Gil Rose

Conductor, founder and artistic director of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), Odyssey Opera and BMOP/Sound
A man posing infront of a door.

Photo by Kevin Condon

Music Credits: “NY” composed and performed by Kosta T, from the CD Soul Sand. U sed courtesy of Free Music Archive.

Excerpt from Play, composed by Andrew Norman, performed by Boston Modern Orchestra Project, conducted by Gil Rose, recorded by BMOP/Sound.

“Malcolm’s Aria,” from X: The Life and Times of Malcom X, composed by Anthony Davis, libretto by Thulani Davis. Performed by Davóne Tines as Malcom X, The Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and Odyssey Opera, conducted by Gil Rose, recorded by BMOP/Sound.

Jo Reed:  From the National Endowment for the Arts, this is Art Works, I’m Josephine Reed.

I want to introduce you to Gil Rose—the conductor, founder, and artistic director of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project or BMOP—founded 25 years ago, BMOP’s mission is commissioning, performing, and recording music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with a focus on American music. Described by The New York Times as “one of the most artistically valuable” orchestras in the country, BMOP is a unique institution in today’s musical world, winning, among other awards, 17 ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming. Understanding that recording new music is as vital as performing it, Rose began the orchestra’s Grammy Award winning in-house label, BMOP/Sound which is releasing 100th recording this year. And as if that wasn’t enough, Rose also founded Odyssey Opera in 2013 which is dedicated both to the performance of new and underperformed operas. Both companies are frequent recipients of grants from the Arts Endowment and with good reason, they expand greatly the repertoire of music, by commissioning, performing, and recording these works. I spoke to Gil Case recently on the occasion of BMOP’s 25th anniversary—here’s our conversation

Jo Reed:   Well, Gil, first of all, thank you for joining me today. I appreciate it. You began the Boston Modern Orchestra Project twenty-five years ago. So, first, congratulations, <laughs>

Gil Rose: Seems like yesterday <laughs>. Thank you.

Jo Reed: What was your thinking was behind it?

Gil Rose: Well, at that time I’d just relocated to Boston, and I was trying to find a way to add to the musical culture here in the city. I thought it was a problem that large orchestras were playing the same msuic over and over again. And I hit upon the idea of reinventing the orchestra as a more flexible and less institution-like body or organization, and tried to recreate what I thought would be a healthier dynamic between composers, and performers, and the audience. So, I started on this mission to recreate a model that was similar to how Beethoven's time worked, what I then called the triangle between composers, performers and audience.So that we could play a wide variety of repertoire.

Jo Reed: Well, you're known, with great justification, for championing American music written in the 20th and 21st century. But I'm also mindful that the name isn't modern music, but Modern Orchestra, and it's also Modern Orchestra Project. So, tell me how that reflects the mission, the idea of a project?

Gil Rose: Yeah, I'm really glad you brought that up, because it was funny, at the beginning of our time, and getting up and running, and doing concerts and recordings, you have to build a name that has some recognition. I put those four words together very purposefully. One was, of course, Boston, because that's where we were, but Modern Orchestra was important to me, because I wanted to create a different orchestral model. I didn't want to recreate the existing-- what then was a subscription model--, and the relationship between earned revenue and unearned revenue, i.e. ticket sales, or donations, or support in other ways, to me seemed to be creating an unhealthy relationship to repertoire. The fourth word, Project, which many people tried to get me to drop, and I justified keeping it because of the acronym, how fancy the acronym BMOP was, as opposed to BMO. But the real reason for the word Project was I felt to achieve our goal that we needed to have ultimate flexibility, so we could expand, contract, modify, collaborate with other kinds of arts organizations, and keep it completely fluid and flexible. At that time when we started, in 1996, I can't identify any other organizations that had the word “Project”. I wish I had a royalty for every organization <laughs> that's founded, now, <laughs> that has the word “Project” in it. We maybe started that trend, and it was very purposeful. It was about flexibility and a lean, mean model for bringing music to the public.

Jo Reed: Who are the orchestra members?

Gil Rose: Well, our orchestra members come from all over, but most of them are here in Boston. One of the things that makes Boston a great place to do this work is the vast resources in freelance musicians. So, we have a lot of conservatories here, and the freelancers here are as good as any freelancers in the world. We have a whole roster of regulars, and they come together to do sometimes big 90-player orchestra pieces, and sometimes 15-player orchestra pieces, and they deliver every time. I always tell them that they make my job easy.

