BMOP's Feast of New Music

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The Boston Globe
Matthew Guerrieri, Globe Staff
May 31, 2010

After giving each orchestra section a spotlight concert this season, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and artistic director Gil Rose brought a full symphonic complement to Jordan Hall on Friday, with a program to match: five canvases of splashy instrumentation. The complement was in fine form indeed, zealous and bold. New-music advocacy doesn’t get more luxurious.

Three shorter works distilled vivid colors. Anthony De Ritis's Legerdemain sustained a dramatically dark-hued mood: bursts of action (one featuring cop-show-worthy driving cymbal) interrupted stases that gave room for electronic sounds to resonate. Kati Agócs's Requiem Fragments was moving and taut: rolling waves of tangled activity breaking into a cathartic tonal chorale—only to crash and collapse into a quiet, scattered ending.

Leon Kirchner's Orchestra Piece (Music for Orchestra II) echoes the late-Romantic atonality of his teachers Roger Sessions and Arnold Schoenberg, sometimes sounding like the Hollywood soundtrack Schoenberg never wrote; but with escalating stylistic twists and turns, Kirchner's concentrated grandeur—given a dazzling performance—attained its own glorious excess.

Two works featuring baritone Sanford Sylvan anchored the program. Steven Stucky's American Muse began with a fine setting of John Berryman's "American Lights," the orchestra neurotically circling a swinging rhythm as Sylvan deadpanned sardonic couplets; an E.E. Cummings paean to Buffalo Bill was equally inventive, Sylvan fluently stammering like an overexcited child before contemplating the hero's mortality in eerie falsetto.

But A.R. Ammons's "Delaware Water Gap," the undulating landscape musicalized as an Impressionist sea, and Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" were lovely but less compelling, the craftsmanship admirable, but the line never transcending a generic stream-of-consciousness lyricism. Stucky's sounds are never less than ravishing, but American Muse was best in its irreverence. Rose and the orchestra were again keen, riding the color wheel with élan. And Sylvan was a welcome guest, his limpid and elegant tone and nonpareil diction (few singers project English with Sylvan’s clarity) smartly focusing the interpretive drama.

The closer was Martin Boykan's Symphony for Baritone and Orchestra, an engrossing, evolving thicket of vaulting lines; even at its sparsest, there's always some bit of angular counterpoint shadowing events. The finale sets Keats's sonnet "To Sleep," the profusion bringing out the poem's restlessness: a plea, not a celebration. After the evening’s series of set pieces, Boykan's slower unfolding took a little getting used to, but the work earns its expanse, and its goal: the gentle disquiet of a long night.