New music is one thing Boston is not short on. Thanks in no small part to the plethora of local universities and conservatories, there is a near-constant clutter of activity, with various organizations, ensembles, and composers vying for listeners’ open ears.
A collaborative approach ‘meant getting over ourselves, not trying to do everything ourselves.’
You might wonder, then, what Boston University’s recently created Center for New Music hopes to add to the mix. Composer Joshua Fineberg, the center’s inaugural director, says its purpose is less about adding one more strand to an already frenetic scene than it is about lending some coherence, some collaborative glue, to it.
“What it’s always tended to be is very much like this sort of archipelago of little islands — we’ll do this, you’ll do that,” Fineberg says. “It’s really fragmented. And we started thinking, what do we do to sort of catalyze all of these things that are going on and try to make the whole bigger than the sum of the parts?”
Take the impulse, Fineberg explained, to create another new-music ensemble. “I’ve run ensembles. And you end up spending a lot of time and money duplicating infrastructure that’s underutilized in other groups.”
Instead, Fineberg decided to reach out to other groups and work collaboratively on projects where both sides could benefit. As an example, he mentioned the composer Roger Reynolds, who is in residence this fall at Harvard University. Fineberg brought him over to BU to give a talk, “which we would have done anyway.” But he also asked violinist Gabriela Diaz, who recently played a Reynolds piece with the Callithumpian Consort, to play a solo piece by Reynolds at his talk.
Then there is the upcoming three-week residency of Salvatore Sciarrino, a luminary of the European avant-garde. According to Fineberg, Sciarrino rarely leaves his home in the Italian town of Cittá di Castello and does not have Internet access, making the logistics of setting up his spring residency especially challenging.
Still, given Sciarrino’s reputation, it’s a coup for the BU center, and he will do plenty there. But Fineberg also reached out to other groups. Sound Icon, the young new-music sinfonietta, will give a rare performance of Sciarrino’s “Infinito Nero,” a piece based on the ecstatic visions of St. Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi, at the Institute of Contemporary Art on Feb. 22. He also discovered that the JACK Quartet, a highly talented group that specializes in avant-garde music, would be working with the Harvard Group for New Music this fall, and booked them for a BU concert on Feb. 26.
Fineberg also spoke to the Boston Modern Orchestra Project about including Sciarrino pieces on one of its club concerts. But, as BMOP artistic director Gil Rose wrote in an e-mail, the timing didn’t work out.
This kind of collaborative approach is unusual, and Fineberg admits that “part of it meant, in a certain sense, meant getting over ourselves, not trying to do everything ourselves.”
He added, “We’re really trying — not to impose our vision but to see where can we make strategic investments so that things that already happen become more public, more accessible, and, when they can, become more pedagogical.’’
Asked to name a recent event that made him especially hopeful for Boston’s new-music scene, Fineberg mentioned Sound Icon’s performance of Georg Friedrich Haas’s “in vain” at the ICA earlier this year. For him, that landmark event represented the coming together of a venue not normally associated with concert music; a young, ambitious group; and a piece both epochally important and fiendishly difficult.
That, Fineberg said, “is a really great example of organizations coming together and doing more than any one of them can do by themselves.”
BU creates Early Music center
Earlier this week, Boston University also announced the creation of a Center for Early Music Studies. This one is dedicated to the “performance, scholarship, and new pedagogical practices involving music of the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical periods,” the school said. The Center’s inaugural ensemble in residence will be the vocal group Blue Heron, whose music director, Scott Metcalfe, will be one of the Center’s co-directors.
New Longwood director
Saturday brings the Longwood Symphony Orchestra’s first concert under its new music director, Ronald Feldman. Feldman’s appointment was announced in July; the previous month, he led the orchestra in a concert that included Brahms’s Second Symphony. He succeeds Jonathan McPhee, who left the LSO at the end of the 2010-11 season.
“I felt there was a wonderful sense of camaraderie and of chamber music on the stage,” Feldman said recently of that concert. “There’s really a special kind of joy that amateur musicians experience when they play core repertoire, like the Brahms. This is often missing in a professional orchestra, where they play the pieces so many times. So much of the repertory that Longwood plays they’re playing for the first time. It’s fresh and it’s exciting.”
Feldman has had a lengthy career, beginning with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which he joined as a cellist in 1967 at 19. His first conducting post was at the Mystic Valley Chamber Orchestra, known today as the New England Philharmonic. During the 1980s, he was John Williams’s assistant at the Boston Pops. He retired from the BSO in 2001 and is now artist in residence at Williams College.
The membership of the Longwood is drawn from Boston’s medical community. “In a way, they are giving back to the community through their Healing Art of Music program,” Feldman said, referring to the LSO’s program of raising money for health-related nonprofits. “And I’m giving back, also, what I’ve learned — as a member of the Boston Symphony, and as a conductor of many orchestras over the last 25 years. So in a way, we’re working in parallel to give back a lot of what we’ve been fortunate to have experienced in our lives.”
He looks forward to carrying on the orchestra’s tradition of emphasizing works by American composers — “living composers, when possible,” he said. This season’s four concerts include works by Lukas Foss, Michael Gandolfi, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. The Longwood is also getting in on this year’s John Cage centenary, opening Saturday’s concert with his infamous “4’33”.” “It’s always a lot of fun,” Feldman said of Cage’s piece. “I think it’ll be the loudest ‘4’33” ’ that anyone’s ever heard.”