Ludovic Morlot makes waves with the Seattle Symphony
Ludovic Morlot is, as they say, having a moment. A former assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Morlot, 40, is now in his third season as music director of the Seattle Symphony. Two recent events show an affiliation that’s firing on all cylinders.
Earlier this month, he brought the Seattle to Carnegie Hall for the final iteration of Spring for Music, a crusading series that showcased inventive orchestral programming. Leading off the concert was “Become Ocean” by the Alaska-based composer John Luther Adams, which the orchestra commissioned and premiered last year. Just a few weeks before the Carnegie event, “Become Ocean” won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for music; predictably, a large audience turned up at Carnegie for its New York premiere. It was, as one critic wrote, “a publicist’s fantasy.”
If the Pulitzer made for easy headlines, it did not dampen the originality of the piece. Adams’s music takes its bearings from the natural environment in a uniquely powerful way; judging from a recording of the Carnegie performance of “Become Ocean” posted on the website of New York radio station WQXR , the piece embodies its subject at a visceral level, unfolding in a series of waves that swell and recede unhurriedly over 42 minutes. The music matches eerily well the experience of being mesmerized by the sea’s inexorable motion and power. Listening to the recording does, however, grow somewhat monotonous in a way that hearing the piece in the hall likely did not — such are the risks of music dependent on place not only for its inspiration but for its execution as well.
One can also sample the fruits of the Morlot-Seattle partnership in three inaugural releases from the orchestra’s newly launched record label, Seattle Symphony Media. The batch is smartly curated: Rather than initiate history’s umpteenth Mahler or Beethoven cycle, the discs contain a mix of French and American works, including some with which Morlot has a particularly close connection. The closest they come to warhorses is a disc containing works by Ravel and Saint-Saens’s “Organ” Symphony. The performances are good if not extraordinary, yet clearly show an orchestra in superb form.
Most rewarding is an all-Dutilleux release that includes the composer’s First Symphony, “The Shadows of Time,” and cello concerto “Tout un monde lointain . . . ” with soloist Xavier Phillips. Morlot met Henri Dutilleux in 2001 during BSO rehearsals of “The Shadows of Time,” and the friendship endured until the composer’s death last year at 97. The performances are all fantastic — attentive to the tight structures and exquisite colors that together made Dutilleux’s art so slyly revolutionary.
An all-American program offers big-boned, exciting performances of Ives’s Second Symphony and Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” but hits paydirt with the world-premiere recording of Elliott Carter’s “Instances,” one of the late composer’s final works. Carter dedicated the 2012 score to Morlot, “who has performed many of my works so beautifully.” (That’s an endorsement if I ever heard one.) Even by the standard of Carter’s late works, the eight-minute “Instances” achieves new levels of austere, transparent beauty.
While Morlot is not scheduled to lead the BSO this summer or next season, he speaks often of the familial bond he established with the orchestra. It’s just the sort of relationship one hopes he will continue as his successes continue to pile up.
So near, so Far
On the heels of its final Boston concert before the summer, the conductorless string orchestra A Far Cry has announced details of its eighth season. The group will present four concerts in Jordan Hall and six at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where it is chamber orchestra in residence. Four of the Gardner concerts are part of the museum’s Sunday afternoon concert series; those programs will also be played on preceding Saturdays at St. John’s Church in Jamaica Plain. (The other two Gardner programs are in its Thursday-evening avant-garde series, Stir.)
As in past seasons, each program assembles an intriguing array of works under a loose thematic banner. Among the more striking is “Return to the Idyll” (Sept. 12), which includes the group’s own version of Thomas Adès’s kaleidoscopic string quartet “Arcadiana”; an arrangement of Shostakovich’s late violin sonata reworked for solo violin, strings, and percussion, with the excellent Augustin Hadelich as soloist; and Janacek’s “Idyll.” An Oct. 2 program matches Bartok’s Divertimento for Strings with “Focus,” a suite written by jazz composer Eddie Sauter for Stan Getz; saxophonist Harry Allen is the soloist. And an improvisation-centric concert pairs the orchestra with pianist Robert Levin, one of classical music most distinguished improvisers (Jan. 9, 2015).
Finally, on next May 29, A Far Cry plays in one of next season’s most anticipated events: the premiere of a new opera by composer Matthew Aucoin (son of Globe theater critic Don Aucoin) at the American Repertory Theater, to be directed by Diane Paulus. Season subscriptions are available now; individual tickets for all concerts except the opera go on sale Aug. 1.
Space is the place
For the final concert of its 13th season, the Boston Choral Ensemble has come up with an inventive program at the perfect venue. Mounted at the Museum of Science’s Hayden Planetarium, “Cosmic Journey” will bring together 11 pieces that reference space or celestial bodies. That may not seem like a big deal, given the heavens’ importance in liturgical music. But Andrew Shenton, BCE’s artistic director, has put together a lineup tilted toward the new and recent — including Croatian-born composer Zvonimir Nagy’s “Eternal Peace” (in its world premiere), “We Beheld Once Again the Stars” by Z. Randall Stroope, and Ligeti’s “Lux Aeterna” — accompanied by what the ensemble’s website calls “a spectacular visual depiction of the music.” And due to popular demand, an encore performance has already been booked for June 26.
Friday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m. , www.bostonchoral.org