A classic start for composer with BMOP

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The Boston Globe
Kevin Lowenthal
November 7, 2006

Founded a decade ago, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project has risen to the front ranks of American contemporary-music ensembles through its fire, precision, and commitment to new work. BMOP's 10th season opened Friday at Jordan Hall with a concert including two pieces by emerging singer and composer Lisa Bielawa, 38, inaugurating her three-year residency with the orchestra. BMOP's typically canny programming surrounded Bielawa's works with beautifully complementary compositions - two, like hers, inspired by literary sources.

The stage was jammed with more than 70 musicians for Charles Fussell's High Bridge, Portrait of Hart Crane, Prelude for Orchestra (1999). This wildly dramatic piece opened with a brassy fanfare and proceeded briskly through a yearning viola melody, chortling woodwinds, and pounding percussion, sculpted with conductor Gil Rose's characteristic verve and clarity.

The orchestra was halved for Bielawa's brief unfinish'd, sent (2002), with words from Shakespeare's Richard III. Flowing string passages introduced the glissandos that recurred throughout the evening. Truncated melodies were gradually elongated as orchestral textures thickened. Then shimmering strings introduced Bielawa's light, near-vibratoless voice, singing the text fragment "unfinish'd, sent before my time into this breathing world" from the famous soliloquy that starts "Now is the winter of our discontent."

The ensemble swelled again for Jacob Druckman's dark, sprightly instrumental piece Nor Spell Nor Charm (1990), inspired by Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Sliding pitches figured here, too, and the piece maintained its mock-menacing mood through a series of inventively orchestrated gestures, evoking the Bard's "spotted snakes," "thorny hedge-hogs," and "blind worms."

Bielawa's Roam (2001) was inspired by a passage from Pushkin's Eugene Onegin conjuring the view from a cliff, overlooking a roiling sea. The work opened with an enchanting flute duet by Sarah Brady and Alicia Di Donato, intertwining their trills, husky cries, and glissandos. The piece built to a churning orchestral mass with stomping basses and explosive tympani, ending quietly with ominous chimes.

Opening with an ascending glissando, Derek Bermel's Thracian Echoes (2002) alternated mournful Bulgarian melodies with antic Balkan dances. A melancholy theme passed from section to section of the orchestra in rough counterpoint, echoing folk improvisation. The careening dances threw off tremendous energy.

Finally, Druckman's Quickening Pulse (1988) delivered on its title, with throbbing low notes underlining spiky stabs of orchestral color. It, too, featured sliding pitches, along with radical dynamic shifts, stark contrasts between high and low timbres, and a huge, pummeling climax.

Kevin Lowenthal, Globe Correspondent

© Copyright 2006 New York Times Company