Local Band Makes Good

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N.E.C. Notes
October 1, 2008

Not so long ago, a Boston concertgoer who loves large-scale music by living composers didn’t have a lot of options. They could look for freak occurrences on the schedules of local orchestras. Or they could Amtrak to New York to hear the American Composers Orchestra.

Conservatory graduates trained to sightread literally anything—remember those crazy Solfège parties?—would start to wonder what it was all for, if their true destiny was to sleepwalk through the cello line in the Candide overture until Social Security kicked in.

This all changed in 1996, when a brash young conductor named Gil Rose hired a bunch of crackerjack local players with the mission of "reuniting composers and audiences in a shared concert experience." Boston Modern Orchestra Project, he called it. The "Project" implied an admission that the idea might be short-lived—but 12 years later, BMOP continues to offer an ever-more-ambitious concert series, and, starting this year, one of the most aggressive CD releasing programs in its field.

This success comes in part from Rose’s having found a willing and well-matched partner for his Project in New England Conservatory. Jordan Hall has been the home for its main concert series from the very beginning, and BMOP is contractually established as "NEC’s affiliate orchestra for new music." In some ways, it’s NEC’s community orchestra, as students past and present have joined BMOP for love of performing new music. At the same time, NEC students in the audience enjoy a listening experience they would never be able to recreate on their iPods, since much of BMOP’s repertoire has never been recorded.

This latter deficit has been attacked over the years with a vigorous series of BMOP recordings for such labels as Naxos and New World. But the recording project took on a whole new dimension this year with the launch of BMOP/sound, the orchestra’s own label, with each month bringing a new release. The first batch included generous representation of NEC composers—and here we see BMOP’s other innovations. Boston is full of composers scribbling away at their pianos and laptops, in their offices and on their back porches—yet few of them ever get to hear their music performed here at home, much less released on a Boston label.

Each January, BMOP rings in the new year with a concert explicitly devoted to the NEC connection. Rose says that "the experience of collaborating with NEC composers and performers has been one of the high points of BMOP’s brief history. I have found our NEC performances and recordings to be among the most artistically rewarding of the last ten years. In particular, I am always impressed by the quality of the students, many of whom are now core members of the orchestra."

As the BMOP/NEC partnership matures, expect to see an increasing number of BMOP/sound recordings recorded here in Jordan Hall. NEC Head of Operations and Institutional Planning Hilary Field has been close to the BMOP relationship both at its formation and now again as it moves forward. She says that BMOP, with an acoustically impeccable base of operations in Jordan Hall, is poised to be "the destination for new music recording in this country. If you want it done right, you go to BMOP."

NEC President Tony Woodcock is delighted to see NEC students exposed to BMOP’s entrepreneurial model, and is exploring ways to make this educational value-add more explicit. Look for more dimensions to the NEC/BMOP partnerships on the horizon—or just sit back and continue to enjoy one of the best concert series in town.