Anybody who even heard the title of Michael Gandolfi's first album with Gil Rose's Boston Modern Orchestra Project, "Y2K Compliant," should already have noticed that he is a composer of genuine wit. The actual music was no disappointment: Gandolfi has a knack for deploying a lucid, ear-pleasing technique in the service of high-concept forms.
Throughout its extensive discography, BMOP has returned to the music of only a few composers, but the match between Rose, with his light touch on the podium, and Gandolfi, makes it clear enough why this partnership continues to thrive. It continues with the new "Institute of Groove," a collection of three recent concertos.
These are three concertos for "underdog" instruments, as Gandolfi puts it in the liner notes: one for bassoon – here played by Richard Svoboda – a Fantasia for Alto Saxophone written for BMOP and Kenneth Radnofsky, and the titular piece, a bass trombone concerto penned specifically for Angel Subero. These are instruments a composer tends to avoid in extended solo writing, due to their highly distinctive musical personalities, but which Gandolfi instead indulges with evident delight – and, fortunately, a measure of good taste.
Gandolfi balances his discretion with an approachable wit. Consider the "Recitativo Surreale" from his Fantasia, which turns Purcell's recitative "Behold, upon my bending spear…" from the opera Dido & Aeneas into an instrumental draped with psychedelic riffs. Elsewhere, he's warping tonality into an endless spiral of unstable harmonies, or just cramming a melody with unexpected chromatic turns. There's a joy to each movement here that's very much out in the open.