Archive for the “Philip Glass” Category

Glass

Cello Concerto No. 1

Wendy Sutter, cello

Orchestra of the Americas, Dante Anzolini

Orange Mountain Music

 

Philip Glass has been writing many concerti lately, beginning with his Violin Concerto in the late 80′s. That piece, while it has its limits, is pleasant enough to listen to and has a few really good moments. Glass’ first cello concerto, while admirably performed by Wendy Sutter and the Orchestra of the Americas under Dante Anzolini, is painful for me to listen to. It’s kitchy, cliched, and had this come from anyone other than a famous composer, would likely be dismissed as crap by most people, if they even bothered to listen to it.

Glass has done many great things, particularly in the 70′s and early 80′s, so perhaps it’s unrealistic to assume any composer can keep churning out great works into old age, especially when composing at a prodigious, almost superhuman pace. But then I think of Feldman, whose music only got better with age, and Feldman wrote more than one hundred works, many of which are substantially long, so there goes my hypothesis.

For people who love anything and everything PG writes, this will be a must-have. For others, this will be an “avoid at all costs” album. Seriously-what is it with the “giants” of minimalism these days? I recently heard an album of John Adams, containing his string quartet, and was hesitant to review it since I just couldn’t say anything positive about it. I wouldn’t normally have reviewed this album since, like Glass’s recent opera Kepler that I also thought to review, I’d prefer not to write anything bad regarding another composer’s releases. But Glass just keeps churning them out, even more than Adams, and aside from a few diamonds in the rough, most of the output is underwhelming at best, dreck at worst. This album, to me, is the latter. I am glad Glass evolved and didn’t keep writing Music in Twelve Parts, version 100 or something like that, much as I revere Music in Twelve Parts. None of us want to keep writing the same crap. But in many ways, Glass is writing the same crap, just the crap he’s been writing for the past decade, and it’s getting tiring and very disappointing. As much as I might not have liked WTC 9/11, at least it has some glimmers of engaging writing, and other recent works by Reich have been quite good. I can almost predict that the next release by either Glass or Adams will not be anything that I care to listen to. Their edge is gone, and they’ve become more than conventional, even old-fashioned. There is little in Glass’s cello concerto that couldn’t have passed for acceptable American music had it been written in the 1950′s. That’s sad.

Glass: Piano Etudes (arr. for Steel Drums)

NYU Steel

Orange Mountain Music

 

Of all of Glass’ recent works, the piano etudes are at least pretty good. I have more than one recording of them, and they stand up pretty well. Innovative they aren’t, but at least there are parts that recycle some of Glass’ better harmonies from the past, so they work for me.

This is an interesting recording in that it takes Glass’ Etudes for Piano and arranges them for a steel drum ensemble. I love steel drums. That said, while noble in intent, after becoming very familiar with the original scoring for piano solo, the steel drum version seems jarring. It’s sort of like how Reich’s Violin Phase when arranged for electric guitar (Electric Guitar Phase) becomes more disturbing than necessary since it’s so different from the original scoring. Rescorings can work well, and be very interesting. A scoring of Glass’ etudes might work well for strings, for example. I’m just not convinced steel drums are the way to go for this set of pieces, but I do give NYU Steel high marks for their expert performance and initiative in recording this.

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Glassworks (live in concert at Le Poisson Rouge)

Signal, featuring Michael Riesman and conducted by Brad Lubman


Kepler

Soloists and Chorus of the Landestheater Linz

Bruckner Orchester Linz

Dennis Russell Davies

Orange Mountain Music

When Glassworks, Philip Glass’s first release on a major label (CBS Masterworks) came out in 1982, many of us felt it was the beginning of the end, a sellout to get his music heard by a larger audience, consisting of small snippets of his music that paled compared with the incredible music he wrote for Satyagraha, Einstein on the Beach, Music with Changing Parts, etc.

All of that is true.

However, Glassworks is still good to listen to, has some nice moments, and I’ve always wished Glass had kept the Islands movement going much longer-it ends just as it really hits its groove. And very importantly, Glassworks is still far, far better, in my opinion, than much of the music Glass has written in the past decade.