Jo Reed: Well, yes, they're so well regarded. Other musicians can't praise them enough. It was named Musical America’s 2016 Ensemble of the Year, the first symphony orchestra to be named such. So, congratulations on that.

Gil Rose: Thank you.

Jo Reed: Can you explain just a little bit more for those of us who don't know all the ins and outs of orchestras, what it means to have an orchestra of freelance musicians?

Gil Rose: Well, the big orchestras, the major symphony orchestras in the country, their players are salaried, they’re employees. My players are freelancers, or independent contractors. So, some years, we've produced as many as seven or eight events, and ten or eleven recordings. In some years, it's been less, depending on what the projects were, and how it all played out. These players are available to come in and play often on fairly short notice, and it's just a flexible model that keeps our employee count down. We run a fairly large organization, by new music standards, on five or six employees.

Jo Reed: You are not just the conductor, you’re also the curator, <laughs> among many other things, but--

Gil Rose: I think actually, one of my titles is also beast of burden.

Jo Reed: <laughs> I’m sure that’s true.

Gil Rise: I think anybody who's listening who's founded an organization can-- I was going to say attest, but maybe sympathize is the right word, when you're the founder, and the artistic planner, and you bring the artistic vision and the executive vision as far as administration, and you just wear all the hats. It's a double-edged sword in that it's a lot of work, but it also gives me the ability to not just pick artistic things to do, and deliver them, but to also plan the structure of how the group works, and grows, or even, in some cases, shrinks. During the pandemic, we were, of course, like everybody else, doing less, and that was a natural thing for us to do, because we didn't have a lot of fixed costs in how we operate the organization. So, running it both from an artistic standpoint and an administrative standpoint is just what I do.

Jo Reed: I'm curious, it's twenty-five years in, you have a name, people know what BMOP is. But when you first began, how did you find composers? How did you reach out to them? What was that process like?

Gil Rose: Well, the good news on that front is that when it becomes known that you're an orchestra, not a small or new music group, but an actual symphony orchestra, performing living composers, and recording their works as part of the mission, you don't have to find them, they find you. So, there's been a long-term relationship with, at this point, hundreds of composers, both established, iconic American masters, and also up and comers. We've had the pleasure of both dealing with some of the most important musical voices in America, and some that will someday be the most musically important voices in America, and everything in between. So, yeah, finding composers has never been the problem.

Jo Reed: The orchestra's rare in that it records a lot of what it performs through its own label, BMOP Sound, which you also founded, of course. So, why was this important to you?

Gil Rose: Well, I think one of the realities about new music orchestra compositions, new compositions for orchestra, is that they often get played once and then never again. Big orchestras will commission new music, and they're doing it more and more actually, than they did when I first started BMOP. But often that means one performance or three performances on a subscription weekend, and then many, many, many pieces, and many by famous composers, never see a second performance run. So, one of the reasons I think that is is that they've not entered the canon in a way, and I always felt that if we were going to take the time, and energy, and finances to produce a piece of orchestral music that hadn't been played in thirty-five years, that would be irresponsible to not record it as a professional studio recording for preservation, and for dissemination. Only so many people can come to one of our concerts, but by recording this music at the same time, or recording after the performances in the studio sessions, we have preserved pieces that would otherwise be lost, and some of them lost forever. That's a unique thing we do, and it gives us both pride, and pleasure, and distinguishes us, too. A lot of orchestras in the world now have started their own labels, but  maybe other than the London Symphony, BMOP Sound has more titles released than any major orchestra in the country on its own label. We're approaching our 100th release. They're all world premiere recordings, or composer-centric CDs. If there's anything that distinguishes us, that's because we're doing something that nobody's doing, and it just resonates with our mission.

Jo Reed: Well, as though you aren't doing enough, you decided you needed to do more, and you founded Odyssey Opera. Can you tell me what Odyssey Opera--

Gil Rise: Are you sensing a pattern here?

Jo Reed: I am.

Gil Rose: Yes <laughs>.

Jo Reed: I am. I'm not even touching your freelance <laughs> career. So, what is Odyssey's mission, and what did you want it to add to the music you were already creating in Boston?

