For Modern Orchestra, a night of premieres

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The Boston Globe
Matthew Guerrieri, Globe Correspondent
March 31, 2008

Four world premieres in one night is ambitious even by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project's standards, but Saturday's novelty at Jordan Hall was also an old-fashioned Boston tryout for a New York opening: This week, conductor Gil Rose and the group bring the program to Brooklyn's MATA Festival, an annual new-music showcase previously run by BMOP's current composer-in-residence, Lisa Bielawa.

The concert began with a flourish: Alejandro Rutty's The Conscious Sleepwalker Loops, a MATA commission, a riotous collage of Argentine tango, some over-the-top Hollywoodesque flamenco, and various other Latin tropes. Rutty layers all this into an orchestrated remix, and the result is a blaring, multi-channel, gleefully vernacular carnival. It made a terrific curtain-raiser.

Derek Hurst's Clades, for orchestra and solo quintet (the Firebird Ensemble, energetic and precise), draws on a modernist lexicon of jabbing rhythms and redolent dissonance; the branching, contrasting evolution within each group echoes the title, a taxonomic designation of common ancestry. Hurst's imaginative ear, and a confident performance, kept the piece interesting for a while - a long section of coiled-tension softness was particularly arresting - but the fragmented rhetoric precluded any overarching momentum, and the music ran out of steam well before it stopped.

Ken Ueno's absorbing On a Sufficient Condition for the Existence of Most Specific Hypothesis is a concerto for himself, singing, screeching, growling, throat singing - manipulating the growl's acoustic overtones. The opening - a recording of Ueno at the age of 6, babbling - foreshadowed serious play, the complex resonances of Ueno's vocal excursions transformed into bright orchestral fanfares. The work's single-mindedness proved disarmingly generous. It was the evening's far-out highlight.

Bielawa's Double Violin Concerto had a little bit of everything: yearning string melodies, plush harmonies, clockwork grooves, even vocals - the middle movement calls on the soloists to sing, on a text from Goethe's Faust. Violinists Colin Jacobsen and Carla Kihlstedt performed with unfailing refinement, but for all its undeniable beauty, the concerto remained frustratingly tentative - the music again and again seemed on the verge of a sustained, big-tune peroration, only to retreat into another ratiocination of repeated motives and textural stasis.

A cladistic interpretation of the program might note family resemblances to computer music; electronically inspired loops, juxtapositions, and microtonally inflected distortions turned up throughout. But there was also a philosophical congruence: the composer as curator rather than narrator, a collector of sonic artifacts to be arranged and displayed - a liability for Hurst and Bielawa, a virtue for Rutty and Ueno. As audiences have been spoiled to expect, Rose and the orchestra presented each selected object with enviable polish and commitment.

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.