Thursday, October 9, 2014

BMOP brings David Felder's Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux to Boston

Gil Rose conducting the Boston Modern Orchestra Project
This Sunday, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project will perform David Felder's massive song cycle, Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux, as part of its season-opening "Surround Sound" event.  Also featuring Ronald Bruce Smith's Constellation and the premiere of Anthony Paul De Ritis's Riflessioni, the evening centers itself on works that "merge orchestral and electronic sounds in profound and imaginative ways."  

BMOP Artistic Director and conductor, Gil Rose, describes the project:  "As you can probably imagine, a carefully choreographed balance of ensemble, soloist, and electronics is rarely found in works for orchestra these days.  We are pleased to share new works by leaders of the electro-acoustic vanguard that we believe best exemplify this highly sophisticated colloquy. Be prepared for some subsonic clangors and supersonic electronics!"

Indeed, those who were fortunate enough to attend the premiere of Felder's Les Quatre last year—an excerpt of which can be seen below—know the delicate choreography Rose is referring to.  The fifty-minute opus is composed for a chamber orchestra of forty musicians, two solo voices, and twelve channels of (surround-sound) electronics.  In addition, Felder has included specific cues for lighting, adding a visual dimension to the piece's narrative.  Coordinating all these elements is a substantial task for the performers, but one which yields transcendent results.

Les Quatre was composed specifically for the voices of Laura Aiken and Ethan Herschenfeld, who premiered the work and who will perform it with BMOP this weekend.  Vocal sound plays a huge role in the piece, which is centered on the eponymous poem by RenĂ© Daumal, that, in Felder's words, "alludes to times of the day, the four elements, the four seasons and the four corresponding ages of life, emphasizing the trans-personal."  Felder was drawn to Daumal in part due to the poet's astute orchestration of vocal sound itself.  "His early career emphasized the conversion of poetry into a form of theater in which speech, gestures, breath, voice stops, and other elements of performance form a totality."  

Felder supplements Daumal with settings of Dana Gioia's "Insomnia" and Robert Creeley's "Buffalo Evening," both of which feature electronic samples of the poets reading their works.  "Bob Creeley was a very musical reader,” Felder explained to the Buffalo News last year, "There's a lot of things he does when he reads that are innately musical. Dana was trained as a musician also. When you hear them read, and listen to the sounds of the vowels, they're very musical rhythms."  

The seeds of Felder's setting of "Buffalo Evening" can be found in So Quiet Here, a short electroacoustic piece the composer prepared for the poet's 80th birthday celebration.  In So Quiet Here, the electronics emphasize the sonorous quality of the poet's voice, underlining and accentuating reoccurring phonemes.  In Les Quatres, however, the electronics are augmented with an elaborate percussion accompaniment, which mimics and resonates with the specific sounds of the poet's voice, before the other instruments join in and Herschenfeld begins intoning the evocative words.  In a way, the poem itself seems to have moved through four stages (written text, electronic recitation, percussive translation, orchestral setting), mirroring the "quatre temps" narrated by the large-scale work itself.

It's exciting that a work with such subtlety and richness will be performed by such a strong orchestra dedicated to contemporary music.  BMOP is widely recognized as one of the leading orchestras in the US specializing in new music.  Founded by Rose in 1996, the orchestra seeks to "illuminate the connections that exist naturally between contemporary music and contemporary society by reuniting composers and audiences in a shared concert experience."  In its first 18 seasons, BMOP has performed over a hundred world premieres in nearly as many concerts, including forty commissioned works.  Indeed, BMOP were co-commissioners of Les Quatres with SIGNAL ensemble and the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation, and in addition to performing the work, the orchestra will be recording it as well.

If you're in the Boston area, be sure to order a ticket to this exciting event!

Surround Sound
Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Gil Rose, conductor
Sunday, October 12, 2014, 3:00pm
Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory
Pre-concert talk one-hour prior to concert

BMOP Artistic Director Gil Rose has also conducted the Slee Sinfonietta, read about that performance here.

—Ethan Hayden

Updated October 21, 2014:

The BMOP performance has received several rave reviews.  Jeremy Eichler wrote in the Boston Globe:

David Felder’s Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux of 2013 was the symphonic-length conclusion to Sunday’s program. It’s a fiercely ambitious work, employing soprano and bass soloists (here, Laura Aikin and Ethan Herschenfeld), and weaving together poetic texts by RenĂ© Daumal, Robert Creeley, and others, by turns sung, heard in recorded recitation, and abstracted into pure sound. At one point, for instance, we hear all the vowels of a poem strung together without any consonants. Felder deploys his vastly expanded palette of sounds artfully. In Sunday’s account, the human voice of the poetry introduced a kind of melancholy undercurrent beneath the whir of the orchestral machine.

He added that the performances "opened up as many questions as they answered about the possibilities for 21st-century technologies interacting with what we might describe as the cutting-edge sound technology of the 19th century."

David Wright of the Boston Classical Review wrote that "the composer’s use of the orchestra was resourceful and evocative throughout the work, and skillful execution by the players and conductor Rose made his musical imagery leap off the page." Wright was particularly taken with the piece's use of electronics:
All the pieces in Sunday’s concert […] might have inspired the title "Surround Sound," but it was the Felder work that made it literally true, bouncing electronic sounds and samples around an array of speakers located throughout the auditorium. To call Felder’s Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux "electronics-enhanced" would be like calling Brahms’s First Symphony "horn-enhanced."  The electronics were so integral to this ambitious, 50-minute-long meditation on time that they became a third soloist, taking over entirely from the orchestra at several points in extended solo cadenzas.