The Boston Musical Intelligencer
Peter Van Zandt Lane
November 14, 2008

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project performed new works in Jordan Hall on Friday evening by Martin Boykan, Robert Erickson, Elliott Schwartz, and Ken Ueno. The concert closed with Shoenberg’s Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra, a very liberal arrangement of a Handel Concerto.

Elliot Schwartz’s Chamber Concerto VI: Mr. Jefferson was preceded by a lengthy explanation of the programmatic nature of the piece, an illustration of the multiple dimensions of Thomas Jefferson’s life. Schwartz’s composition consists of sparse, lightly developed movements featuring the virtuosic playing of solo violinist Charles Dimmick, whose performance was noteworthy. The piece was filled with quotes of Revolutionary War marches and classical pieces from Jefferson’s personal collection. Most of these references, however, were too overt to be effective, so the result was less like creative integration and more like a game of “name that tune.”

And then there was a blood-curdling scream. Ken Ueno’s Talus, featuring violist Wendy Richman, received a few laughs after its over-the-top, horror-flick beginning but quickly demanded complete silence and deliberation from the audience as the piece slowly unfolded from pitch-less textures to rich atmospheres of complex and beautiful sounds. The piece demanded extraordinary control over extended techniques of the soloist as well as the supporting string orchestra. While the vocalizations – both jarring in the beginning and, more subtly, within the textures later in the piece – may have come off as extremist, even gimmicky, one cannot deny that Talus was the most memorable piece of the evening.

Rafael Popper-Keizer never fails to put on a performance of awe-inspiring intensity. The late Robert Erickson, whose life as a composer is sometimes overshadowed by his reputation as a pedagogue, displays an affinity for eclecticism in his Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra. It would be safe to assume Erickson would have been nothing short of thrilled with Rafael’s performance.

The world premiere of Martin Boykan’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra displayed the utmost compositional craft and maturity. Working within a tradition of contemporary music which can be tedious at times, Boykan’s Concerto remained engaging from beginning to end. The quality of the performance, despite momentary flaws, did the piece justice, coming to a dynamic finale that would have been a magnificent conclusion to the concert program.

It was not, though. And the Shoenberg was generally disappointing. Perhaps a spectacular performance of the final piece would have reconciled the undistinguished compositional arrangement, but the performance never reached beyond ordinary.

Peter Van Zandt Lane is a composer and bassoonist who performs regularly in the Boston area. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Music Composition and Theory at Brandeis University.