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BMOP Masters Moderns

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Seeking to “restore a widening disconnect between contemporary audiences and contemporary music” since 1996, Boston Modern Orchestra Project has flourished. Its progressive, vibrant and fresh concerts we witnessed Saturday evening in New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall celebrated of modern master John Corigliano, whose work has earned him 5 Grammys, the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, as well as A Pulitzer Prize. His Guitar concerto Troubadours, played by NEC’s own Eliot Fisk, followed his famous Symphony No. 2 (2000),

What was to be a nostalgic yet transformative evening opened with The Infinite Forest by Diana Voyer, the winner of the 2019 BMOP-NEC composition competition and current master’s degree candidate at New England Conservatory. The single-movement work slowly branched out from the strings with several interwoven themes and motifs, clearly evoking layers of lush textures and motivic material. The work grows from the forest floor through the sounding of horns over the strings, building in dynamics and shape, the percussion section sounds with bells, interspersing rhythmic ideas drive the work forward through the luscious sonic landscape echoing from the rest of the orchestra. Voyer’s Ligetti-like writing provides an ethereal space for listeners to engage in an ambient type of listening, the work lulls us into a dream like state, interrupted by various rhythmic motifs from the percussion section, Voyer certainly succeeds in their evocation of a “crystalized structure visible through panes of glass, hazy but complete.” BMOPs remarkable performance came with as much gusto and confidence as one of a masterwork of old. This speaks to how BMOP showcases the best of young composers’ works at the highest level.

Eliot Fisk, guitar virtuoso and head of the guitar department at NEC soloed in John Corigliano’s Troubadours, written for guitarist Sharon Isbin and premiered by the St. Paul Chamber Symphony under High Wolff. Fisk toned down his sometimes-towering presence, entering solo and pianissimo after an orchestral opening. The single monitor and small diaphragm microphone responsible for his amplification successfully captured the beautiful warm tone spilling out of his gorgeous Stephan Connor guitar. The textural opening, highlighted by a call and response like shift between the violins and the celli in a series of downward glissandi, portrays a beautiful canvas of sound, melancholically falling and coming to rest. Oboes are ushered in alone as if in a vacuum, singing and trilling con sordia with a high melody. Fisk returns with a temporary resolve from the dreamscape with beautiful theme reminding us of the Renaissance, ornamenting and trilling above a beautiful orchestral tapestry. Chaos re-emerges as the winds battle with the guitar as it pushes on with series of fast virtuosic runs. Slowly the orchestra melts away leaving the guitar to expand the beautifully lyrical theme stated earlier. Idioms of Spanish Flamenco style hint at past times, while the Corigliano drives us into the unknown.

Gill Rose, Eliot Fisk, and John Corigliano (Clive Grainger photo)

Composers have long struggled with the dilemma of balancing such a delicate instrument on with an orchestra, Though some purists of old would frown upon amplification of any sort, this performance achieved a perfect balance. Fisk highlighted the beautifully intricate passages with the same success as the robust rasgueados that rumble out in full voice with the orchestra later in the work. This 13-year long project required much persistence and reworking from Corigliano and Isbin to bring the composer’s final product to life. As a former student of Eliot, I was impressed at how much of Eliot’s unique sound and style came through without compromising any of Corigliano’s intentions.

The BSO commissioned Corigliano’s Symphony No.2, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Symphony Hall. It premiered under Seiji Ozawa in 2000. Corigliano’s first symphony is a grand ode to friends and colleagues who died from AIDS, and for the Cleveland Quartet’s farewell. It serves as well as his own personal farewell and a tribute to a glittering career. The Second describes an arch, with the outer movements I and V related thematically, as with the inner movements II and IV, leaving the third Nocturne as the intimately introspective heart of the work, displays the influence of Béla Bartók, particularly his fourth quartet. Drawing also from the composer’s own 1995 quartet, its spatial writing is immediately evident as the opening prelude builds eerily from an opaque wave of sound as the string’s glissandi in contrasting shapes, quietened even more using practice mutes. The second movement is a Scherzo and it humorously comes to life and revisits some earlier themes from the prelude, this time instead crashing forward in clusters of chords, finally opening the floodgates to a frenzy of Bartokian pizzicato’s, to unsettling polyrhythms in an array of dissonant chords. The Nocturne provides an entirely different emotional quality and the resultant intervals dancing around the hall evokes a memory of a night during which Corigliano encountered the sonorous calls of the muezzins at 4AM on a cool Moroccan night. A fugue begins the quiet Postlude, which washes over in homorythmic patterns, slowly separating above patterns of shifting arpeggios, the dissemination into chaos is rounded off in the postlude, drawing us back into the fog of the dream presented earlier, fading into silence as we dwell on the sonic landscape provided to us by Corigliano.

After an extended pause, perhaps necessary for audience members to emerge from their deep immersions, composer stood to accept heartfelt applause. BMOP and Gil Rose invariably well prepare and execute beautiful concerts featuring living and breathing composers. Bravo!

Classical Guitarist, Composer, and Audio Engineer, Carl Straussner completed his Master’s Degree in Classical Guitar Performance under Eliot Fisk. He’s likely to be arranging show tunes for big bands, composing music for animations, directing and producing radio documentaries.

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