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Celebrating Philip Glass - Talking with Conductor Gil Rose About Upcoming Concert

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Wednesday Feb 15, 2017

This Saturday the Boston Modern Orchestra Project celebrates Philip Glass' 80th birthday with "Glass Works," a concert that features two works by the man considered America's leading living composer. (Glass turned 80 on January 31st.)

In addition, the concert features the world premiere of Benjamin Park's "The Dwarf Planets," which was the winner of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project-New England Conservatory Composition Competition.

The BMOP was founded in 1996 by conductor Gil Rose with a mission (expressed on its website) "to illuminate the connections that exist naturally between contemporary music and contemporary society by reuniting composers and audiences in a shared concert experience."

Since then it has become of the country's leading orchestras dedicated to performing new music. Over the years it has had 70 world premieres (including 30 commissioned works), two Opera Unlimited festivals with Opera Boston, the inaugural Ditson Festival of Contemporary Music with the ICA/Boston, and 32 commercial recordings, including 12 CDs from BMOP/sound, the orchestra's own record label.

Rose is also a leading conductor of both the symphonic and opera repertoire with orchestras and companies throughout the world. In 2003 he was named Musical Director for Opera Boston; in 2010 he was named the company's first Artistic Director. Amongst the premieres he stewarded with the company include the world premiere of Zhou Long's "Madame White Snake," which won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2011. In September 2013 he founded Odyssey Opera, which has been described as "an inventive company dedicated to presenting eclectic operatic repertoire in a variety of formats."

EDGE spoke to Rose about the upcoming "Glass Works" concert.

EDGE: This may be an obvious question, but why "Glass Works?"

Gil Rose: It was either "Works by Philip Glass" or "Glass Works," and we thought the latter was catchier.

EDGE: Why did you program these two Philip Glass compositions?

Gil Rose: People often think of Philip Glass in terms of one very specific, minimalist style-what we hear in his famous opera "Einstein on the Beach," for example. But in fact, Glass has based his whole career on experimentation and has traversed a wide variety of aesthetics. 'The Second Symphony' is a comparatively early work from when Glass was first starting to lay the foundations of his orchestral voice. The "Tirol Concerto" comes later, and it has this interesting aspect of folk material (from Tirol, an Alpine region of Austria), which he'd never used before. So it's my hope that the audience will get a sense of the scope of the artistry of this great American composer.

EDGE: Can you put in one paragraph Philip Glass' place in American music?

Gil Rose: The short answer is no-I can't! There were multiple artistic movements jostling and bumping up against each other throughout the 20th-century American music scene, and they all had a place and either inspired each other, fought with each other, ignored each other, or some combination of the three. Glass was one of many who sought to simplify their musical language, whether through minimalism or other techniques. Glass' modus operandi was based on drumming techniques. Non-Western influences were important to him, but he worked them into his version of Americana-an abstracted Americana to which he was very devoted.

EDGE: Do you see a relationship between Philip Glass and Benjamin Park?

Gil Rose: There's not a programmatic relationship; this is just the time of year that we highlight our annual Composition Competition winner from among the fine young composers at New England Conservatory, a tradition that we really enjoy. But sure, you can see the effect of minimalism in Ben's work. It's part of our contemporary bloodstream and many of today's composers have absorbed it in their own way.

EDGE: Park's work, "The Dwarf Planets," is meant as a complement to Holst's famous work. Do you see strong parallels?

Gil Rose: Sure. He was openly inspired by the Holst work. There's the size and scope-compact representations of something that fascinates us humans. Astral bodies fascinate us because they're so far away but at the same time very orderly-these planets will always be there in our solar system community, and as the reach of science grows the better we'll feel we know them. We project our own history onto them by naming them after mythological deities, by composing musical portraits of them... it's our way of welcoming them to the neighborhood.

EDGE: How would you describe the piece musically?

Gil Rose: It's exactly what it sounds like: a condensed, reimagined version of "The Planets," on an extremely compact scale. Each movement is 3-4 minutes long. Yet within this economical framework are some rousing gestures that really pack a punch.

EDGE: This is the 21st year of BMOP, why do you think it's been so successful?

Gil Rose: I started BMOP with a mission, and its success proves that other people believe in this mission too: the idea that orchestral music shouldn't be an old, ossified canon but something alive and kicking. Amazing music has been written over the past century and is still being written, and it needs someone to perform it and record it. I'm lucky to have an audience, have donors, and have CD buyers who agree with me.

EDGE: You've had considerable success as an opera conductor, yet live in a city where opera doesn't compare in stature to its orchestral and choral institutions. Why do you think that is?

Gil Rose: I hear the line "Boston is not an opera town" all the time, and it's not only overused but incorrect. We have a ton of opera going on, but it's just on a different scale than the Met. I don't know of any other city this size-in the world-that has as many small companies as we do. These companies are dynamic and flexible, they have focused missions, and they bring an incredible amount of diversity and talent to our musical life. My own 'Odyssey Opera' is just one example.

EDGE: And is it frustrating?

Gil Rose: Hearing the line "Boston is not an opera town" is certainly frustrating.

EDGE: How would you persuade someone who has never heard Philip Glass to come to the concert?

Gil Rose: Hey, this is a rare chance to hear one of the most famous American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries performed by an orchestra! You can hear him at opera houses, you can hear him on soundtracks to a number of big-name films, but you can't often hear him in the concert hall. Most orchestras don't play him. So grab this chance!

BMOP's "Glass Works" will be presented on Saturday, February 18 at 8pm at Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough Street, Boston, MA. For ticket and more information visit the BMOP website.

Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.


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