Six composers on their favorite Boston Modern Orchestra Project albums
“I think the CD is vibrant: filled with rich harmonies and gut-wrenching visceral moments. There is a quality of conversation between the soloists and the orchestra. In fact, after hearing the recording of ‘Spring in Dresden‘, which opens the CD, I worked to program it with the New England Philharmonic, so we’ll be playing it on May 1 [at Tsai Performance Center].
“So much orchestral music is written, but so little is recorded. And so having that recording really drove the performance, us hearing it and being able to program it. I think it helps the works to have a longer life by having this kind of catalog with BMOP/son.
“John Harbison is very much in my mind because he recently retired from MIT and he was a mentor for years. The thing about John Harbison is that at one time… when he was composing, he was considered like some kind of conservative or new romantic. But when you look at him from the future, you realize he was carrying all that modernism while looking forward. He was able to take on this very complicated style that was popular in the 70s and turn it into something really palpable, beautiful and engaging, and still complex. This particular CD, because it’s a ballet, it’s programmed music, and it’s a way to get into his music which I think is maybe easier than some of his other recordings, it kind of feels like you’re following a story.
“’The Koro Sutro’ is an incredible piece. And that requires special instruments, which Gil had to have made. He bought an entire gamelan to be able to play this piece. It tells me something about Gil’s commitment to the music he cares about.
“It is essentially an Esperanto adaptation of a Buddhist text. Harrison’s belief was that just intonation was a means to a sonic manifestation of a meditative state: basically, because your mind was not cluttered with the irrational frequencies of the tempered tuning, it actually led to a pure and more peaceful thought. And when you hear this track, you sort of agree!
“I feel like when that recording came out, it was a caffeine dump injected into the world of new American music. virtuoso. I still don’t know how BMOP made this recording fit so perfectly with the spirit of the piece in texture. But having been in the studio with Gil and Joel [Gordon]their sound engineer, I’ve seen them be quite rocket science.
“The album covers a huge range of his style…from 1948 all the way up to ‘From the Psalter,’ which was in 2002 when I was studying with him, and it’s definitely my favorite piece on the album. The reason why I cherish it so much is that sacred music is quite rare for him… so to hear how he approaches that is special. The text has this rigorous syllabic and rhyme pattern, so the setting is oddly formal but also fluid. There is has these melodious lines in the soprano part despite the disjointed jumps. What makes this recording great is how easy it is, because they provide this really subtle, transparent and elegant feeling. Plus, Robert’s notes Kirzinger avoid getting too academic. I’ve read so much about Babbitt’s music that is so inscrutable; even his own quotes about it tend to be that way. So for someone to be so illuminating is helpful.
“When [this CD] came out, Arthur’s music wasn’t as well known. He had been a professor in town for a long time, and he was a very unique spirit in Boston. He was always a very competent composer and an interesting personality: very direct and opinionated. His orchestral music was not played so often. The Boston Symphony played “Ideas of Order”, but the BMOP recording was very important. Arthur was one of those senior composers that some of us must try not to be: his greeting to almost anyone who had a chamber ensemble was “Why don’t you play my music?”
AZ Madonna can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.