Daniel Stephen Johnson was born in the desert and learned to play the violin. After studying viola and English at the University of Southern California, he wrote fiction at Columbia University. Then he moved to Connecticut, where he worked at a record shop and wrote about music, literature and comedy for the New Haven Advocate and the Believer. Now he lives in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and works as a sheet music salesman in Queens.
Michael Gandolfi Gives 'Underdog' Instruments Their Day on BMOP Album
Q2 Music Album of the Week for September 9, 2013
Monday, September 09, 2013
Anybody who even heard the title of Michael Gandolfi's first album with Gil Rose's Boston Modern Orchestra Project, "Y2K Compliant," should already have noticed that he is a composer of genuine wit. The actual music was no disappointment: Gandolfi has a knack for deploying a lucid, ear-pleasing technique in the service of high-concept forms.
Throughout its extensive discography, BMOP has returned to the music of only a few composers, but the match between Rose, with his light touch on the podium, and Gandolfi, makes it clear enough why this partnership continues to thrive. It continues with the new "Institute of Groove," a collection of three recent concertos.
These are three concertos for "underdog" instruments, as Gandolfi puts it in the liner notes: one for bassoon – here played by Richard Svoboda – a Fantasia for Alto Saxophone written for BMOP and Kenneth Radnofsky, and the titular piece, a bass trombone concerto penned specifically for Angel Subero. These are instruments a composer tends to avoid in extended solo writing, due to their highly distinctive musical personalities, but which Gandolfi instead indulges with evident delight – and, fortunately, a measure of good taste.
Gandolfi balances his discretion with an approachable wit. Consider the "Recitativo Surreale" from his Fantasia, which turns Purcell's recitative "Behold, upon my bending spear…" from the opera Dido & Aeneas into an instrumental draped with psychedelic riffs. Elsewhere, he's warping tonality into an endless spiral of unstable harmonies, or just cramming a melody with unexpected chromatic turns. There's a joy to each movement here that's very much out in the open.
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