The Boston Globe
David Weininger
May 27, 2011
Tonight’s concert “Sangita: The Spirit of India’’ marks the end of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s season, and it’s been a busier one than usual. Until fairly recently, BMOP’s season consisted of a sequence of Jordan Hall concerts. Now that series is merely one part of a flood of activity that includes a series of chamber concerts at clubs, opera productions, and, this season, concerts at Tufts University and Wellesley and Bowdoin colleges. Not to mention the group’s in-house recording label. It feels like a lot,’’ said Gil Rose, BMOP’s normally indefatigable music director, during a phone interview. “And I’ve got the tread marks to prove it.’’ In a way, though, the crowded schedule is simply proof of Rose’s original concept for BMOP, which was less that of a crusading new-music group and more of a flexible, alternative model for an orchestra. “I always thought that big orchestras were in trouble, because they were a monument to fixed embattlements — they had so much cost structure and they were so heavily weighted that the reason they didn’t play new music was because of all sorts of financial pressures to do otherwise. “So when BMOP got set up, I stuck this word ‘project’ on the back side of it, just so that we could make the argument that we were flexible,’’ he continued. “When the project warranted, we’d have 90 players, and when the project warranted, we’d have nine players. We could go places and we wouldn’t be hunkered down or burdened by a lot of established rules.’’ “The moral? “Be careful what you wish for,’’ he said. Tonight’s concert centers on India and the intersection of its musical traditions with Western ones. The program originated with a commission for MIT composer Peter Child, who wanted to explore Indian scales and aesthetic concepts in his work “Shanti.’’ And Rose had already discussed a new piece with Child’s MIT colleague Evan Ziporyn, who wanted to write a concerto for Indian tabla drums and Western strings. With the theme in place, Rose also approached Bowdoin’s Vineet Shende, whose “Naimittika Pralaya’’ blends Western and Indian harmonic and melodic elements. Though Rose couldn’t have known it when he planned the program, the works complement each other nicely. Shende “is working with real Indian melodic material. Evan’s thing is completely about these raga rhythmic patterns. And Peter’s is based on an Indian philosophical system. They’re all taking on a different aspect of Indian artistic thought.’’ Typically for a BMOP concert, all three are world premieres. The one piece not written in the 21st century is in some ways the most unusual. “Three Mantras’’ was composed by John Foulds, a British composer who was best known, early in his career, for writing light orchestral music. He became infatuated with Indian music during the 1920s and moved to that country in 1935. (He died four years later.) The “Three Mantras,’’ completed in 1930, are the preludes to the three acts of a Sanskrit opera that has been lost. The music is drenched in color and has some striking modernist touches, though its connection to Indian tradition is somewhat tenuous. Rose was asked what kind of change he saw between the cultural interaction in the Foulds piece, on the one hand, and in the more recent works, on the other. He was reminded of comments he made in an introductory music appreciation class he teaches at Tufts. In the class, he carves up music into two segments: One he labels WAM (Western art music), the other WEFT (world, ethnic, folk, and traditional musics). The perception is that a clean division between the two has existed for centuries. But, Rose said, “these things have [always] been stealing, robbing each other blind.’’ Phenomena like Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble are “just the continuation of a process that started with Monteverdi and Haydn and Mozart … even back to Palestrina and Tallis — they were robbing left and right.’’ What’s changed is the speed and ease with which the lines are blurring. “More media exposure and more technological barriers coming down means that it just gets more complicated, more kaleidoscopic, all the time,’’ Rose said. “Not very good for the record stores that have to categorize this stuff — but they don’t exist anymore.’’