Music sustains in many ways, but on Sunday, conductor Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project opened their 20th-anniversary season with a program of literal musical sustenance — sounds, harmonies, moods held and stretched, persistent and enduring. It was appropriate atmosphere for the theme of the concert, presented in collaboration with the Friends of Armenian Culture Society: a commemoration of the centenary of the Armenian genocide, and the survival of Armenian culture at home and abroad.
"Cloudy Sky," a folksong arrangement by priest, composer, and father of Armenian music Komitas Vardapet (transcribed for string orchestra by Komitas devotee Sergei Aslamazyan), already demonstrated an expressive stillness at the heart of that culture: a lyrical line, eloquently wandering its bittersweet mode, a steady tread of rising counterpoint creating its own gentle friction. Similar rhetoric turned oracular in "Khrimian Hairig," Alan Hovhaness's 1944 tribute to Armenian cleric and activist Mkrtich Khrimian. Over the strings' moody, parallel-shifting harmonies — modern and archaic all at once — Terry Everson's impeccably burnished solo trumpet filled Jordan Hall with long exhalations of melody, velvety and implacable.
Having featured the Massachusetts-born Hovhaness's music on both a recording and a previous, 2008 Armenian-themed program, Rose and the orchestra were attuned to his rhetoric, turning the sheer atmospheric presence of slow-moving and even static landscapes to dramatic ends. That pattern held in another reprise: An ill soloist having quashed the scheduled Shostakovich piano concerto, Rose recruited violist Kim Kashkashian to revisit Betty Olivero's "Neharót, Neharót" (previously presented by BMOP in 2010), a meditation on Middle Eastern violence and sorrow. Kashkashian and accordionist Cory Pesaturo traded elaborately-ornamented threnodies over a slow crush of orchestral harmonies and interpolated recording of Israeli laments. The nationalities had changed, but the sound made common cause with the program's theme of continuance.
The second half brought the Boston premiere of Tigran Mansurian's 2011 "Requiem," the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum and the Boston University Marsh Chapel Choir joining Rose and the string orchestra for a superb, sumptuously stark performance. Mansurian, channeling the familiar Catholic rite into a memorial for the Armenian genocide's victims, alternates icon-like immobility — a frozen haze over the opening "Requiem aeternam" — with the genre's customary quasi-operatic dramatization.
But even there, the sound turns back, again and again, to Armenian style and Armenian history. Compare the "Domine Jesu Christe" — a prayer for the deliverance of the departed, here turned strikingly aggressive — and the "Tuba mirum," the last trumpet rendered as almost entirely a cappella chant, a pair of soloists (soprano Serena Alexandra Tchorbajian and bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian) intoning the text, the choir answering, the raising of the dead regarded with an equanimous sense of restitution. It encapsulated the concert's restrained tenaciousness, sustained sounds asserting continued presence, tracing a long arc bending toward justice.
Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Music of Komitas, Hovhaness, Olivero, and Mansurian. At Jordan Hall, Sunday.
Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at email@example.com.