Judging by the fresh and deftly executed program he assembled for his debut as new artistic director of Monadnock Music on a pleasantly sultry evening, conductor Gil Rose has no intention of falling into the summer festival rut of safe classical routine. Well-known to Boston audiences as former artistic director of the late lamented Opera Boston and conductor of the Boston Modern Opera Project, Rose seems poised to bring to the job his trademark mixture of music both familiar and unfamiliar, contemporary and traditional. Move over Mozart, make room for the modernists.
In the classic New England setting of the (blessedly air-conditioned) Peterborough Town House, Rose led the Monadnock Sinfonietta in a celebration of the hefty contribution made to American musical life by choreographer and dancer Martha Graham. Three of the four pieces on the program were commissioned for Graham’s company in the 1940s, including the original version of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” Now embraced as one the purest expressions of American musical identity, this score has a strong Peterborough connection. Copland composed it while in residence at the fabled MacDowell Colony, a retreat for creative artists just up the road from the town center.
Soon after the ballet’s 1944 premiere, Copland created a popular abbreviated version, with much larger forces. To hear the original version, for 13 instruments, is a revelation, and Rose and his ensemble made the most of the occasion. The sour lyricism emerged in bold, stark contours. The performance revealed the influence of Igor Stravinsky’s ballets (“Rite of Spring,” “Petrushka”) upon Copland, with their similarly irregular, insistent repetition of short metrical and melodic phrases.
The other Graham commissions came from Norman Dello Joio (“Diversion of Angels”), an appealing light entertainment about love built around a recurring waltz theme, and Paul Hindemith’s arid and generic “Hérodiade,” about the unsavory biblical character Herodias. In both, Rose and his disciplined ensemble displayed solid camaraderie and precision, with subtle contributions from clarinetist Jan Halloran, pianist Linda Osborn-Blaschke, and concertmaster Charles Dimmick.
There was also one non-Graham work, the Chamber Concerto No.1 “Yueh Fei” (2000) by Chinese-American composer and MacDowell fellow Huang Ruo. Composed for eight performers (some on more than one instrument), it builds a rapidly shifting sonic world around a traditional Chinese folk song, climaxing with wild warrior drumming and gentle vocalizing from the players.Harlow Robinson can be reached at email@example.com.