BMOP raps up another crowd-pleasing season

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The Boston Globe
Richard Dyer
May 29, 2006

Conductor Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project closed this season's subscription series Friday night with a good-time program of crossover music.

Genial Richard Stoltzman was on hand for the world premiere of William Thomas McKinley's Rap. Over the last three decades, the composer has written many works for the clarinetist. This time he cast Stoltzman against type. An artist famed for the chameleonic expressivity of his tone was set against a great, loud wall of sound coming from 14 wind players and a battery of percussion. Most of the solo part lay in the instrument's highest and shrillest range, and even so it was amplified.

Stoltzman was at his best in three extended cadenzas, where he could display his silky mobility; in the pointillistic third cadenza it was astonishing how each rapid note had its own color, dynamic, and density. There was also a big cadenza for his son, jazz pianist Peter Stoltzman, who played with panache and drop-kick pedaling.

The title came from a brief passage near the end when Stoltzman and his son stood at a microphone and "rapped" from the printed text - most of the words were unintelligible, but you could make out "rapture, not rap" and "rap, not rape." The gung-ho orchestra rapped a little too.

Stoltzman was also featured in Leonard Bernstein's Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, an ingenious and vigorous exercise scored for the same ensemble as Rap.

The first half of the program featured a greatest hit from BMOP's past, the cheeky Jazz Symphony composed in 1927 by the self-styled "bad boy of American music," George Antheil, who spun a new jazzy layer over rhythms and colors borrowed from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, ending with a deliriously tawdry waltz. Nina Ferrigno shone in a virtuoso piano part the composer devised for himself.

Milton Babbitt's All Set is a brilliant piece, rigorously organized to an ultimate degree, but because of the jazz timbres and a certain measure of rhythmic freedom it has an improvisational feel. Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was performed in the rarely heard original jazz-band version, spectacularly launched by Gary Gorczyska's clarinet.

Soloist was pianist Stephen Drury, dressed all in white like a character in a Cole Porter musical, restored some bits often snipped, took big risks, missed a few notes but hit the right ones with passion, purpose, and improvisational flourishes.

The audience went wild for the soloist, the band, the piece, the composer, and BMOP's animator, the versatile, unobtrusive, and expert Rose. At encore time he counted off then walked offstage to listen to Stoltzman and the band make like Benny Goodman and rollick through Don't Be That Way while two pairs of dancers punished the parquet.

Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe

© Copyright 2006 New York Times Company