When I moved to Massachusetts in the mid-1970s to start a doctorate at Boston University, there was a specific professor I wanted to study with: the formidable pianist Leonard Shure.
But Shure was hardly the only renowned pedagogue in Boston. The city had at that point long been a hub of academic music, with distinguished programs at Harvard, Brandeis and Boston universities, the New England Conservatory, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Until I arrived, though, I didn’t realize what a center the Boston area was for contemporary music; from afar, the city had seemed to me too staid and traditional for that. But in its own buttoned-up New England way, it was a modernist hotbed. Each of those institutions was like a little fief, with eminent composers on the faculty. Each maintained active student ensembles, including many devoted exclusively to new music.
If you wanted to be on the front lines of the battle between severe “uptown” music and rebellious “downtown” postmodernism, you headed to New York. If you were drawn to mavericks and intrigued by non-Western cultures, especially Asian music, you probably found your way to Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Boston Modern Orchestra Project, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and its record label BMOP/sound. The ensemble champions modern and new music from all over. But according to its founder and artistic director, Gil Rose, 40 or 45 percent of its recordings have been of works by Boston-area composers.
died in 2015 at 89, once described himself as a “high school dropout without a single earned degree.” Technically that was true. But he was a protean musician who in his late teens won the principal horn position at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and then, two years later, moved on to the Metropolitan Opera, where he held the same post until 1959. Yet, he also played and recorded in jazz groups with the likes of Miles Davis.