in: News & Features

January 4, 2018

Power of Tower

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To honor the trailblazing American composer Joan Tower, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) will champion five of her orchestral works Friday evening February 9th, 8pm at Jordan Hall. The program of nation’s premier orchestra dedicated to commissioning, performing, and recording new orchestral music celebrates, in collaboration with NEC, bassoonist Adrian Morejon and flutist Carol Wincenc, both the end of her residency there and her 80th birthday. A preconcert talk takes place at 7pm.

“It’s no secret that American music has been strongly shaped by the influence of prominent female composers. One of the most significant is Joan Tower,” says Gil Rose, BMOP artistic director and conductor. “This diverse program exemplifies her far-reaching skills as a composer and her ability to successfully reach a wide audience.”

The New York Times has noted that Tower’s “music demands a stealthy virtuosity.” Her musical language is noted for its colorful orchestrations, approachability for listeners and players alike, and driving rhythms shaped by her childhood spent in Bolivia. She is (NYT) “a composer whose directness and eclecticism make her music instantly accessible, and whose imaginative sense of development—often by way of insistent but evolving rhythms and surprising juxtapositions—gives it an original, distinctive personality.” In the Globe in 1984 Richard Dyer described Tower’s Cello Concerto as having “a voice, intensity, and something to say. … The first glimpse of Tower’s score suggests what will follow—every idea contains the potential of the next, which nevertheless comes as a surprise. She finds unexpected vitality in the simplest things—trills, scale, arpeggios. There is affection for the past—the first entrance of the cello makes an ardent homage to Dvořák—and formal originality (the harrowing virtuosos cadenza comes in the middle of the slow movement). The end returns to the beginning, which has come to mean something different”.

The February 9 evening begins with Chamber Dance (2006), a crowdpleaser that lives up to its name with energetic tutti-solo alternations. Inspired by the thought of musicians as dancers, the piece maximizes the chamber orchestra’s textural and timbral palette by weaving through a rich and colorful tapestry of solos, duets, small ensembles, and full ensemble—each instrument serving as just one small part of the larger dance. “The ensemble writing is fairly vertical and rhythmic in its profile, thereby creating an ensemble that has to ‘dance’ well together,” explains Tower.

“I don’t do [individual] movements.” This blunt statement presages the expansive 17 minutes of Red Maple (2013), scored for solo bassoon and orchestral strings. Featuring guest Adrian Morejon, the piece allows the bassoon to “shine,” as Tower puts it, her primary concern. According to the blog I Care If You Listen, Red Maple “eschews splashy colors, heavyhanded percussion, and fanfarish settings, favoring an understated, perhaps restrained, accompaniment in order to let the soloist soar”.

BMOP is thrilled to welcome Carol Wincenc in two works for flute and orchestra written for her. Calling for brilliant virtuosity, Rising (2009) centers on ascending motion using different kinds of scales—mostly octatonic and chromatic—and occasionally arpeggios. “I have always been interested,” Tower writes, “in how music can ‘go up.’ One can’t, however, just go up. There should be a counteracting action which is either going down or staying the same to provide a tension within the piece”. The 15-minute Concerto for Flute (1989) provides competitive tension between the chamber-size orchestra and flute, ending in a finale where the “music blows wide open”. On the occasion of its premiere, then-Minnesota Orchestra artistic adviser Michael Steinberg observed that “People are still saying, ‘Show me the female Beethoven,’ but they’re no longer saying, ‘Women can’t compose’.”

The program culminates with the glorious Made in America (2004), a fantasia on “America, the Beautiful.” Commissioned by a consortium of 65 orchestras (at least one from each of the 50 states), Made in America was composed to appeal to a wide cross-section of the US population.

Joan Tower is regarded as one of the most important American composers living today. During a career spanning more than 50 years, she has made lasting contributions to musical life in the United States as composer, performer, conductor, and educator. Her works have been commissioned by major ensembles, soloists, and orchestras, including the Emerson, Tokyo, and Muir quartets; soloists Evelyn Glennie, Carol Wincenc, David Shifrin, and John Browning; and the orchestras of Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Washington DC, among others. Tower was the first composer chosen for a Ford Made in America consortium commission of 65 orchestras. Leonard Slatkin and the Nashville Symphony recorded Made in America in 2008 (along with Tambor and Concerto for Orchestra). The album collected three Grammy awards: Best Contemporary Classical Composition, Best Classical Album, and Best Orchestral Performance. Nashville’s latest all-Tower recording includes Stroke, which received a 2016 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. In 1990 she became the first woman to win the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Silver Ladders, a piece she wrote for the St. Louis Symphony where she was composer-in-residence 1985-’88. Other residencies with orchestras include 10 years with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s (1997-2007) and the Pittsburgh Symphony (2010-2011). She was the Albany Symphony’s Mentor Composer partner in the 2013-’14 season. Tower was cofounder and pianist for the Naumburg Award-winning Da Capo Chamber Players from 1970 to1985. Tower studied piano and composition at Bennington College and Columbia University. In addition to her NEC presence, Tower is currently Asher Edelman professor of music at Bard College, where she has taught since 1972.

A unique institution of crucial artistic importance to today’s musical world, BMOP exists to disseminate exceptional orchestral music of the present and recent past via performances and recordings of the highest caliber. Founded by Artistic Director Gil Rose in 1996, BMOP has championed composers whose careers span nine decades. Each season, Rose brings BMOP’s award-winning orchestra, renowned soloists, and influential composers to the stage of New England Conservatory’s historic Jordan Hall in a series that offers orchestral programming of unmatched diversity. Named Musical America’s 2016 Ensemble of the Year, the musicians of BMOP are consistently lauded for the energy, imagination, and passion with which they infuse the music of the present era. For more information, please visit BMOP.org.

BMOP in Concert: Joan Tower Celebration
Friday February 9 at 8pm (preconcert talk at 7pm).
NEC’s Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough Street, Boston.  T: Green to Symphony

Tickets: $20-$50, students $10.
BMOP.org or phone 718.324.0396
available also from the Jordan Hall box office in person, or online at tix.com.

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