For Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the “Boston” in its name is not just a signifier of location, but a commitment to perform and preserve the creations of composers with connections to this place. Its programs are mindfully crafted of works you’re unlikely to hear anywhere else, and at any concert, it’s as likely as not that you’ll hear something new (or new to you) that will shake you out of your seat and have you telling all your friends they should have been there.
For the orchestra’s Sunday afternoon concert, conducted by artistic director Gil Rose and played for a sadly sparse Jordan Hall crowd, that initial something new was the Boston premiere of the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra by hometown marvel Matthew Aucoin, a Medfield raised, Harvard University-educated composer/pianist/conductor/poet. It began with ominous drumrolls, evoking a procession of the condemned. The solo piano, played with a deft touch and cool sparkle by Conor Hanick, made a mad dash for freedom, spurred on by the orchestra. Octave doublings gave the sound a primeval urgency. The second movement rested on a relaxed pulsing rhythm in the piano; if you breathed along, you’d calm down, until whistling winds and thudding drums signaled a slide from contentment to resurging anxiety, glockenspiel joining the piano in insistent alarm. The perpetual motion of the first movement returned in the brief finale, the soloist fighting a tidal surge in counter motion with the orchestra. Hint, BMOP/sound: I’d buy that CD.
The program’s theme was “Generations,” including substantial works from four generations of American composers with Boston connections. The concert commenced with “Judith, Choreographic Poem” by Koussevitzky friend William Schuman. It was originally composed for dancer Martha Graham, with whom the composer had previously worked. In the climactic section, frantic winds and darting xylophone bumped up against striking, shadowy brass counterpoint, and Rose gave anvil-esque blows of brass and percussion space to ring out, the sound decaying slowly.
Boston musical stalwart John Harbison’s “Diotima” was a cloudy orchestral daydream, with a slowly unfurling melody in the violins perforated by inquisitive interruptions. One section, an intricate dance of harp and flute, was especially arresting. The clamorous ending roared up out of nowhere, shocking everyone back to earth.
“Diotima” was followed by David Sanford’s “Scherzo Grosso,” featuring the reliably adventurous cellist Matt Haimovitz. Second Viennese School-style modernism met skittering avant-garde jazz in a wild rumpus, with Haimovitz’s amplified cello taking on a puissant electric edge. His instrument meditated, growled, and pleaded, even imitating a jazz bass while flutist Sarah Brady ripped out a freewheeling solo. Hint, BMOP/sound: Put that on the CD, too.
BOSTON MODERN ORCHESTRA PROJECT
At Jordan Hall, Sunday. www.bmop.orgZoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.