Premieres and a farewell for BMOP

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The Boston Globe
David Weininger
May 25, 2009

It seems odd to call a program with five brand new orchestral pieces commonplace. But somehow it seems apt when talking about the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, a group for whom the unexpected has become almost predictable. The five premieres on Friday's concert spoke in vastly disparate languages, each of which BMOP's fine orchestra and music director Gil Rose brought off as though it was a well-honed specialty.

Leading off the lengthy program was Geoffrey Gordon's Shock Diamonds, an exercise in rapidly shifting textures and vivid orchestral effects. Quite different in spirit was Eric Moe's Kick & Ride, a brawny concerto for drum set and orchestra written for the brilliant percussionist Robert Schulz. He drove the piece forward with muscular rhythms, which the orchestra followed with angular, stop-start commentary. The first movement hints at big-band music while the second, marked "Tempo di Wipeout," contains some well-hidden allusions to that masterpiece of surf rock.

Lewis Spratlan's charming tone poem A Summer's Day deftly evoked events on an idyllic day. The piece deals mostly in suggestion rather than concrete illustration, and when specific references arrive - a basketball is bounced on stage during a section about a pickup game - they come off as whimsical rather than stuffy and literal.

A harp concerto by Thomas Oboe Lee, . . . bisbigliando . . ., gave a solo turn to BMOP's excellent harpist, Ina Zdorovetchi. This was the most accessible of the evening's offerings, an assemblage of languorous melodies and light textures that occasionally recalled Gil Evans's classic arrangements for Miles Davis.

The program's most important work came at its end: Lisa Bielawa's In medias res, concerto for orchestra. The concert was the last in Bielawa's three-year term as BMOP's composer in residence, and the piece was her parting gift to ensemble and conductor. True to its subtitle, it is a showpiece for the orchestra, giving each section and many individual players the opportunity to exhibit their skills.

But it's also a remarkable work of craftsmanship, one in which motives are continuously taken up, transformed, and reexpressed. Bielawa seems to take an almost childlike glee in the sonic vistas an orchestra can produce, from the innocent fanfares that open to the first movement to the tragic undercurrents that well up in the second to the riot of noise with which it breathlessly concludes.

Bielawa's tenure has left a significant mark on not only BMOP but also Boston's new-music community. Having recently won the prestigious Rome Prize in composition, she is off for new horizons, but In medias res provides a terrific way to commemorate her time here.

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