Other than being remastered for listening on a Sony Walkman, Glassworks has never really been recorded or performed in its entirety outside of that initial CBS Masterworks release. Individual movements, most notably Facades, get performed and recorded individually from time to time. But this album, recorded live at the NYC performance venue Le Poisson Rouge, represents the first time Glassworks has been performed (in an arrangement) in its entirety by a group that is not the Philip Glass Ensemble.

When I first listened to this album, I was greatly disappointed. The miking and mastering, which is a consequence no doubt of this being a live performance, seemed to make the music seem cluttered; it is hard to hear all the individual lines in Floe, for example, and the bass lines just get lost at times. There is no question that this music benefits from recording and all the nuances that go into the mixing and mastering processes.

But in many ways, this is also a great album, in that it confirms that live musicians can indeed perform continuous music without the major gaposis that usually arises in live performances, even those by the Philip Glass Ensemble. I was actually blown away, having heard many live performances of Glass’s music in which performers drop out to breathe or even get lost in the myriad of notes streaming without break. This performance by Signal is nothing short of incredible; they don’t get lost, and their winds seem to be able to play without the need for room air. I’ll have to remember that each time I get told my own music for winds/brass is unplayable except by those rare performers who can circular breathe.

The inclusion of Glass’s early, and wonderful, Music in Similar Motion, is welcome. While it lacks some of the frenetic energy found of Glass’s early Chatham Square release that is still the definitive version, Signal’s performance, a few minutes longer than that of Glass’s ensemble, works well. I prefer it to the performance by Alter Ego on their Glass album from a few years ago.

So all in all, Glassworks, as performed live by Signal, is a worthwhile album for anyone interested in Glass’s music.

As mentioned, Glassworks could be looked at as a transition away from the longer repetitive works of the 60′s, 70′s and early 80′s. Kepler, Glass’s 23rd opera, almost bears no relation to his earlier music except for the trademark syncopations and arpeggiations. Kepler really strikes me as more of an oratorio-there are really no main characters outside of Kepler, and as for plot and drama-look elsewhere. Just as Einstein on the Beach seemed to push the definition of “opera” to its limits, so does Kepler. The music is interesting at times, but truthfully, could just not keep me that interested very long. It struck me as many of Glass’s recent operas do-a few interesting ideas here and there, but nothing earthshaking. Unlike Satyagraha or even the somewhat weaker Akhnaten, there is little here that I find truly memorable. But then, it’s hard to get particularly passionate about an opera about an astronomer/scientist lecturing about his theories and findings. I love listening to great scientists lecture, but most of their work just doesn’t lend itself to a musical setting. As much as I’d love to see someone dramatize Chandasekhar’s dismissal by the noted British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington or the discovery of transposable genetic elements by Barbara McClintock, I’m just not sure these things are ready for their realization as operas. In some ways, I even think Glass’s earlier opera, The Making of the Representative for Planet 8, has more memorable moments, and that work is not up to his previous standards, I think.

Kepler, performed very devotedly by extremely talented musicians from Linz, Germany, doesn’t suffer from a halfhearted realization. This group, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, clearly in enthusiastic about Glass’s recent music, and that’s a good thing. But after 23 operas, I think Glass’s formula has gotten stale. He’s become the Haydn of the opera world, perhaps. True, there is some more prominent use of percussion in this opera, but if the best thing one can say is “Wow-he’s using percussion to a larger degree,” then there’s a problem.


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Time CurveTime Curve

Music by Philip Glass and William Duckworth

Bruce Brubaker, piano

Arabesque Recordings

Six Etudes for Piano – Philip Glass (original 1994 version)

The Time Curve Preludes, Book I – William Duckworth

Bruce Brubaker has assembled strong performances of attractive solo piano music on this recording.  The Glass etudes are a kind of “Glass concentrate” to my ears: all the harmony and rhythm but few (if any) timbral changes and developments.  Mr. Brubaker plays these works with a fair amount of rubato and feeling, something that others might shun in the face of such minimalist compositions.  These recordings are much more reverberant and meditative than the recordings on Orange Mountain Music.  

