Boston Modern Orchestra Project Spotlights Unjustly Neglected Composer

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The Boston Modern Orchestra Project continues to put every other symphony orchestra in the country to shame, at least in terms of its fresh, varied recordings. BMOP's music director Gil Rose is not just a fine conductor, but a peerless curator, sniffing out—and commissioning—off-trend, unheralded and otherwise underplayed repertoire that nevertheless holds to unfailingly high standards of quality. In doing so, he's built an indefinable, but unmistakable, personal aesthetic.

The latest entry in BMOP's mile-long discography: the Symphony and Violin Concerto of Martin Boykan. A longtime presence at Brandeis University, the 82-year-old Boykan is hardly a household name, even for a classical composer, but these pieces reveal a rigorous and powerful style of music-making.

Melodies and countermelodies pick up, trail off and interweave themselves, according to an obscure but seemingly inevitable logic. Like Berg or Brahms, Boykan is a delver, a deep-sea diver, leading us down into the dark to search for something far below the surface.

BMOP's collaborators are always outstanding; here, they are practically legendary. Curtis Macomber, the dedicatee of the concerto, is a tirelessly versatile new-music violinist, seemingly capable of anything, but with writing this lyrical and idiomatic it would almost be a shame if the sort of fiddler who usually plays lush, end-of-century fare didn't pick this piece up as well.

Baritone Sanford Sylvan, whose interpretations of both contemporary and classical repertoire have garnered him a reputation as a sort of thinking person's opera star, takes the vocal solo in the last movement of the symphony—a piece even more unsettling than the concerto.

Boykan sends Sylvan grappling through a jagged setting of Keats's dark, ambiguous sonnet "To Sleep," bringing the piece, and the disc, to a conclusion as quietly surprising and emotionally complex as everything that came before.

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