The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), the nation's premier orchestra dedicated exclusively to commissioning, performing, and recording new orchestral music, presents its final concert of the 2011-12 season – Apollo's Fire. Like many artists and composers of the Western world, BMOP finds contemporary significance in Greek mythology, especially Apollo. On the program are four works by composers who looked back to ancient Greece as inspiration: Greek Dances by Nikos Skalkottas; The Minotaur by Elliott Carter; Apollon Musagete by Igor Stravinsky; and Apollo & Daphne Variations by Lewis Spratlan.
"In Greek mythology, Apollo is associated to light and truth, as well as music and poetry. It's not surprising that the ilk of classical music finds relevance in Apollo and classical mythological themes," explains Gil Rose, Artistic Director/Conductor of BMOP. Fittingly, philosophers have used the term "Apollonian" to describe art that exhibits order, balance, clarity and precision.
A leading figure in Greek music, Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949) was one of the first Greek composers to adopt atonality and the 12-tone method subsequently creating an entirely new sound world. Of particular interest is the presence of Greek folk material in his works – most notably, his famous collection of Greek Dances (1936) for full orchestra and "low" instruments. Each of the 36 dances (three sets of 12) is an exuberant and sophisticated re-creation of indigenous Greek folk-ensemble sounds (both real and custom-made) each with its own distinct rhythm, harmony and flavor.
Symbolizing the dynamics of the Greek islands, their titles refer to areas of Greece, types of indigenous dance and specific folksongs. And, their East Mediterranean expressions conjure up different emotions and energies such as national pride, freedom and fire.
Elliott Carter (b. 1908), one of the prime innovators of 20th century music, composed The Minotaur (1947) during a time when his style was influenced by Igor Stravinsky (also featured on BMOP's program) and Medieval music. Based on the Greek myth of Theseus in the Labyrinth, and conceived as a ballet in collaboration with George Balanchine, it premiered in 1947 in New York by the Ballet Society. Described by Aaron Copland as, "one of America's most distinguished creative artists in any field," Carter is consistently innovative and is known for his explorations of tempo relationships and texture that characterize his music.
Apollon Musagete (1927-28, rev. 1947) trans. Apollo, The Leader of the Muses (later shortened to Apollo), has grown to become one of the most popular neo-classical ballets in history. Conceived by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) as an austere score of great purity and unity, he settled on a theme of Apollo, and his interaction with the muses (streamlined to three muses out of the original nine): Calliope, the personification of poetry and rhythm; Polyhymnia, representing mime; and Terpsichore, dance. It begins with the birth of Apollo, then the presentation of the gifts from the muses, and ends with their ascent into the arena of the Gods on Mount Olympus. George Balanchine, who choreographed the first European staging in 1928, understood the essence of Stravinsky's achievement. "In its discipline and restraint, in its sustained oneness of tone and feeling the score was revelation. It [Apollon] seemed to tell me that I could dare not to use everything that I, too, could eliminate."
Completing the program is the love story of Apollo and the nymph, Daphne. Apollo & Daphne Variations (1987) by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Lewis Spratlan (b. 1940) tells the gripping tale of Apollo proclaiming his love and eminence for Daphne who turned into a bay laurel tree when Apollo was on the verge of catching her. Winner at the New England Composers Orchestra Competition for readings of new works, Apollo & Daphne Variations is what Spratlan describes as, "wonderfully danceable and dramatically gripping." Spratlan currently resides in both the Berkshires and Amherst, MA.