BMOP Ends 2018-19 Season With Tribute To John Harbison

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), the nation's premier orchestra dedicated exclusively to commissioning, performing, and recording new orchestral music, continues the festivities for John Harbison's 80th year with a matinee concert dedicated to the distinguished Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer. Led by Artistic Director and Conductor Gil Rose, BMOP celebrates Harbison in a program featuring Harbison's Remembering Gatsby (Foxtrot for Orchestra), Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, and celebrated soprano soloist Dawn Upshaw singing his Milosz Songs and his Symphony No. 6.

We are thrilled to be celebrating the life and works of Boston contemporary music figurehead John Harbison, says Gil Rose. Harbison is BMOP's long-time friend who both helped build and strengthen contemporary music's very foundations through advocacy and leadership as well as prolific composition.

This dedication to Harbison continues a BMOP tradition of performing the great American composer's works. Since 2003 when they presented the first complete performance of his ballet Ulysses, BMOP has been re-discovering and bringing Harbison's music to audiences worldwide. In fact, the very first recording on the group's BMOP/sound label was Harbison's Ulysses in 2008. BMOP/sound also recorded and released Harbison's Full Moon in March and Winter's Tale.

Harbison is one of the most decorated composers alive: a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, a Pulitzer Prize, a Heinz Award, and a Grammy nomination. He lives in Cambridge where he is an Institute Professor at MIT, player/coach/arranger/founder of MIT's Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and pianist with the faculty jazz group Strength in Numbers (SIT). Since 2005, he has frequently directed Tanglewood's Festival of Contemporary Music and has been Principal Guest Conductor of Boston's Emmanuel Music for 45 years.


The afternoon begins with Remembering Gatsby (Foxtrot for Orchestra). Based on sketches for a then abandoned, but then later realized opera based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, this brief opener treats the listener to fragrances from the novel in Harbison's senses. The audience hears Gatsby's vision of the green light on Daisy's dock, a party scene, and the instruments of Gatsby's fate.

Milosz Songs for Soprano and Orchestra premiered in 2006 with soprano Dawn Upshaw and the New York Philharmonic. Set to the poetry of Nobel Prize-winning Polish writer Czes aw Mi osz (1911-2004), it was Harbison's fourth work for Upshaw and his first commission for the New York Philharmonic. Harbison noted that as a composer, he was "drawn to [Milosz's] fragmentary short lyrics, grateful for their elusive melody, their barely reconciled dissonant elements, their embrace of the everyday." BMOP will be joined by Upshaw who has achieved worldwide success as a singer of opera. Dawn Upshaw has become a generative force in concert music, says Rose. Her selfless, soul-bearing performances have been described as astonishing (Financial Times).

The afternoon continues with Harbison's Concerto for Viola (1990) which he wrote for the violist he never was a true soloist. As a young concertgoer, the viola was Harbison's instrument of choice. Admittedly, he never mastered it, but instead used it as a good vantage point as a composer. According to Harbison, the viola has a commanding awkward size, a somewhat veiled slightly melancholic tone quality, and it seemed always in the middle of things. This three-movement concerto moves from inwardness to ebullience and from ambiguous and shifting harmonic language to a kind of tonality.

The program concludes with Harbison's Symphony No. 6 for both mezzo-soprano and orchestra. The Boston Symphony Orchestra premiered it in 2012, which critics called the performance a masterpiece and powerful. Upshaw again joins BMOP for the symphony's prologue, which sets James Wright's poem Entering the Temple at N mes, which is an invocation of a sacred realm perhaps art, or the higher realms of the spirit threatened by stone-eyed legions of the rain.

When: Sunday, April 7, 2019, at 3:00 p.m.
(Pre-concert talk at 2:00 p.m.)

Where: NEC's Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough Street, Boston, MA,
T: Green to Symphony

Tickets: General $20-$50/Students $10. To purchase, contact BMOP at BMOP.org or by telephone 718.324.0396. Also available from the Jordan Hall box office in person or online.

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