The news these days about the classical music recording industry is almost always bleak, so it’s a pleasure to report a bright spot on that landscape: the Boston Modern Orchestra Project has finally launched its own record label called BMOP/sound.
Ever since founding BMOP over a decade ago, conductor Gil Rose has recognized that recordings would be an essential component of the ensemble’s championing of new music far beyond the confines of Jordan Hall, where the group typically plays five concerts a year. In the interest of efficiency, most performances have been followed directly by recording sessions, and the group has built up a large internal archive. It has also released about a dozen CDs, but relying on external labels has meant abdicating control over the final product.
Not anymore. BMOP/sound’s first two releases are John Harbison’s ballet score Ulysses and a disc of Michael Gandolfi’s music called Y2K Compliant. Both discs have good sound quality, they are sleekly designed, and they are packaged with informative notes, in this case by former Globe critic Richard Dyer (on Harbison) and Robert Kirzinger (on Gandolfi). BMOP plans to release one per month, a pace that may be impossible to sustain over the long haul but will certainly help the new label make its presence felt.
Harbison wrote his Ulysses ballet in 1983 after being inspired by a performance of Monteverdi’s Return of Ulysses, but it waited until 2003 for its first complete performance, by Rose and BMOP, and now its first complete recording. Who knows if a ballet company will ever take it on, but this richly imagined, lushly textured, almost cinematically descriptive music stands up perfectly well as a concert score. In conjuring scenes from Ulysses’s mythic journey, the score employs a well-worn neo-Romantic language but does so with evident sophistication and with some unusual modern-sounding flourishes, as in the pairing of ondes Martenot (an electronic instrument used prominently by Messiaen among many others) with pitched percussion for the eerily seductive song of Circe. Rose and his crack musicians bring out all of the score’s sensual charms and its vivid physicality.
The Gandolfi disc is more of a hodgepodge but a welcome one, as this versatile Boston-based composer has not been well-represented on disc. (That said, Telarc has also just brought out his Garden of Cosmic Speculation with Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.) On this BMOP release, one finds his compelling 1988 work Points of Departure, a dense yet sparkling 12-tone piece divided into four elegantly linked movements. Then there’s Themes From a Midsummer Night, an insouciant, featherweight suite assembled from music that Gandolfi tossed off in 2001 for a production at Shakespeare & Company in the Berkshires. Finally, the disc’s catchy title work, Y2K Compliant, riffs amusingly on the fears of digital apocalypse that were stirred up at the new millennium, and on the world of computer music as re-imagined by a traditional chamber orchestra. Its witty, ebullient, and rhythmically vigorous outer movements are swathed in bright colors, and they seem to revel in their task of cross-pollinating the centuries.
These two releases make for an auspicious debut of BMOP/sound and a lot more are following in quick succession, including entire discs devoted to the music of Lee Hyla (just out), Gunther Schuller, Charles Fussell, Lukas Foss, Louis Andriessen, David Rakowski, and John Cage. Digital downloading is apparently in the works, which will of course be essential. Boston new-music fans have benefited for years from the advocacy of Rose and BMOP in live concerts. With this label, that work should start getting the wider attention it deserves.
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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