 47 he completed only a handful of works for orchestra, chorus and various chamber ensemble and solo works. But what he lacked in quantity did not lack in quality. The Irving Fine Society maintains a very useful web page which can be found here.
The composer and New Kensington native William Thomas ("Tom") McKinley died on Feb. 3 at the age of 76. Born on Dec. 9, 1938, Mr. McKinley is best known for concert music composed in the jazz idiom but had forays into neo-classicism, atonality and electronic music. He attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1956, where he met his longtime friend and colleague David Stock, a local composer and the founder of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, who describes him as "one of our most important Pittsburgh artists of any kind."
A wonderful tensile energy operates on a subliminal aural screen behind the main episodes in Boston-based Scott Wheeler's music; perhaps they are musical particle traces of the dancers' and singers' bodies 'that are the medium for the stage composer's work', as Wheeler modestly describes himself in the booklet-notes. In fact, Wheeler turns out to be a highly effective composer of classical music by virtue of a vivid aural imagination whose ingenious, garrulous products he crafts into absorbing symphonic soundscapes that make the hip Boston Modern Orchestra Project sound great.
Though the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s “Magyar Madness” certainly delivered on the first word by presenting four works of Hungarian or Hungarian-descended composers including two premieres at Jordan Hall on Friday, we’ll give BMOP a pass on “Madness,” as the alliterative sobriquet was oxymoronic considering the event’s rock-solidity.
Hungarian music, Liszt once wrote, “is divided naturally into melody destined for song or melody for the dance.” Saturday’s ambitious “Magyar Madness” program, presented by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, had representatives of both. It also had two alluring world premieres.
... Speaking of energizing, we also have the debut recording of up-and-coming composer Andrew Norman's symphonic essay Play (which you can read more about in our Composer Spotlight post on Mr. Norman). ...
1.) Maurizio Pollini, Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Opp. 31 & 49
2.)Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Andrew Norman: Play
3.) Steve Reich, Radio Rewrite
4.) New York Philharmonic, Hadyn, Christopher Rouse, Wagner
5.) Wadada Leo Smith, Ishmail Wadada Leo Smith: Taif – Prayer in the Garden of Hijaz (Live)
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project, having promised a night of “Magyar Madness” Saturday at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, delivered world premieres of two outstanding, if well-behaved, works by Boston-based composers of Hungarian birth or ancestry and of Generation X vintage. The madness was supplied by the old-timers, Béla Bartók and Gyorgy Ligeti.
Crazy or sane, violent or poetic, all the music in Saturday’s concert touched on Hungary’s distinctive culture as a place apart, isolated by geography and language, yet also bubbling with a mix of European and Asiatic influences.
Every six weeks on BPR, we invite our music experts on the show to give us a preview of the shows to come. Here are recommendations from WCRB host Brian McCreath, Berklee College of Music's Rob Hochschild, and WGBH's own Edgar B. Herwick III from Curiosity Desk to help cut through the dark of winter.
- "Defiant Requiem," Tuesday, January 27th at Symphony Hall, Boston. Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Orchestra of Terezin Remembrance, Murray Sidlin.
Composer Kati Agócs was born in 1975 in Windsor, Ontario, to a Hungarian father and American mother. Her music — spacious and elegant, even in its knottier episodes — reflects and refracts this polyglot background. But there is a special quality that her Eastern European background lends to her music.
Imagine the orchestra as this sort of complicated 19th-century futurist machine, all moving parts and cogs and gears, and little people. I find that sort of fascinating. But every now and then, I just want to throw a wrench in and see what will happen.
Andrew Norman is ready to show you — at least through sound — just what happens when he tosses a wrench or two onto the concert stage.
Kati Agócs, whose The Debrecen Passion comes to Boston Modern Orchestra Project this Saturday night, has been making quite an impression on the global music community. But beyond her extensive curriculum vitae and skill as a composer, Kati is also a warm and compassionate person, extremely self-actualized with a fluid ability to describe her experience.
What is the worst thing that would happen if you publicly admitted to being in throbbing love with the oeuvre of Phil Collins or the decidedly non-artisanal bite of Evan Williams bourbon? The pasty guy at the record store counter may mutter, “Typical…”, but it would be freeing, right? Andrew Norman’s Play is no such “guilty” pleasure, but the score reads as though written by a composer unrestrained by any hint of self-consciousness. It is also one that is acutely aware that audiences trek in and shell out bills to see a show not to hear music, but to watch it performed.