Some have said that symphony orchestras are becoming museums. Perhaps that is true, but in Boston, exciting things are happening.
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project is a relatively new ensemble devoted to the performance of new music. While that term seems to scare a lot of people, the music it offers is quite accessible and is likely to become part of the standard repertoire.
Also known as BMOP, the orchestra was founded in 1999 by Gil Rose, a Boston area musician, director of Opera Boston and teacher at Carnegie Mellon University. The orchestra’s mission statement, in part, says that BMOP will “create discovery and advocacy for the next generation of composers and audiences.”
BMOP is only one of two orchestra devoted to new repertoire. The other is the American Composer’s Orchestra, but what makes the Boston group distinct is that it has its own CD label. According to executive director Catherine Stephan, “We are the only orchestra in the country that commissions, performs, and records new pieces. Much of the music we play involves participation of the composers. Our hallmark is that we are trying to create a connection between audiences and composers. We think about what we do in terms of the audience experience. We try to cover the bases and think outside what is considered to be classical music.”
Thinking outside the box is one of BMOP’s significant traits. Some of the repertoire chosen was influenced by pop, jazz, and minimalism.
The record label, BMOP/sound, was launched near the end of 2007. It’s a known fact that CD sales are poor and record stores continue to close. Classically oriented records make up a very small part of CD sales, so it was a real gamble for BMOP to sell its own CDs. “We have had a good response at our concerts and we felt that recordings of our music would be received well,” Stephan said. “The primary motivation in creating BMOP/sound was not to generate big sales but to preserve the music.” Even though it previously released CDs on labels such as Naxos and New World, the orchestra felt it would be in its best interest to start a label.
“We did this because we had more material than other labels were willing to put out,” Stephan said. “We also wanted to have more artistic control over our recordings. This has been especially true with regards to the CD packaging and artwork.” “We also want to have this music become known outside of Boston,” added Stephan. “In order for us to succeed, we felt we needed a domestic and international base.” Stephan said that the BMOP sales have surprised the orchestra. “We expected sales to be nominal, but last year, we had a Grammy nomination and there was a bump in sales,” she said. “It’s really noticeable and, as more material gets released, the surge in sales becomes exponential.”
That Grammy-nominated CD was Wilde, a very entertaining opera based on the works of Oscar Wilde. BMOP also has a very interesting recording called Our American Cousin by Eric Sawyer that describes the last day in Abraham Lincoln’s life. Commentators in the jazz world gave high marks to BMOP’s release of works by Gunther Schuller called Journey Into Jazz.
Even though these economic times have been hard on the performing arts, BMOP manages to thrive. “We are doing quite well. BMOP and the record label are both young and unique and the interest is still strong,” Stephan said. “The best thing is that you don’t have to come to Boston to hear the music. BMOP/sound makes our music available to anyone interested.”