Gil Rose: Right. Well, Odyssey is similar to BMOP, in that it's dedicated to performing and recording things that aren't normally played. If the orchestra world is playing the same twenty-five or thirty pieces over and over again, with some random exceptions here and there, the opera world's an even worse example of that phenomenon. This time of year, when all the American opera companies announce their next season, I see the same 12 operas over, and over, and over again. For me, I could never understand it, and I think that opera companies are sort of creating their own corner that they can't get out of, because they're training their audiences to expect “Carmen”, “La Bohème”, “Don Giovanni”, and 10 other operas. When they present something that doesn't fit that mold, it doesn't sell well for them, they don't get good attendance, and so they double down the next year, and don't make that mistake again. What Odyssey’s attempted to do is to do none of those operas, to do operas that were part of the canon, and slipped from the canon, and revive them, and show that the operatic kaleidoscope of sounds and stories is much, much more colorful than we think it is. So, that's what Odyssey's mission is. BMOP's mission is to do things within the last 100 years. Odyssey doesn't have that time restriction, so we can do baroque opera, which we've done quite a bit of, or contemporary opera. It's not a time specific restraint, it's rather a repertoire. I won't say restrictive, but there's an opportunity to do all sorts of repertoire that needs to be brought before the public again.

Jo Reed: Well, you weren't kidding around. Its debut was the six-hour long production of Wagner's “Rienzi”. I mean, that was bold <laughter>.

Gil Rose: Bold would be one word you could use, yeah. You only get to launch a company once. So, we decided to do a concert performance of Wagner's third opera, “Rienzi”, which is an opera, in the French grand opera tradition, with marches, and giant choruses, and a 30-minute ballet, and we did it in concert. But if you do all of it that's known to still exist, it's about a six-hour event. So, we did it. We did act one and two, and then took a dinner break and came back for the rest, acts three, four, and five. It was a thrilling thing to do, and I think, we're not 100% sure, but it may have been the only complete performance of “Rienzi” ever done in the Western Hemisphere, and we're not sure if it might’ve been the only complete performance of “Rienzi” since its premiere.

<pause in thought>

Gil Rose: So, yes, we don't have a lot of small ideas.

Jo Reed: Yeah <laughter>. So, can we talk about the process of programming BMOP and Odyssey? They do productions together, so how do you integrate these seasons? Because not everything is together.

Gil Rose: Yeah, right. If Odyssey's doing Verdi, we don't do it with BMOP. But if we're doing a 20th century American work, we pull forces and often participate. In recent years, especially coming out of the pandemic, we've managed to cooperate quite a bit. How do we program? BMOP has this agenda of 95% American music written within the last 100 years, could be something from 1924, or 2023. It's in a rather large window, but it's generally all American and composer kind of focused. So, the concerts come around composer ideas or styles of composers. Whereas Odyssey has been getting some notoriety for building thematic seasons. So, we'll pick a season and do-- I'm thinking of the-- some of the past seasons, we did a whole opera season based on the stories about the Tudors, as in Henry the 8th, the Tudors, and we filled it out with five operas. That was the one that got interrupted by the pandemic, but we've also done seasons about historical characters, like Joan of Arc, or even musical ideas, like when the Gounod bicentenary came, I didn't notice very many American companies even acknowledge it in any way. We did a little mini season of Gounod operas called Gounodyssey. So, we're into the themes, and we get a lot of good feedback, and it does, I think, like BMOP’s recording activities for Odyssey, the thematic seasons sort of distinguish us and give us an  identity.

Jo Reed: All right, here's the question I have. You have this idea, “I want to start an orchestra.” That's great. What did you actually do to begin this? How do you start?

Gil Rose: Yeah--

Jo Reed: How did you start?

Gil Rose: Well, it was a long time ago, and it was way before the internet had kicked in. So, I was newly arrived in Boston and didn't really know many people. I was trying to reach out and connect with people, and I thought “I'm going to start something,” because I, quite frankly, didn't have anything to do. So, I came up with this idea about an orchestra with an alternative model, and then I started telling people about it. One of the things I did at the very beginning was I <laughs> actually put an ad in the want ads, and I <laughs> described the orchestra and asked if anybody was interested in being part of it. A couple people replied, and to this day, one of them is still one of my best friends, and also still plays in the orchestra. So, I just put feelers out and started talking to composers, which there were no shortage of here in Boston, and got a concert together and went from there.

