One of the challenges for the reception of music by Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) has been the difficulty the composer encountered in finding performers up to the task of recording his ensemble works with clarity and precision. While one is grateful for those brave souls who first tackled his compositions and recorded them for posterity, All Set, Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s latest recording of his works, fills in some gaps and provides clear sound and well-executed renderings of several of his pieces.
Fanfare readers have met Mathew Rosenblum in reviews by Robert Kirzinger in 23:5 and Robert Carl, who covered a New World disc of several works about a year ago, in 36:3. Both of my colleagues liked his music a great deal, and so do I. Rosenblum has forged a unique compositional voice, in part from the tuning and temperament that he employs in his music. The 21-tone and 19-tone scales that permit intervals in just intonation are among the tools in his toolbox.
George Antheil was quite a character in the music of the first half of the last century. He authored a book, Bad Boy of Music, which is still in print. He was at the noisy premiere riot of The Rite of Spring in Paris and reported that he wasn’t a bit concerned for himself because he had a loaded pistol in his pocket. After moving to Hollywood to escape the Nazi, like so many other composers in Europe, he continued his career writing scores for the movies.
As a graduate student I remember Arthur Berger's music being described in the halls as "white-note Webern." In fact, as Rodney Lister's notes clarify for me, it was Milton Babbitt, who, in a 1950 article, described the music as "diatonic Webern," a moniker that apparently stuck the same way to Berger as the notorious "Who Cares If You Listen?" stuck to Babbitt (incidentally not that composer's title).
It has become commonplace to bash the symphony orchestra. All together now: it’s impractical, old-fashioned, a relic, a museum, a bastion of canonic conservatism, a hangover from long-gone eras and aesthetics. We know the drill.
The January program in the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s season almost always emphasizes Boston-based composers of the present day or recent past. On Friday night Gil Rose led the group in three world premieres by composers of whom two still live and work in the area, while the third studied and taught here before moving elsewhere. The three pieces were very different in character, all worth hearing, and all extremely well played.
The “modern” in Boston Modern Orchestra Project varies in its meaning. Sometimes it refers broadly to music of the past several decades, such as its recent revivals of operas by Virgil Thomson and Michael Tippett. On Friday at Jordan Hall, though, its focus was on the other sense of the word: what’s happening right now. On the bill were three world premieres, all commissions from composers with local connections and associations with BMOP. This was, to my mind, the group at its vital, cutting-edge best.
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project gave world premieres by three of its veteran composer colleagues Friday night at Jordan Hall.
The sonic worlds explored in the works by Elena Ruehr, David Rakowski, and Ken Ueno covered a wide range of what is meant by “new music” today. The first two recast familiar idioms in bracing new ways. The latter explored more ear-bending sonorities. For each, Gil Rose and the BMOP orchestra provided bold advocacy.
These three Gandolfi concertos spotlight less familiar instruments: bass trombone, bassoon and alto-saxophone. The orchestra responds quickly with glittering colors with little introspection in these briskly moving, extroverted essays. Gandolfi dabbles with popular styles: Jazz/rock explicitly for the
In the early 90s, I sang a small role in Jacob Druckman’s opera Medea in the Juilliard Opera Center’s semi-staged production of it. I was struck by its synthesis of old and new, and demanding yet felicitous writing for the voice. Later I worked with Druckman at the Aspen Music Festival and saw him again in a masterclass at Boston University. At the latter he seemed unwell, but retained his charisma and sense of humor. Little did I know that he was terminally ill with cancer; he passed away some months later. Although my contacts with Druckman were brief, I miss him.
"Möbius Loop" is an apt enough title for composer Mathew Rosenblum's new record from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP). Like that topological construct, the album's titular concerto for the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet, presented here in versions with and without orchestral accompaniment, is both a mind-bending illusion and an elegant feat of mathematics – and so, for that matter, is every other composition on this disc.
History is a relentless homogenizer. What begins life as a blooming, buzzing confusion, continuously evolving in manifold and unpredictable directions, once passed through the coarse sieve of history, becomes calcified, reified, downgraded from a vital, animate organism into an abject fossil. Time as one part petrification, one part putrefaction. Take the great late Renaissance polyphonists, Lassus, Palestrina, and Victoria.
Like almost everyone else (I'd bet), I went to the recent Boston Modern Orchestra Project production of Four Saints in Three Acts out of pure curiosity. Could Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein's freak success of the 30's really be the unique marriage of fetching music and confounding text that everyone claims it is?
On Saturday the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) presented a concert performance of Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts (1928) in Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory.
“But stories are only stories,” Gertrude Stein once put it as only she could, in other words: Who needs them? Certainly not, in Stein’s world, a modern opera!
Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts plays upon theatrical conventions, beginning with its title. Four sixteenth-century saints—St. Ignatius, St. Chavez, St. Settlement, and St. Teresa (split into two roles)—stand out from a sea of about twenty others. The singers explicitly cue the scenes, sometimes out of order, in each directionless act. And by the way, there are actually four of them.
Iranian-American composer Reza Vali (born Ghazvin, 1952) has been called the Iranian Bartók. This is apt not because his musical style is especially influenced by Bartók (in fact, Vali claims among his influences Wagner, Mahler, and Debussy, and I detect others as well) but because like Bartók, he’s a dedicated student and cataloger of folk song.
Jacob Druckman (1928-1996) was one of greatest orchestral composers – if not the finest – of the 20th century. Though his music adhered to a sometimes-difficult aesthetic, Druckman, like his great contemporary, György Ligeti, had such a command of instrumentation that he could simply draw in listeners through the engaging peculiarity of his sound world. That reality is demonstrated powerfully in BMOP’s new album, Lamia, which documents music Druckman composed or arranged over the last decade of his life.
Michael Gandolfi is one of our most unique, visionary contemporary composers. His music cuts across all manner of styles and influences, from jazz and rock to works intended for a children’s audience, such as his Pinocchio’s Adventures in Funland. Galdolfi’s music has been played by many of the country’s major symphony orchestras and audiences have consistently appreciated the approachable and eclectic nature of his work.
The music of Jacob Druckman has always fascinated me. I first became familiar with this Julliard-trained composer with his Chiaroscuro and I was immediately hooked. Druckman, who also taught at Yale University for many years, was a composer who had a gift for colorful orchestration, interesting but non-strident harmonies and some fascinating treatments of counterpoint.