in: News & Features

March 21, 2016

BMOP Approaches Majority

by

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson Not Amused

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson is curioser and curioser

The NY Times asks us to raise a glass to the Boston Modern Orchestra Project on its 20th anniversary this year. They declare that the orchestra has become “one of the most artistically valuable in the country for its support of music either new or so woefully neglected that it might as well be.” Bostonians are lucky to be invited to a free celebration at Jordan Hall on March 25th

BMOP performs David Del Tredici’s landmark orchestral work Child Alice in a rare complete performance of Part I, In Memory of a Summer Day, and Part II, Quaint Evens—Happy Voices—All in a Golden Afternoon. Del Tredici’s ongoing fascination with both Lewis Carroll’s classic tales has produced song cycles that stand out for their vivid characterizations and complexity of meanings. Child Alice sets texts from the preface poems to Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass for amplified soprano, interspersed with orchestral movements that Del Tredici describes as “chapters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that got away.” Part I of Child Alice won the Pulitzer Prize in music in 1980. Metropolitan Opera National Finalist Courtenay Budd is a leading interpreter of Del Tredici’s work and has performed with the composer as accompanist to great acclaim. Reserving tickets here is highly recommended.

FLE: With your various opera companies you often produce concerts with standing-room-only crowds, yet after 20 years BMOP doesn’t always fill halls. In the New York Times, you recently rued “the need to raise funds and market.” Does it matter if anyone listens or is this mere Babbit(ry)?

Gil Rose: It matters if people listen, but it doesn’t matter if everybody listens. It just matters that enough people listen who get it.

To some extent do you view your concerts as preparation for the recordings and is your legacy going to be as much in the recordings as the performances?

More in the recordings than in the performances. I think that performances are remembered but they’re not legacy in the same way that recordings are legacy. You know, most of the repertoire, not all of it, but most of it that we present in concert does not have any representation in recorded format. It’s one thing if you’re playing a Tchaikovsky Symphony or a Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s Dream. That exists in the public cannon quite exhaustively, so to record it, it’s not a high priority, but when you play the Lukas Foss Symphonies and there is no recording of major repertoire, then the recording seems to need to be the best result. Because even if we fill Jordan Hall to capacity we still wouldn’t preserve the performances, other than archival kinds of ways but there would be no commercial distribution of what I think …and this maybe will be where we part ways in our thinking, but what I think is important repertoire like David Del Tredici’s, Child Alice is a perfect example of what we’re trying to do. So, will we get a big crowd I hope or we work to get a big crowd, and is it the final arbiter of our success? No. And I think when it becomes the final arbiter of your success you inevitably have to change your mission to appeal to a public taste that may not be as sophisticated as it used to be. Yeah, let me rephrase that and not mince words, the public taste is NOT as sophisticated as is used to be.

The period in the 1950 and 60s, according to our friend Blair Tindall (Mozart in the Jungle), was the best musically educated in the American history since we had all the European émigrés while still having music education in the schools. After the 70s musical literacy started to decline and it continues to decline apparently…

Tindall, had a lot to say about the music business. She actually said, the audiences aren’t diminishing in their numbers, just in their intellect but, she said the problem with the empty halls is just that the number of concerts is increasing so much, not that audiences are declining.

Yeah, that’s part of it. It’s a very competitive market and the general public has more outlets, that’s true, and more places to hear things and, more often, maybe not knowing the product as well as we would hope. No aspersions to them, but they’re not aware of where the marketing dollars tell them to go. And, there are plenty of musically educated people that are very, very surprised and fascinated by a piece of music that to me seems like not a big revelation.

I’ll give you a good example, a very cultured instrumentalist, someone smart, and I have great trust in their musical instincts, was unaware that Dvořák wrote operas—and that’s a professionally trained musician, you know? And when I explained that he had written possibly a dozen operas, it was an amazement to this person because they know Dvořák from the New World Symphony and Carnival Overture.

Do people really want to hear Scheherazade again? It’s too bad, but they actually do.