Mr. Brubaker’s work on the Duckworth preludes is similar in interpretation to the Glass.  There is more of an emphasis on ringing sound and a distance from the piano than, say, the Bruce Neely recording.  The overall affect of Mr. Brubaker’s recording is more of a watercolor smear instead of crisp Mondriaan lines.  I don’t mean that as a negative statement.  Brubaker’s sound is warm and comforting, letting me revel in the harmonic arpeggiations of each piece.  Listening to this disc, I get a better sense of what Mr. Brubaker sounds like in concert as opposed to in a studio.  I see this as a positive thing.

I like that Bruce Brubaker is able to draw a different sound out of these same pieces.  Instead of hearing a machine play the music, you hear a person interpret the score.  Mr. Brubaker has found his own path through these pieces and I find his path quite listenable.

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In the Upper Room
Philip Glass
? Performers conducted by Michael Riesman

Orange Mountain Music

I had the original LP of Glass’ album Dancepieces, which had five of the the nine dances from the Twyla Tharp collaboration In the Upper Room. It was a decent album, although I think it heralded a lot of the decline in originality and quality of Glass’ music that pretty much started with Glassworks and The Photographer. The original LP of Dancepieces included a fair amount of synthesizers, which isn’t a bad thing, but for this new release, Glass elected to present the complete series of nine dances and all for acoustic instruments.

One thing I resent about this album is the lack of mention of any of the performers. All I can say is that it is an ensemble conducted by Michael Riesman. It would be nice to list the musicians. I think it’s pretty safe to say it isn’t the Philip Glass Ensemble.

To be honest, the differences in sound from the original synthesizer-heavy recording isn’t as great as I would have imagined. It’s interesting to hear the dances that were omitted from the earlier recording, but none of them are particularly revelatory. It’s an ok album, especially for Glass fanatics, but if you really want to hear some great music by Glass, check out pretty much anything written before his masterpiece Satyagraha.

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GLASS BOX: Music by Philip Glass. 10 CD Nonesuch. (Sony Classical; Orange Mountain Music; Virgin, Shandar)

Philip Glass piano, keyboards,: The Philip Glass Ensemble, Michael Riesman, keyboards, music director; Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra; Vienna Radio Symphony; Bruckner Orchester Linz; American Composers Orchestra, Dennis Russell Davies, conductor, various vocal soloists; New York City Opera Orchestra, Christopher Keene. conductor, various vocal soloists; English Chamber Orchestra, Michael Riesman, Harry Rabinowitz, conductors; various film studio orchestras with members of The PGE and The Western Wind Vocal Ensemble;conducted by Michael Riesman; Kronos Quartet – David Harrington; John Sherba, violins; Hank Dutt, viola; Joan Jeanrenaud, cello; Lyric Quartet.

Philip Glass is so ubiquitous and successful that’s it’s easy to take him for granted and stop listening. Sure, he repeats, uses arpeggios, broken chords, minor modes/keys, and his style is instantly identifiable and frequently copied. But he’s always been interested in re-inventing himself and he’s changed the rules of his game by putting himself into unknown situations with other artists, or forms, and sometimes both at once. The fruits of several seminal collaborations with theatre director Robert Wilson — -EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH (1975), and film director Godfrey Reggio — KOYAANISQATSI (1983) are in this with essays and appreciations 40 year retrospective set. But there’s a kicker. Glass frequently works with visual artists, or artists from theatre or film, but the CD only format can’t show how his music works with images. Yet it does show how arresting his music is as sound, and those who think he hasn’t changed, developed, or matured are in for a shock or a revelation.

The early works (1969- 70) on the eponymously titled disc one were shocking to some and a revelation to others when first performed. Glass threw the academic rule book out the window, but kept what he learned from Nadia Boulanger – the music of the classic masters was both logical and inevitable — and that sense of inevitable logic certainly drives these works here. The carefully added lines in MUSIC IN SIMILAR MOTION (1969) are like a mural you have to walk with in order to see, and its development is just as planned as the nearly hour long 1970 MUSIC WITH CHANGING PARTS – 45 minutes here – in which Glass let his musicians play and sing pitches they heard in its intricate overlapping parts which I think reflects his rarely remarked on before India encounter with the rhythmic patterning of Moroccan ritual music where drones and simple shifting counts – there are frequent contrasts between 2 and 3 and multiples thereof – become the building blocks for something very complex.

