Essential in its role as the major large orchestra in Boston for the music of living composers, Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) stayed true to form at Jordan Hall on Friday, where Gil Rose took the podium for “Time Release.” This first concert of the season included the music of Steven Mackey, Hannah Lash, and Harold Meltzer, most of whom were in attendance. This concert was part of the third annual Boston New Music Festival, a celebration of new music through the collaboration of Juventas New Music Ensemble and other local new music groups; BNMF continues on October 26th with Kadence Arts and the start of another Boston Opera Collaborative’s “Opera Bites” cycle.
Meltzer’s wrote Vision Machine after seeing Jean Nouvel’s “vision machine” “…comprising “1600 colorless window panes tilted in every possible direction at every possible angle, reflecting shades from the Hudson River and the West Side Highway…[and] the other way…the gritty, black brick that faced the older industrial neighborhood,” near the Chelsea Piers sports complex in New York City. Meltzer voiced his response through a wash of orchestral colors. The winds and horns carried the melody while the strings accentuated those colors. From Meltzer’s palette, fragments of melodies and harmonies emerged, grabbed attention, and fell away, disorienting but somehow consistent and ethereal in execution. Given piece’s short duration, we did not miss a development of the ideas. This quick opener showed how deft BMOP could be when the meter practically disappeared.
Percussionist Colin Currie continued with the American premiere of Steven Mackey’s Time Release. The concerto focused heavily on the marimba and its lack of sustain, using the orchestra to its sound, while periodically adding in battery like tom-toms, snare drum, and other unpitched voices. “I. Stately – Short/Long” opened with the battery on top of the ensemble. For what it was worth, this section proved why the focus was on the marimba: the battery sat on top of the harmonies and failed to blend well. When he went to the marimba, however, Currie showed his expressivity, complete control over the dynamic possibilities, much in the vein of the great Gordon Stout. Though seemingly an odd choice for what Mackey described as film noire-like score without a movie, the marimba definitely satisfied. After the battery disappeared the climax came as a not entirely earned surprise, focusing on the accompaniment in a set of large, resonant chords rather than on the soloist. “II. Playful Turbulence – Slow/Fast” continued the ideas from the first movement, though this time it treated the orchestra and soloists as a dialogue. On occasion, the softer mallets Currie used caused the sound to become mushy and diffuse, but Mackey must have wanted that. It did not detract from Currie’s expressivity, however.
The third movement in two sections, “IIIa. Strolling Melody – Smooth/Bumpy” and “IIIb. Alleluia,” significantly changed the relationship. The marimba lead with shorter attacks, creating a quiet melody that migrated out from the soloist to form sweet yet biting harmonies. The activity level also dropped here, streams of 16th notes now subsided, as methodical slower passages found the composer reveling more in the colors he could ask the ensemble to extract. Given the unending and frantic pace of the previous two movements, we welcomed this break. The second section of the third movement sounded vaguely Stravinskyian—a chorale tempered with gritty barks of chords. Mackey used this idea to create the brightest orchestration he could, reminding this listener of the end of the passacaglia of Holst’s First Suite in E-flat Major for band.
Yale composer and harpist Hannah Lash joined BMOP in the performance of her Concerto No. 2 for Harp and Orchestra after a brief intermission. All of the movements, similar in character save for the chromatic last one, shimmered with as many instruments in their highest registers as possible. Rather than making the accompaniment motoric and driving like Mackey’s, Lash relegated the orchestra into a soft response to her harp playing. Harp arpeggiations abounded and silky lines resonated over heavily reduced orchestration (definitely helped by Jordan Hall itself, as that may not have worked in another, less resonant hall). The concerto could have benefitted from a contrasting fast section to break up the admittedly lush but similar sounding adagios.
Mackey closed the evening with Tonic, a piece that played on the musical idea and corporeality. Much like in Time Release, Mackey’s motor drove the orchestra, pounding ostinatos and rhythms in the second section contrasting a Tristan Murail-inspired opening. Rose thrived in the opening section, having something more colorful to work with; he commanded the pulse of the second section equally as well with a strong presence and almost metronomic accuracy. Much like the concerto, the closing echoed Stravinsky, blow-you-over trumpet and horns shouting over the rest of the ensemble like in The Rite of Spring, ending the concert with the bang it deserved.
BMOP concerts constitute real events. Give Rose and his musicians a chance. Perhaps you will happen upon a new composer who you can speak to you—musically and conversationally.