So this is really what you mean in terms of when you told the New York Times that you don’t enjoy marketing is what you don’t enjoy doing is picking repertoire in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator I gather.

Yes, but also there’s no amount of marketing dollars, that I have available to me in any reality that I understand, that’s going to alter the (thing?) that’s going to make it possible to change their thing.

I mean what kind of marketing dollars are going to make it possible to get people to go to Gunther Schuller’s Fisherman and His Wife, a 12-tone children’s opera? I’m not against putting my best foot forward and advocating. Now, if I decided to do the Planets, and again no aspersion to The Planets, one of my favorite pieces, I would seem to be able to market that. I don’t see the point to marketing unless I really want to change my mission.

Does your relationship with NEC in which you can manage to get Jordan hall free help you keep costs down and also to think about what you want to play without regard to the box office, and what is that relationship exactly?

GR: Just to be clear, my relationship with NEC doesn’t not get me Jordan Hall for free, it’s gets me Jordan Hall once a year for free. Once a year we do an NEC-centric event, which we did in this Gunther Schuller memorial concert, but other years it’s been another things. Mostly, in the past years we’ve tried to coordinate around when they’ve had outside guest composers in residency, Will Bolcom , or Ollie Knussen, those were recent ones.

So what is the relationship with NEC then?

Well it’s an affiliation that’s gone back a decade and a half. We run a student composers contest. We run a competition for concertos written after 1970. We do some things and they get a break on one concert during the year and that we also during some down times in the hall we get the use of Jordan Hall at a cut rate for recording, but not most of the year.

That’s useful to know. So when the New York Times was bragging about your ability to keep costs down, is that really the secret to why BMOP has endured for 20 years? Are you a lower cost provider than other orchestras? Although, there’s none like BMOP of course.

Yeah, I think what it is, I think that the point the Times was picking up on, that I was trying to make was that, for BMOP, the dollars spent, the bang for the buck is really intensive. For the amount of things that happen at BMOP concerts, residencies, recordings, record label is certainly not an easy agenda to survive with any individual who gives a 100 dollars or any foundation who gives a $100,000 is getting everything on the stage. They’re getting an artistic product; a bang for their buck and an artistic result and the excellence is hard to match. Now that’s not to say they’re getting big audiences to see their logo because they’re not. So, you know I think we’ve been successful with individuals, funders and foundations that believe in excellence as something worthy in itself as opposed to arts organizations as conduits for social change.

Does every one of your concerts have the potential to be a recording? I mean, are you releasing concert recordings?

No, We’ve released almost no concert recordings. Almost everything has been a studio session, which occurs, usually almost always a day or two after the performance. Sometimes a few days later sometimes even a couple of them have been done before the performance.

The recordings must be based on relationships that you have with composers for the most part and also understandings with unions to allow you to have these sessions with, sometimes, large forces, I mean, who’s paying for these productions? Certainly not the people who buy the recordings?

No, no, the recordings don’t even come close to paying for themselves. (No, It’s like it ought to be.) It’s a mix. Sometimes it’s individuals who believe in the composer or commissioned the works, sometimes it’s foundations, sometimes it’s family foundations, sometimes it’s NEA. It’s a mix. We’ve produced over 60 CDs, 48 on our own label and another 16 or 17 on other labels. I don’t’ think there’s been one (??) that’s been the same on how we funded them.

Do you ever sell a thousand discs?

We generally do the first print of a thousand and we’ve had to reprint several titles.

***

Let’s move on to David Del Tredici’s Tiny Alice, er, I mean Child Alice.

There’s a ton of Alices, there’s Final Alice, there’s Alice Symphony…he’s been on the Alice things for 30 years. But he recently seems to have gotten away from it to some degree but no, it was a big inspiration for him for the center part of his creative life.

The piece is quite long. It’s about 130 minutes of music it was rolled out in different pieces in different parts. They are designed to be able to be played separately or in combinations but the total piece of both parts: Part I, which is about an two hours, and part II is about 65 or 67 minutes. Part II breaks into three different parts and so there was potential to do bits and pieces of it and it was done that way. The Part I won the Pulitzer in 1980 so I think it must have been written between ‘76 and ‘79 or ‘77- ’79, and the piece has only been played in its entirety once before.