These early works grew in complexity as Glass’ musical language developed , but their complexity has nothing to do with the serial method in vogue when they were written. That was tied to the dialectical view of history as a kind of conflict resolution process, which starts as thesis, moves on to antithesis, and culminates in synthesis. These pieces function outside of history, or rather within their own idea of history and time.

Glass decided to confront that subject head on in the massive yet ingeniously varied MUSIC IN 12 PARTS (1971-74) [ disc two ] which is, in some almost dialectical way the culmination of his minimalist period. Or as Glass told me ” My idea was to write a piece that was like a catalog, a kind of grand compendium of all the ideas I had worked out”¦ and I tried to find ways of linking an overall harmonic structure to an overall rhythmic structure to produce a kind of (laughs) unified field theory of music. ” Time and how it’s perceived is a large part of what it’s about, and Glass has many ways of expanding our sense of it here. Producers Robert Hurwitz, Kurt Munkacsi, and Michael Riesman have chosen parts VII to X so that the listener can experience them as a sequence of developing units and not just bleeding chunks. There’s a lot of variety in Glass’ sometimes circumscribed approach – a full range of contrapuntal devices and rhythms as well as surprising but perfectly logical changes of direction and texture. But you can’t hear the unwritten undertones and overtones which emerge from the overlapping lines, volume, and acoustic properties of the room where it’s played live. And a rare complete performance by the PGE at San Francisco’s Davies Hall 16 Feb 2009 will certainly bring these out. Orange Mountain Music – — has also released a PGE live at Rovereto, Italy, 2006 set of 12 PARTS, which is as thrilling and cogent as this studio one though the tempos are markedly slower in several places.

Glass’ 5 hour ” opera ” with Robert Wilson EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH (1975) – [ disc three ] – is paradoxically more elaborate and simpler than 12 PARTS, as befits a work tailored for and responsive to the exigencies of stage action. These excerpts give a good sense of its shape as well as its intimate – all 5 Knee Plays – and spectacular dimensions – Train 1 and the concluding Spaceship scene. The incisiveness and elegance of the playing and singing defines the character of the piece as I imagine it to be when encountered live – all space, light, movement, décor – aligned with Glass’ strongly varied harmonic and rhythmic densities, though I miss the seat of your pants rawness of the PGE’s Tomato LP . Still it’s wonderful to hear the Prologue from Act V ( Rome Section ) of Wilson’s originally for the 1984 LA Olympics the CIVIL wars (1983) — a beautiful, imaginative, and tremendously moving score with killer bass clarinet solos, which Dennis Russell Davies and his American Composers Orchestra play with heart and soul. But there’s not a note from the Wilson/ Glass – Rumi poems MONSTERS OF GRACE (1997) , which is on OMM.

Three of Glass’ 5 collaborations with Reggio – KOYAANISQATSI (1983) , POWAQQATSI (1987) – [ disc 6 ], and ANIMA MUNDI (1999) [disc 10] are here. KOYAANISQATSI is revered for its fits like a glove marriage of image and sound – the slow moving lines and suspended harmonies in “Organic” and the unsettling altered chords in “Resource” are perfect musical analogues as well as stand alone pieces as are al the others — while Glass’ absorption of world music instruments into his own idiom in POWAQQATSI is striking, but much less known, largely because its distributor, Cannon Films, was going bankrupt when it was released. But the last installment in Reggio’s QATSI trilogy, NAQOYQATSI (2002), with its intricate textures and demanding but perfectly apt writing for cellist Yo Yo Ma – it’s on SONY Classical – sadly didn’t make the cut. But the good news is that all 3 QATSI films have gotten a new lease on life by being performed live with the PGE.

Glass’ orchestra only and orchestra with voices writing , which appears throughout his 8 symphonies. has grown by leaps and bounds. The strings only – violin 1 and 2, violas, cellos, double basses – Symphony # 3 (1995) [ disc nine ] is full of timbral contrasts despite its white on white sound which Stravinsky and Herrmann also exploited in APOLLO (1927) and PSYCHO (1960), and the third movement’s quick assymetrical metres — 7 /8 , 9/8 “¦ are virtuosic and thrilling. The complex rhythmic and harmonic writing for every choir approach of Symphony # 8 (2005), which Dennis Russell Davies and his Bruckner Orchester Linz premiered at BAM on their first US tour in 2005, and play here, is extremely original and subtle. The 8 themes which begin the first movement are closely related yet legible, the second movement passacaglia ventures into strange harmonic waters ala Boulanger’s teacher, Faure, and the third and final one, with its sense of deep and inevitable sorrow, never fails to bring me to tears, whether at BAM, or at home.

