Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project present, more often than not, anthologized programming: one-night overviews of a single tradition, composer, or genre. Such concerts can veer toward stylistic diffusion, but Friday’s collection of string-instrument concertos presented the opposite danger - a surfeit of similarity.
Elliott Schwartz’s Chamber Concerto VI: Mr. Jefferson, Robert Erickson’s Fantasy for cello and orchestra, and Martin Boykan’s Violin Concerto all exemplified post-World War II mainstream new music: tempered dissonance, rhapsodic rhetoric, arioso-like progressions of atmospheric moods rather than a grand, aria-like line. (They also largely eschewed instrumentally reinforcing the soloist, leaving the orchestra the most epiphanic moments.)
Schwartz’s 2008 concerto, a portrait of founding father (and violinist) Thomas Jefferson, paints the third president in the image of the music’s style: a passionately brooding Ivesian polymath. Charles Dimmick conveyed the violin solo with cool clarity of expression, but the protagonist was veiled behind a curtain of quotation and allusion. Erickson’s Fantasy, an adept balance of neo-classic symmetry and expressionist sensation, was composed in 1954, before the composer embarked down more experimental paths; local hero Rafael Popper-Keizer dispatched the cello solo with energetic authority. (The Fantasy appears on BMOP’s newest recording, an all-Erickson collection.) Boykan’s 2003 Concerto, being given its belated premiere, stretches concentrated expressive gestures across broad, varied scenery; Curtis Macomber gave refined, elegant attention to a solo part richly focused on the violin’s low strings.
Ken Ueno’s viola-and-string-orchestra Talus is named for a bone soloist Wendy Richman fractured in 2006 - the basic harmonic content was derived from a sonic tracing of the corresponding X-ray image. It’s a gimmick, as is the slasher-movie scream Richman emits at the outset, but the music’s dramatic engine hums, as Ueno builds up blocks of sounds normally left between the lines of the classical tradition: scratches, whistles, the rustle of bow hair, the exotic outskirts of the overtone series. It’s a concerto that engrossingly reinvents the discourse.
Finally, another reinvention: Arnold Schoenberg’s 1933 Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra, an arrangement of a Handel concerto grosso that casts that Baroque composer as a Schoenberg-like character: a rather excitable Romantic with a love of profusion and a thoroughly chromatic accent. It shifts the solo role from the featured players (Krista Buckland Reiser, Gabriela Diaz, Joan Ellersick, and Popper-Keizer) to Schoenberg himself: an ornate compositional cadenza, from a musical personality too insistent to color within the categorical lines.
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