Boston Modern revels in conservatory connection

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The Boston Globe
David Weininger
January 20, 2009

That rather gaudy sign in Jordan Hall reading "New England Conservatory" is intended to remind audiences of the institution where this acoustic jewel is located. Rarely is its presence so apt as during the Boston Modern Orchestra Project's annual "Boston ConNECtion" concert, recognizing the ongoing relationship between the ensemble and the school. The 11th such performance, on Saturday, was a typically substantial affair, dexterously played by the ensemble and conducted with authority by Gil Rose.

It began with A Jew Among the Indians (Cokboy) by doctoral student Matti Kovler. It's a setting of a Jerome Rothenberg poem that surreally evokes the experience of Eastern European immigrants in America. Kovler's narration of the text was sometimes over the top - perhaps intentionally - but the music was notable for its pacing and the bold colors of the orchestration.

Next up was Inventions, Contours, and Colors, a deft study in pointillism for 11 instruments by longtime NEC composer John Heiss. This was followed by the winner of BMOP's concerto competition, double bass student Karl Doty, who played Peter Maxwell Davies's Strathclyde Concerto No. 7. The bass makes for an awkward solo instrument, to say the least, yet Doty played this brooding piece with a natural sense of lyricism and full-bodied tone.

The bass trombone doesn't get many concertos either, but it was the solo instrument in Michael Gandolfi's From the Institutes of Groove, which had its premiere. It's an ingenious musical study in rhythmic patterns. The first movement has elements of jazz and salsa, while the second evokes early minimalism. Gandolfi has deep roots at both NEC and BMOP, and like all of his music, the new concerto is engrossing and packed with energy. Its dedicatee, Angel Subero, played it brilliantly.

The newest member of the composition faculty, Kati Agócs, was represented by By the Streams of Babylon, for two sopranos and orchestra, a brief setting of Psalm 137 that encased the text's lament in music of fluidity and austere beauty.

Last on the program was an actual portrait of NEC, William Thomas McKinley's Recollections (Book 1). McKinley taught at the school for two decades, and the piece collects short sketches of eight of his colleagues. Gandolfi and Heiss are among those captured in movements that sounded remarkably close to music of theirs heard earlier in the evening. McKinley's own style - witty and extroverted - emerged clearly in each. It was the sound of vital friendships, and of a bustling, creative institution at work.

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