Do the sections refer to one another?

They’re definitely part of a whole and it’ll be an interesting experience I think to both hear and perform the big thing.

Now the one excerpt I heard on YouTube, I think it was ‘The Acrostic’ sounds exceedingly lyrical and not at all modern. Was this a good celebration for a ‘Modern Orchestra Project’ on your 20th anniversary?{laughter} Well you know, modernism and post-modernism and neo-romanticism and neoclassicism, they’re all modern. They’re all under our window. ‘Modern’ meaning within the last 100 years so. What I’ve mostly been trying to do over the last few years, as BMOP’s stature has gotten to a certain point, is to do as many seminal pieces as I can, whatever style or school of thought, you know there’s no way to deny that Child Alice is not a seminal work. So, what does “modern” mean? Does it mean ‘modernesque’ in the sense that it caused some vein of composition that was established by Schoenberg or Milton Babbitt, or does it mean something else? Or does it mean modern in the sense that it happened in modern times? BMOP’s been playing everything from nomadic to Steve Paulus and everything in-between. Alice is certainly a major piece of symphonic music by a contemporary composer that reshaped and shook up the roles in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

You mean by being post-romantic or being anti-modernist in a way he was even more modern.

Well, it certainly is a trend of modern music.

Why is the soprano amplified?

To give her the opportunity to sing quietly and not be covered. Also, it’s a huge orchestra and she sings for two hours.

L: Does she sing in a cabaret style, does she croon, or does she sing full out?

Sort of the easy-going soubrette-style singing, but there’s some dramatic stuff in it, too – I mean, the amplification is light—it’s not a ‘hold the mike and sing like a lounge singer’ type application. The point of the amplification is to give her a chance to survive the evening. It’s a real tour-de-force, you know—the only other time this piece was done in its entirety; the soprano part was taken by four sopranos.

Does the soprano Courtney Budd have some history with this piece?

With David. She has been singing his music and his songs for a lot of years, but she has never sung this.

Do you know how you’re going to do the amplification? The house PA system is boomy and disembodied.

I’ll probably have it localized—give her a PA sound front to very much position her in her actual position. It won’t be on the left or right of the orchestra – it will be more centered as to where she is.

Does it have any of the nonsense words or are they words that you’re meant to understand?

There are some, but most of text is words you’re supposed to understand.

Okay – no jabberwocky.

No – he has a jabberwocky piece but there’s no jabberwocky in this.

Gil Rose outside Peterborogh Town House (Michael J. Lutch photo)

Gil Rose outside Peterborough Town House (Michael J. Lutch photo)

This is a large orchestra, you say, so how many of the players that will be on the stage were with you 20 years ago when you started?

The first concert I started with we only had about 25 players…(laughter) I would say 5 or 6 of them are still playing for me. You’ll see, Rachel Braudy, Bob Schultz, Tony D’Amico bass player, Ron Haroutunian, a bassoonist, and probably a couple of others.

Please tell us how the concert became a free event. Was that a surprise was it planned from the beginning?

10 years ago or more, for a period of years, Music Performance Trust Fund. Allowed us to make one of our concerts free each year. They fund events which are free and open to the public. Normally, they sponsor community-based family, but we made the case that this was a kind of an important moment for us and they granted us the funding and that made it possible for us to open the doors. The concert’s free, but people need to reserve their seats, but there’s no cost associated. So, I hope People go to the BMOP website and find out that tickets are still available before showing up.

By the way, David is going to be interviewed about the piece and why he wrote it and how he wrote it and what it means. I hope people with come for the pre-concert because David is a real entertaining guy, a good speaker and has a lot of interesting things to say, some of them quite incendiary.

Anything you want to tell us about Odyssey Opera or Monadnock Music?

Not yet…Monadnock’s announcement is a couple of weeks away…and Odyssey Opera will have a spring season at the Huntington….

See related review here.

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