Jo Reed: Okay, so, now, second question is how do you sustain BMOP and now Odyssey? I mean, we all know the larger musical institutions have a repertoire of recognized European classical pieces for a reason, because they know that that's going to pay the bills. So, where do you find first, the money, and then also the audience for contemporary work?

Gil Rose: Right. Well, the money is a reality and a critical reality. When I started this, I had never formed a non-profit, or an orchestra, or an opera company, and I'd never asked anybody for money, and I'd never written a grant proposal. I'd never done any of those things. Necessity is the mother of invention. So we wanted to do this orchestra and I started figuring it out. I had a lot of help from a lot of people, and piece by piece, we put it together. To this day, twenty-five years later, a Grammy Award, the Musical America-- everything, fundraising is no easier than it was when I started. The organization's bigger, and it's a hungry beast which needs feeding, and we work at feeding it every day. The difference between, I think, what we do, or what a lot of organizations like BMOP do, is our fundraising efforts have a certain sense of missionary work. We are out about an idea, and most people who work in the arts will tell you that raising money is no fun, but I will say that if you're raising money for something you believe in, it's not as egregious a task, and it also is something that people respond to. Because if you're talking about something that needs to happen for artistic development and growth, people understand that, and they sense your passion and your commitment to it, and that's how things move and flow. So, a large part of my day is about money.

Jo Reed: You've received quite a few grants from the arts endowment, and I'm curious what they have allowed you to do as an organization?

Gil Rose: Well, I'm not sure what year exactly was our first NEA application and grant, but I would imagine it was around 1999 or 2000, and we've received support not every year since then, but almost every year, for a variety of projects, from commissioning, to recording, to performing--- a couple dozen successful applications. The support has been integral and critical for our development and bringing these things from conception to the finish line. It's an endorsement and a seal of approval. Yes, we often lead with that <laughs> fact. Yeah, because especially with the track record we have, of consistent support for a variety of projects, it's a great endorsement. The NEA’s been a great partner over all these years.

Jo Reed: All right, there's the money raising part of running two organizations, or three, actually, and the grants, and writing the grants. But then there's all the music permissions and dealing with contracts, and all of that, which just from what little I do with music permissions, is just the biggest pain.

Gil Rose: I'm not going to argue with you <laughs>.

Jo Reed: Yeah. I mean, in the beginning, you didn't have a staff for that. I'm assuming it was just you. So, getting your arms around that really is almost a job in and of itself.

Gil Rose: Yeah, I should say that over the years we've had great staff. I learned along the way, and in many cases, they've learned along the way too. Sometimes having less people doing things is better than having more. I know that seems anti-intuitive or counterintuitive. We do work with some other labels, and they're bigger entities, and they have a lot of staff, and I think sometimes my staff is like <laughs> “Why do they have so many people to do my job?” But there's an efficiency that comes from a small staff that gets lost in the big staff. I've just had excellent help and dedicated people who really put their shoulders into it, and think creatively. I think it goes back to the word “Project”, it's a work in process.

Jo Reed: I want to know a little bit more about you. Tell me where you were born and raised?

Gil Rose: I was born in South Side Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I grew up about 40 miles to the southeast of Pittsburgh in a little town called Latrobe, Pennsylvania, which has a famous resident, well known probably to the NEA and audiences everywhere. My neighbor was Mr. Rogers--

Jo Reed: Oh wow.

Gil Rose: -and I grew up in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. Yeah, so I was there, and the other famous resident of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, was Arnold Palmer. So, I had a golf club in my hand, and Mr. Rogers on the television in all my upbringing. But then I left there after high school and lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a while, and in Europe for a while, and back to Pittsburgh for graduate school, and then ended up in Boston. I've been here since 1994.

Jo Reed: How did music figure in your life when you were a kid growing up?