Chamber music speaks from the mind and heart , and Glass’ string quartets are clearly letters from home. # 4 (Buczak) (1987) [ disc seven ] , which was commissioned by Geoffrey Hendricks as a memorial to his young artist lover Brian Buczak, who died of AIDS, has an alternately ecstatic, and otherworldly character – the suspended in time middle slow movement – while the first movement’s sostenuto   chords seem to frame a kind of narrative of Buczak, Hendricks and Glass together – they were friends – in a continuously evolving present, which extends to the third and final movement, too. Lots of the writing in # 5 (1991) , with its frequent metric shifts , mercurial changes of texture, and the headlong dive of its chromatic scales in 17/8, at a very fast tempo, is openly virtuosic, and Glass told me he asked David Harrington and Kronos to play it as one thought, which they do, with accuracy and point, in all 3 quartets here. Four of the 10 Etudes for Piano (1994), which Glass wrote for Davies to play, and which Glass does here, are very personal, idiosyncratic and non-didactic additions to this form which Chopin and Debussy enlarged so beautifully before him.

Glass’ use of the orchestra in his Gandhi opera SATYAGRAHA (1979 [ disc five ] is not unlike that of Debussy in PELLEAS Et MELISANDE (1893-1902) , where the orchestra disappears into the music, and being invisible in this way becomes more deeply felt. His wind and string – with one synthesizer – writing evokes a completely unique sound in which the voices seem to flower from the orchestra and vice versa. Tenor Douglas Perry’s Gandhi – he virtually owned the role till Richard Croft sang it at The Met this spring – gives a mellifluous and touching performance, though the miking of alto Rhonda Liss’ Mrs. Alexander, while dramatic alright, is too far forward harsh. But Christopher Keene, sadly dead from AIDS, leads a cogent performance with the New York City Opera Chorus, and his singers in Act III’s extremely exposed sextet make it seem easy as pie.

The text and performance style of Glass’ opera about the heretic king AKHNATEN (1983) [ disc eight ] aim, like the in Sanskrit SATYAGRAHA, at divorcing and /or mirroring action(s) from words. The voice – countertenor Paul Esswood sings the pharaoh – is set within an umbrous ( no violins as in KOYAANISQATSI ) yet continuously shifting orchestral frame, and musical time and scale once again take center stage, in Davies and the Stuttgart State Opera and Chorus’ vigorous and deeply atmospheric account of this monumental yet very personal score.
You get a touch but only a touch of Glass’ wide-ranging efforts in moving pictures – other than his for Reggio — in disc ten, Filmworks, though Nonesuch’s PHLILIP ON FILM gives a better introduction and in depth survey of his work in this form. Still disc four has excerpts from his odd yet enchanting score, ETOLIE POLAIRE , for Francois de Menil and Barbara Rose’s 1977 doc MARK DI SUVERO, SCULPTOR. My favorite has always been ” Are Years What? ( for Marianne Moore ) ” for flute and soprano and tenor saxophone – Dickie Landry , with its startling and refreshing “break ” – rest — midstream. Disc ten is strangely unsastisfying – we don’t get bleeding chunks, but chunks nevertheless of scores both famous and obscure. But who could ever think, much less see Glass’ 1994 opera based on Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film LA BELLE ET LA BETE, as anything but new music wedded to the work of this way too gifted – who could ever pigeonhole Cocteau? -and deeply influential artist? Glass apparently identifies with him – both were outsiders even when they appeared to be movers and shakers within their own time – and Glass’ time is decidedly ours. But anyone curious about his recent film, concert, and theatre work should check out Orange Mountain Music’s catalog – as well as Nonesuch’s , which give a close-up view of this straightforward, extremely important, yet deeply elusive artist.

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