Harvard University is inextricably associated with the Boston Area, yet is also just a bit oblique to it, like a secular Vatican City maintaining its sovereignty within a Hub version of Rome. The musical orthodoxies it hands down at a roughly generational pace, too, manage to track compositional trends while still standing apart from them.
The April 22 concert of music by Burr Van Nostrand in New England Conservatory’s Brown Hall didn’t include any explanation as to why Nostrand hadn’t composed any music since the early ’90s, nor why the music he had composed had lain unperformed for the same amount of time. Which was really something of a gift: this was music that simply seemed to reappear, pristine, unencumbered by the accumulated residue of a zigzag career.
BMOP was back at Club Café on March 5, for a Japanese-themed concert curated by composer Ken Ueno—a remarkably efficient exploration of the Japanese dance between pitch, noise, and silence—while the Bang on a Can All-Stars performed at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium on March 10, part of an ongoing three-year residency organized by MIT professor (and All-Star) Evan Ziporyn.
Edward Cohen died ten years ago, at the age of 61, composing right up until the end—having, it was reported, outfitted his hospital room with an electric piano. In the intervening decade, opportunities to hear the results have been rare, so the February 18 memorial concert presented by MIT and the Radius Ensemble was not only an appropriate commemoration, but at least a small correction as well.
New music seemed to explode out of the ground around Boston in the beginning of February, and performances included the Boston premiere of Georg Friedrich Haas’s in vain, performed by the group Sound Icon and a free-jazz improv show at the Lily Pad in Cambridge, performed by a group of local players: David G. Haas (piano), Jeff Platz (guitar), Scott Getchell (trumpet), Kit Demos (bass), and Luther Gray (drums).
Symphony Hall in Boston is a temple, and proud of it, from the plaster casts of Greek and Roman statuary keeping classical watch to the cold-comfort design of the seats. But, like many temples, Symphony Hall is now part sacred space, part museum, harboring gods both potent and obsolete. At its best, John Harbison’s Symphony No. 6, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s only world premiere this season, also captured something of that dance between the spark of immediacy and the accumulation of history.