John Harbison: Ulysses

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Time Out New York
Steve Smith
March 27, 2008

Critics Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Since its 1996 inception, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP for short) has quickly pushed its way to the forefront of contemporary-music organizations in this country. Under the leadership of conductor Gil Rose, BMOP's founder and artistic director, the ensemble has presented nearly 40 premieres, half of which it commissioned. It has also been active on the recording front, issuing 13 discs on a variety of labels.

In March, the orchestra got into the record-company business with thelaunch of its own imprint, BMOP/sound. An ambitious release schedule will see a new CD arive every month this year. Most pending discs skew Bostoncentric, including tantalizing volumes devoted to Michael Gandolfi, Lee Hyla and David Rakowski.

BMOP/sound's inaugural release is the first complete version of John Harbison's 1984 ballet, Ulysses, which the composer revised in 2003. A picturesque work more than 80 minutes long, it includes richly scored episodes redolent o Prokofiev, recurring character motifs a la Wagner and a brilliantly weird pecan for Circe on the ondes Martenot. BMOP's lively performance does this ravishing work justice; factor in excellent sound, attractive packaging, and fine essays by the composer and Richard Dyer, and the result is self-recommending.