Christina Fong

Visit Christina Fong's Web Site

Some music works better live. Some music works better on recording.

Though nothing is ever completely tangible in terms of what is "better," I do have strong feelings and opinions about this. I am in no way suggesting certain types of music only be performed live while others only be recorded, for I believe recordings and performances are, in a strange way, mutually dependent on each other.

This opinion has existed in my mind for a number of years, but last month it became much more vivid. The Grand Rapids Symphony performed a concert of Glass's "The Light" and Reich's "Three Movements for Orchestra." It was the first time either composer had been programmed on a major classical concert series here. I am often much more inclined to listen to CDs of Glass's music than Reich's (although ironically, right at the moment I'm listening to Reich).

I think I can honestly assess that both music director David Lockington and the musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony put forth an earnest effort, however, I feel the lack of programming this type of music in the past was quite evident in the performance. It wasn't an issue of accuracy but that of a missing innate feel for the music. With Glass, I believe there must be an inherent effortlessness for it to sound expressive, whereas the Reich requires intense effort. Glass needs to be played perfectly without effort, whereas Reich needs that extra effort/energy required for perfection. While linguistically this seems like splitting hairs, in execution the two concepts are polar opposites in every respect.

"The Light" is a beautiful piece, especially on recording, but similar to the Bach suites for cello in my opinon. Unless performed nearly perfect, in every respect; and not just mechanics, but also effortlessness, expressiveness, equilibrium and inherent knowledge of the piece, it just does not "come off" live. The beauty is not there. The result is either boring or over the top. The Reich, on the other hand, lacks something on recording. Yet live, even if not perfect, is quite exciting.

One final thought. Musicians, music directors, music historians and critics often lump these 2 composers together as if they are from the same mold. I hope we don't have to wait for a half a century to pass before it is common belief that Glass and Reich are about as different as Stravinsky and Varese.