The Boston Modern Orchestra Project was multitasking on Sunday, its annual New England Conservatory-affiliated concert doubling as a tribute to composer Oliver Knussen (who conducted last week’s Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts). NEC did its part in the collation, presenting Knussen with an honorary doctorate during the concert. But BMOP and conductor Gil Rose went a little deeper, melding the evening’s dual purposes into a consideration of two of music’s most basic ideas: color and time.
Knussen’s 1983 “Music for a Puppet Court” brought both to the fore. Arrangements of two polyrhythmic canons by the Renaissance composer John Lloyd are coupled to a variation on each in Knussen’s deftly labyrinthine style, one twittering, restless, the other unfurling swaths of ornamented lyricism. Like all of Knussen’s music, the score’s compulsively vibrant orchestration — the sound fairly glistens throughout — shapes a fluid sense of time and its passing.