A singular voice of many colors

'Jeremy Gill: Before the Wresting Tides,' by Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Gil Rose

3 minute read
This trio of Gill music coheres as "one giant concerto." (Image courtesy of bmopsound.org.)
This trio of Gill music coheres as "one giant concerto." (Image courtesy of bmopsound.org.)

Jeremy Gill’s music has a stylistic complexity and dramatic richness that rewards attentive listening. Jeremy Gill: Before the Wresting Tides, a trio of works by Gill for solo instrument and orchestra, performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Gil Rose, displays an especially broad range of mood and energy.​

Upon repeated auditions, the whole album began to gel in my imagination as one giant concerto. I doubt this was the composer’s intention, but it speaks to his distinctive voice, binding the music together. His respect for musically historical structural form — a quality that was highly prized by George Rochberg and George Crumb, two of Gill’s teachers at Penn — helps establish an essential coherence in this music.

Born in Philly

The opening work, “Before the Wresting Tides,” is scored for the same ensemble as Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy: chorus, orchestra, and solo piano. This is no coincidence. The work premiered here in 2012 by the Mendelssohn Club, under the direction of Alan Harler, in a concert that also included the Beethoven.

This dark, urgent work (in contrast to the ebullient Beethoven), with the chorus singing the words of Hart Crane, constitutes the concerto’s “first movement.” It is brash but also ruminative, reflecting Crane’s voluptuous and lyrical poetry, employing striking metaphors from the natural world.

Gill’s gift for setting words in an insightful and pungent manner here weds to another of his frequent qualities: an awe of the dramatic power of nature.

“Serenada Concertante” is essentially a one-movement oboe concerto. Gill wrote the piece for Erin Hannigan, a fellow oboe student at Eastman School of Music, to whom he had long promised a work for solo oboe. After she became principal oboist for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, she asked for a new piece and an old promise was made good.

This is the most introspective of the album’s three works (thus feeling like a middle movement to me). The texture of the orchestration is especially fine, with lovely, colorful blending between solo line and orchestra, lending the music a chamberlike intimacy at many moments.

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project records with oboist Erin Hannigan and conductor Gil Rose in Jordan Hall. (Image courtesy of BMOPsound.org.)
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project records with oboist Erin Hannigan and conductor Gil Rose in Jordan Hall. (Image courtesy of BMOPsound.org.)

A fitting finale

Gill concludes with the “Notturno Concertante,” the clarinet partner of the “Serenada Concertante.” It is the most recent work, having received its premiere in Gill’s hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 2014 with the capital city’s excellent symphony.

The piece was written for Chris Grymes, who inspired its spirit when he told Gill he had a dream about a clarinetist who refused to play anything that was not written in C major. Gill seems to have taken the opposite tack harmonically, luxuriating in polychromatic language.

He does, however, retain the dreamy and at times nightmarish sense suggested by Grymes, with music of great energy and wit. It is, in other words, a fitting finale to this veritable concerto of a recording.

The album’s performances and recorded sound are excellent. Its solo performers clearly relish the opportunity to premiere exciting new music and bring out their parts with gusto and subtlety. My only point of comparison is with the “Notturno Concertante,” which I heard at its premiere with the same soloist.

That performance was a notch more energetic than this new recording, but I really cannot fault the work of Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, who are among the most vital proponents of new music anywhere. It is also a rare treat to get to hear a new work performed more than once, which is, alas, more the exception than the rule in this artistic realm.

What, When, Where

Jeremy Gill: Before the Wresting Tides. By Jeremy Gill; Ching-Yun Hu, piano; Erin Hannigan, oboe; Chris Grymes, clarinet; Boston University Marsh Chapel Choir; Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Gil Rose, conductor. October 2017, BMOP/Sound, available for download or $19.99 on CD at BMOPsound.org.

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