Gil Rose: I benefited from a strong public school music program, and I played in the band, and sang in the chorus, and was part of all the musical activity of a fairly large school district. I come from an avocational musical family who enjoyed music, my father's side especially, and it was just sort of in the air. When I got to participate in ensembles, and choirs, and orchestras, and bands, realized that there was something in that that resonated with me. It's funny, it all comes full circle. I can remember, I was telling this story to somebody yesterday, because we're about to launch into a recording project with a very recognized and distinguished American composer, Joe Schwantner, and I was talking to him the other day and it made me remember that sometime in the 8th or 9th grade, I had gone <laughs> to a summer music camp, and I didn't know anything, or anybody, or I didn't know certainly who Joseph Schwantner was. I was at the three-week camp at the University of West Virginia in Morgantown, West Virginia, and the RA in our floor in the dorm, I had some reason to knock on his door, and this music was coming out of it, and he showed me the score for a piece called “Aftertones of Infinity”, which blew my mind open. I never had heard anything like that, or seen anything like that. This fall, we'll make a commercial recording of that piece with the composer there. So, it's been quite a journey that's been driven by a love of ideas, and repertoire, and sound worlds, and it's given me an amazing life.

Jo Reed: You mentioned the organization being composer-centric, and I'd like you to tease that out a little bit more. Let's talk about how the composers, and I'm assuming especially visiting composers, work with the orchestra, how you collaborate with them?

Gil Rose: So, I just finished a recording project a few days ago, a big opera project with a very famous American composer, John Corigliano, and Mark Adamo, who was the librettist for the opera, “The Lord of Cries”. We did a concert performance and recording, but John was up here on two occasions to do mixing for the recording, and at one point we were in the car, headed somewhere, and he said “What's it like with all the composers you work with? Do they work like me?” I said “No, none of them are the same.” They're all different, and they all interact with me as conductor, or producer of a recording, or a concert, in a different way. Some are very hands off, some are very hands on. Like any person, they have their own idiosyncrasies, and that adventure, interacting with all these interesting and great musical minds, has been an education about people, and what they desire, and what motivates them, and how they think. There's no end to the fascinations that come out of that. They still keep coming and I learn something new every time I work with a different composer, and it's been almost 100% positive <laughs>. Not quite 100%, but it's been a great honor, and really, when times get tough, and there's challenges, and you have to fight through stuff, I think about those moments, that I got the opportunity to not only just meet, but to engage in the process of bringing the vision of gifted thinkers to the public, and to preserve it, in many ways, for posterity. So, yeah, I probably have dealt with, well, at this point, hundreds of composers, and no one of them is like the other.

Jo Reed: Well, one I would like to talk about is Andrew Norman, whose work “Play” you commissioned, and also recorded. You raised the money for that recording through a Kickstarter campaign?

Gil Rose: Kickstarter was part of it. It's far enough back that they all sort of get a little murky in my mind, <laughs> actually, how they came into being. But there was a Kickstarter that was part of that. There was a lot of individual donors too, I think, and some foundational support. That was a piece that got a lot of recognition. Andrew was starting to be known in a composer’s circle, and we kind of found out about him before that, and he was in a residency with us for two years, three years. One of the things that went with the residency was to commission a piece, and the objective of the commission was we were very dedicated to commissioning, and still are, substantial orchestra pieces, meaning not short and not small. Many of the opportunities composers get with big orchestras are to write what I call the snappy new music opener. So, they get a 12-minute piece at max, half of a rehearsal, and it gets played, and that’s sort of it. We wanted to go back and get commissions of pieces that took the whole second half of the concert, where they were the main course of a concert. So, Andrew's piece, “Play”, was one of those, and I think it's forty-six minutes. It's a big piece, and, yeah, it was a wild ride to get to the performance, and the recording, and then the recognition, I think it was in The New Yorker. I think the piece was described as the most important orchestra piece written in the 21st century.


It was all different after that. But I will tell a funny story about that, which is this very loud and famous piece which we just repeated at Carnegie Hall a couple months ago. It's been the apple of the composer's world's eye since it was written. It was a very small audience that night when we premiered it, and I'm just very thankful that we were able to make a commercial recording, because that's where the piece started to get its legs. It’s been played all over the world by big orchestras and famous conductors, and if we hadn't managed the recording it would’ve had that one performance for a small audience in Boston on a rainy, rainy night, and that would’ve been it.

Jo Reed: Who is your audience, Gil?

