|Boston Modern Orchestra Project's "American Muse"|
Still continuing its impressive scheduled release of new music as well as of overlooked twentieth century works, Gil Rose's Boston Modern Orchestra Project has recently completed a new recording, Steven Stucky's American Muse, its fiftieth release under its eight-year-old “BMOP/sound” independent record label. This one includes the composer's American Muse as well as Rhapsodies and Concerto for Orchestra. Once again, this CD is more evidence of the significant role of Rose in providing access to important contemporary compositions as well as classics of the previous century. This time around, the music, while still eminently listenable, may prove a bit less approachable than their other recent releases and a bit of a challenge for the listener, but once again many will find meeting that challenge rewarding, as with virtually all of BMOP's undertakings.
Stucky (1949-2016), a Pulitzer Prize-winning contributor to the musical scene, had been associated with BMOP since its 2010 performance of American Muse. His untimely death just this past year makes this recording all the more poignant for the company, who wanted to pay tribute not just to his association with BMOP's efforts but to all of his musical education and championing of new music. Known particularly for the ability to meld classical elements with contemporary influences, he evidences in these works how much of a creative spirit he was. After an initial brief dramatic piece in Rhapsodies, his American Muse reveals a canny ability to choose and to synthesize into musical form the work of four American poets, namely Walt Whitman, e. e. cummings, A. R. Ammons and John Berryman. His vision, enabled in this recording by local treasure baritone (formerly tenor) Sanford Sylvan, was that any music should “sound beautiful”, not just cosmetically but in the way it speaks or means, with the “very sound itself...the heart of the matter”, emphasizing harmony's importance in clear and simple forms, with the central role being the idea of drama. His expressed wish was that his own music should always communicate “something deep and eloquent and human”. The sections of this piece range from the jazz-inspired American Lights, Seen from Off Abroad (Berryman) to the oft humorous yet somewhat ominous Buffalo Bill's (Ammons) to the Bartok-referenced Delaware Water Gap (cummings), and the obvious inspiration for the meditative I Hear America Singing from the Whitman poem.
The last of the choices in this album is the composer's Concerto for Orchestra, which, although not frequently performed since its 1986 premiere, hints at his unique take on the form, which was to find full fruition (and that Pulitzer Prize) in his 2005 work, Second Concerto for Orchestra. In its three movements, his first Concerto for Orchestra manages to display short ideas in contrast to one another, alternating strings with brass to great effect.
All three selections on this BMOP disc are conducted by Rose with his usual understanding and sensitivity for the genre. This is yet another worthy production by BMOP which, since its inception in 2008, has been an astonishing source for classics of the last century and contemporary classics-to-be.