In certain respects, The Fisherman and His Wife picks up where last year's recording by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and Odyssey Opera, the 2020 Grammy Award-winning Fantastic Mister Fox, left off. Both are delightful, ‘family friendly' operas based on endearing tales, Roald Dahl for Tobias Picker's and The Brothers Grimm (its libretto adaptation by John Updike) for Gunther Schuller's.
The late Gunther Schuller (1925-2015) was enormously influential on the American musical scene as I grew up. He was a Modern composer of great breadth and originality, one of the main forces behind so-called Third Stream Music which sought to meld Classical and Jazz, a major innovator in music education in his leading role at the New England Conservatory, and a musicologist and author of great consequence, writing among other things the classic Early Jazz.
David Felder has taught for a number of years at SUNY Buffalo, running the June in Buffalo Festival and mentoring countless contemporary composers in the school’s illustrious graduate program. His own works are multi-faceted, incorporating muscular gestures, modernist harmonies, innovative timbres, and, oftentimes, electronics. Felder’s recent music is given sterling performances on two CDs, one of his chamber music on Coviello and another of his orchestra piece Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux on BMOPsound.
Anthony Davis' opera The Central Park Five, with a libretto by Richard Wesley, has won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Music.
Each piece in Steven Mackey’s album Time Release demonstrates his ability to incorporate varied and imaginative orchestral textures and gestures into a cohesive narrative. Mackey’s music has neo-romantic elements, comprising gestural melodic expression and dialectical forms. He largely uses extended tonality with chromaticism. However, there are frequent non-diatonic and polytonal interjections that are vaguely reminiscent of Charles Ives’ music, as well as textural sections with disorienting pitch content. Notably, Mackey employs these extended tonal sonorities without sounding trite or cinematic. The well-balanced and masterful orchestration of Mackey’s music is handled equally masterfully by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s performance of the work.
As Tobias Picker puts it, “It’s not something that happens every day.”
The Artistic Director of Tulsa Opera is referring to the 2020 Grammy for “Best Opera Recording” bestowed on the 2014 recording of his opera “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” based on Roald Dahl’s 1970s children’s novel of the same name. The recording is also a nominee in the 2020 International Opera Awards, now scheduled for September 21 in Sadler’s Wells (Picker is the only living composer among the nominated recordings).
OperaWire recently spoke with Picker about the Grammy and his career as a composer.
Last week was a good one for Odyssey Opera. On Sunday, the company netted its first Grammy. Then, on Saturday, it continued its Tudor-themed season with the world premiere of Arnold Rosner’s 1984 opera The Chronicle of Nine: The Tragedy of Queen Jane at Jordan Hall.
When I was still a student at the College-Conservatory of Music, I had a professor who once told the class that you could not have an opinion on a work of media unless you’ve experienced the work as a whole. Some in media criticism might call such an approach a lazy way out, but it is astounding how much can change about a work as you sit with it and wholly experience it.
Jordan Hall in Boston was the setting for a concert version of Arnold Rosner’s The Chronicle of Nine. His only opera for full orchestra is having its world premiere. Gil Rose, recent Grammy winner for best recorded opera, finds treasures in the archives and brings them to our attention. We are fortunate indeed.
Arnold Rosner’s “The Chronicle of Nine: The Tragedy of Queen Jane” is an operatic oddity of the first degree. Written on spec and finished in 1984, its score opens a portal to an alternate universe where the roughly two centuries of musical history between the death of Monteverdi and the premiere of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 never happened. Decades after its completion, it had never been performed or recorded in full.
During the early months of 1554, Lady Jane Grey sat anxiously in the Tower of London. She had come there the previous summer to be crowned Queen of England, taking over from Edward VI, who had died unexpectedly from tuberculosis. But instead, the tower had become her prison. As the English public united around the legitimate queen Mary Tudor, Jane, declared guilty of treason, awaited her execution by beheading.
The latest volume of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project finds Gil Rose directing the orchestra for a selection of interesting and contrasting works by Steven Mackey (b 1956). It is entitled Time Release (BMOP 1068) after the 2005 work that is a centerpiece of the program.
It's sometimes easy to forget that opera has a playful side, given its preponderance for serious and downright dark subject matter. Indulging that lighter side comes in handy for introducing young people to it in a manner that is both accessible and, dare I say, "fun" (in other words, maybe not Wagner or Britten). Tobias Picker's Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the Roald Dahl story, is a worthy candidate for such an endeavor.
The apartment building in which the composer Lei Liang grew up, in Beijing in the 1970s, was a musicological beehive. Its residents worked at the Music Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Arts, which had an archive of rare historical recordings that had been saved, often at great personal cost, from destruction in the Cultural Revolution.
It’s taken Tobias Picker’s second opera more than twenty years to make it to CD, but here it is at last in all its charm and considerable glory. Over the years, Fantastic Mr. Fox has expanded and contracted according to resources available; the original LA Opera staging with Gerald Finley (sporting the title character's whiskers) was sizable, but a seven-instrument reduction has been a hit at London's Opera Holland Park.
The title of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s Saturday concert at Jordan Hall, “Klezmer Madness,” accurately represented half of its program. That portion consisted of two recent concertos for clarinet and orchestra that were audibly steeped in klezmer, the folk music of Eastern European Jews. Both pieces also featured the outstanding klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, an ideal guide to the contemporary state of klezmer, who brought their solo parts thrillingly to life in performance.
BOSTON MODERN ORCHESTRA PROJECT: ‘KLEZMER MADNESS’ Klezmer clarinet maven David Krakauer is the special guest for a characteristically adventurous BMOP program that includes Mathew Rosenblum’s clarinet concerto entitled “Lament/Witches’ Sabbath” as well as Wlad Marhulets’s Concerto for Klezmer Clarinet under the direction of conductor Gil Rose.
Large-scale works referencing the past are on offer here, music that will be unfamiliar to most listeners. Michael Colgrass: Side by Side features three of the composer’s works for large ensemble performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and led by conductor Gil Rose. An American-born Canadian living in Toronto, the Pulitzer Prize-winning and Emmy Award-winning Colgrass holds the unique distinction among prominent classical composers in North America of being the only one whose music is well known equally on both sides of the Canadian-American border.
This is an accomplished disc, essential for admirers of the talented American composer William Schuman. His ballet suites Judith and Night Journey have been recorded before but never in the kind of wide-ranging surround sound that they are accorded here. As a further incentive to purchase, the disc also contains what is (as far as I can tell) the first recording of another Schuman ballet for Martha Graham, the knottier The Witch of Endor.
Not for the casual listener, but those with a taste for the adventurous might give this unusual disc a try. BMOP is recognised as the USA’s foremost label launched by an orchestra and devoted exclusively to new music. Black Noise is performed by the enterprising musicians of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and led by conductor Gil Rose.