Gil Rose: Boy, that's a good question that I'm not sure I have an answer for. Our audience is rather eclectic. Since we do so many thematic programs, often we’ll draw people who have an interest in that theme. For example,some years ago, we did a concert, as a memorial concert, for Toru Takemitsu’s death, and they were all pieces either by Takemitsu, or written in honor of Takemitsu, or somehow connected to Takemitsu. We worked very deeply with the Japanese community here, with the Japanese consulate in Boston, and we had a big crowd, and a lot of the people in the audience were Japanese, who would not have come to a BMOP concert otherwise. Now, the next concert we did, which had a different theme, most of them, didn't come back. But some of them did, and what we've been able to-- basically by doing this, is attracting an audience for an idea and then holding onto some percentage of them, sometimes small, but you build up enough of those events and you've got your own core constituency. So, we have this kind of strange eclectic brew of an audience of our own making. We don't have a big marketing presence. I don't really want to spend money on that, when I can spend it on composers and recordings, but we have a loyal fan base. It's funny because partially our audiences, some of the people in our audience have never even been to a BMOP concert. Because of the active and involved recording agenda, many people know us and are very dedicated to us, and some of them are donors and financial supporters, some of them have never been to a BMOP concert. But they know us through the recording work we do, which it can be delivered to their computer in a split second.

Jo Reed: I want to talk about one of your current projects. You've begun a five-year initiative called “As Told By”, and that's commissioning, and premiering, and recording opera works by black composers, about black figures. The first one—which received a grant from the Arts Endowment-- premiered last year, “X”, by Anthony Davis. Tell us a little bit about the impetus behind this initiative and how you chose the operas you did?

Gil Rose: Well, the impetuses kind of came from two angles, I think. So, this is a program to do five operas by black American composers about black historical subjects, and they all happen to have some kind of connection to Boston. That wasn't a motivator, but it turned out to work out that way. But it really started because 20 years ago, I was advocating with a prior opera company that I had worked with and helped to run, called Opera Boston, to do a performance of Anthony Davis's “Life and Times of Malcolm X”. It didn't happen for whatever-- I can't remember exactly why it didn't happen, but it didn't come onto the stage, and I'd been trying to find a way to do this opera for quite a while, because I thought it was one of the great American operas. That had just been on my desk, trying to find a moment to be done, and at the same time, I got very interested in an opera by another black American composer named Ulysses Kay, who had written an opera about Frederick Douglass, which had also had an initial performance in 1992, or something, and disappeared. Got a less than positive review from the New York Times, and nobody touched it after that. But I knew about it, I knew Ulysses Kay’s music, and so these operas were kind of in my consciousness about something I'd like to do. There's dozens and hundreds, maybe hundreds of them, that are there now in my brain about what could be done in the future, but they were just kind of banging around in my head. I realized that “Oh, wait, they have something in common.” It was just the authors, the subjects, and that they also both had had initial moments and disappeared. Then I sensed a theme, <laughs> as I often do, and I started filling out the idea, and I started to pitch it to foundations, and we received money, and we started going. So, we've produced the first one and made the recording, as we always do, or try to almost always do, and was a Grammy nominee, and we're now onto the second one, which will be done next summer, June of ‘24, which is Nkeiru Okoye’s opera, “Harriet Tubman”.

Jo Reed: “As Told By” also brings educational programs to Boston public schools, and you do this in partnership with Castle of Our Skins. I had interviewed Ashleigh Gordon, who's the artistic director of Castle of Our Skins, back in 2021. How did you guys join forces, and what's the hope behind the educational component?

Gil Rose: Well, Ashleigh actually plays in BMOP. She's one of our viola players, and so I knew Ash, and once this idea of what operas would be done, it was obvious that this whole project should be done with a big effort towards community outreach, and audience development, and educational programs. So, I knew what Ash did, and I knew how excellent she was at all the work that Castle of Our Skins does, and we talked, and we were partnering on this going forward. So, it's nice because we don't have to reinvent any wheels. They're expert at community engagement, and education programs. So, as in the word “Project”, we found a way to draw outside the lines, and just partner in a way that advances both organizations and benefits the community.

Jo Reed: I know this year, your twenty-fifth anniversary, you had your debut at Carnegie Hall to glowing reviews by the New York Times. I wonder what that experience was like for you, and for the musicians?

Gil Rose: Well, it was a long day, <laughter>  I went down the day before, but the orchestra came down on buses the morning of the concert. We went into a dress rehearsal in the afternoon, and had a dinner break, and played the concert. It was quick experience, but very, very gratifying, and I think I'm not out of turn in saying that it really gave the players in the orchestra a sense of pride and accomplishment, and it didn't hurt to get a rave review from the New York Times about the concert, and we're hoping to go back. There is no group like BMOP in the country, and we're happy to take it to the country <laughs> too, not just Boston.

