A Boston connection with style

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The Boston Globe
Jeremy Eichler, Globe Staff
January 31, 2007

Now in its 10th season, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project is a vibrant presence on the city's new music scene, a group with omnivorous musical appetites and impressive collective chops. Its calendar this season is crowded with contemporary music, from the avant-garde of France to the avant-garde of New Jersey. But once a year, BMOP tunes its questing ears to the music produced specifically by local composers, or at least those with local ties. The group's annual "Boston Connection" program took place Saturday night in Jordan Hall. For a new music concert, the event was well-attended by an audience refreshingly diverse in age.

Part of BMOP's image comes from its sleek, up-to-date marketing. On the back of its program book, above a list of 20th- and 21st-century composers, is a phrase in small red type: "The music formerly known as classical." But in the case of Saturday's program, it felt like more than just a clever tagline. The styles on the program ran the gamut but they were united by a sense of composers sifting through centuries of music history in search of gems to be repolished, reset, or altogether reimagined from a contemporary perspective.

Mario Davidovsky's Concertino for Violin and Chamber Orchestra was an apt example, as the work culls from the grand tradition of the Romantic violin concerto -- its virtuoso techniques, elaborate filigree, and expressive ardor -- and places those gestures at the core of a piece with an austere and decidedly modern bearing. The orchestra forms a kind of fractured kaleidoscope behind the soloist, manipulating light and texture in fascinating ways. The young violinist Andrew Beer navigated the demanding solo part with accuracy and subtle charisma.

The program also contained two premieres, the first of which was Michael Gandolfi's Fantasia for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra. For this amiable work, the composer drew inspiration from sources as diverse as Henry Purcell and Glassian minimalism and used it to fashion four distinctive movements, orchestrated with vivid imagination. The relationship between ensemble and soloist (in this case, the eloquent Kenneth Radnofsky) is an ever-shifting dance that finds its most alluring expression in the quicksilver second movement, titled Bolero, Scissors and Paste.

Though written in 1991, David Rakowski's Winged Contraption also received its premiere on Saturday. The writing suggests a kind of smoldering Mahlerian intensity, funneled through a lean and often astringent harmonic language. The piece ends precipitously, leaving the ear still hungry for more.

Born in 1980, Wes Matthews was the youngest composer of the lot, and while perhaps still gaining his footing in writing for full orchestra, his Terraces from 2004 is a promising piece, featuring a kind of moody, billowing lyricism in the strings, delicately threaded woodwind solos, and fidgety interjections of percussion.

From the perspective of sheer sonic imagination, Mathew Rosenblum's Möbius Loop made the strongest impression as it packed the octave not with 12 tones but with 21, creating an ear-buzzing flood of sound, rich in unusual overtones. It was easiest to appreciate Rosenblum's inventive style in the sections where the orchestra thinned out and the four soloists (here, the persuasive Raschèr Saxophone Quartet) came to the fore. In slower moments, the sound drifted from the stage like a force-field.

Throughout the night, conductor Gil Rose and his protean ensemble gave exciting and exacting performances of these challenging scores. Local composers are lucky to have BMOP around. So are the rest of us.

Jeremy Eichler, Globe Staff

© Copyright 2007 New York Times Company