Jo Reed: Looking back over this quarter century of the musical work you did, what's brought you the most joy?

Gil Rose: Wow, oh my. Now, what an interesting-- what's really brought me the most joy? I don't know that there's been all that many epiphanies of that kind of joy. But sometimes the joy comes at unexpected moments. I think that getting up in the morning and doing this thing, what drives me is what gives me the most joy in the knowledge, and in some cases it's specific, and some cases it's cumulative. But having the knowledge that we did something, that if we hadn't done it and put all of the blood, sweat, and tears into making it happen, it would’ve never happened, and our public understanding and discourse about music would’ve been diminished without its existence. An example of that would be-- well, there's many examples of it, just one that pops in my mind because it was a big, big, huge concert, was on our 20th  anniversary, we topped it all off with a big concert performance and recording of David Del Tredici's work, “Child Alice”, which is a two hour orchestral musical extravaganza par excellence. That piece is at the core of what American music is. Only part of that piece had ever been recorded, and the whole thing needed to be known and heard in full. It wasn't easy, but we made it happen, and knowing that that and two dozen other projects like that came into being because of what we did gives me the most joy.

Jo Reed: Finally, Gil, what can we look forward to from BMOP and from Odyssey?

Gil Rose: Surprises <laughter>.

Jo Reed: Good answer.

Gil Rose: Well, yeah, there's so many things in the pipeline. Coming out of the pandemic, I've been using the analogy that the pandemic was like an earthquake, and though the earthquake’s over, the aftershocks are still rumbling, and will continue to rumble. They'll get weaker and more far apart, but a lot of things that we were planning to do around the twenty-fifth anniversary were pandemic interrupted. So, there's a lot of rescheduling to do, a lot of commissions coming, a lot of recording projects that are all done but haven't been released yet, and there's more and more coming. I hope we can continue to do this work.

Jo Reed: Well, congratulations on twenty-five years, and here's to the next twenty-five, yes?

Gil Rose: Well, I don't know if I have twenty-five in me, but at least let's say maybe the next ten. Thank you, it was a pleasure to be here.

Jo Reed: Thank you, it was a pleasure to have you. Thanks.

 That was Gil Case the conductor, founder, and artistic director of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project or BMOP, its recording platform BMOP/sound and Odyssey Opera. We’ll have links to it all in our show notes. You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. We’d love to know your thoughts—email us at And follow us wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a rating on Apple, it helps other people who love the arts to find us. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed—and thanks for listening.

Gil Rose is a conductor and  the founder and artistic director of the performing and recording ensemble the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), which is dedicated exclusively to commissioning, performing, and recording music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and Odyssey Opera which is dedicated to performing lesser-known older operas as well as contemporary new works. Rose is also the founder of BMOP/Sound, BMOP’s independent record label, which was created in 2008 to provide a platform for BMOP’s (and then Odyssey’s) extensive archive of music. 

In this podcast, Gil Rose shares his motivation behind starting BMOP( which is celebrating its 25th anniversary) and his desire  to create a musically interesting and worthwhile project focused on contemporary music and focused on the dynamic between composers, performers, and the audience. Rose discusses his emphasis on flexibility and collaboration with other arts organizations and creating a great orchestra with exceptional free-lance musicians—a decision that allows BMOP to perform a wide range of repertoire, from 90-player orchestra pieces to smaller ensembles. Rose also talks about the critical aspect of fundraising and the challenges of sustaining BMOP and Odyssey, and the importance of grants, particularly those received from the National Endowment for the Arts which have provided integral support for a variety of projects, and whose endorsement acts as a seal of approval and often helps in raising money from other sources. Gil Rose also discusses the "As Told By" initiative, a five-year project commissioning, premiering, and recording opera works by black composers about black historical subjects. (The first opera premiered was "X:The Life and Times of Malcolm X" by Anthony Davis; the second scheduled for 2024 will be “Harriet Tubman” by Nkeiru Okoye—both received grants from the Arts Endowment.) And finally, Rose reflects on BMOP's 25th anniversary, their many collaborations and partnerships, their debut at Carnegie Hall, which received glowing reviews from The New York Times and what’s on the road ahead. Let us know what you think about Art Works—email us at And follow us on Apple Podcasts!