"What’s remarkable about the performances by the Cluster Ensemble is that they never seem at all didactic, but are wonderfully natural and constantly involving musically"
Full review here
"What’s remarkable about the performances by the Cluster Ensemble is that they never seem at all didactic, but are wonderfully natural and constantly involving musically"
Full review here
Of particular interest this week is that Philip Glass will be performing on a three-piano concert with Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa in Linz Austria. The suite from "Les Enfants Terribles" was drawn from the opera that Glass originally composed for three pianos and that later Davies and Namekawa adapted as a concert piece for two pianos. The piece is being restored to its full glory and paired with Glass performing his solo piano Mad Rush, Davies and Namekawa performing Glass's Four Movements for Two Pianos, and the grand suite from Les Enfants Terribles for three pianos.
During the original tour of Les Enfants Terribles in the mid-1990s as a "dance opera" choreographed by Susan Marshall, Glass in fact played piano on the live tour and on the OMM produced recording. However, it's been two decades since audiences have had a chance to hear the composer perform this piece. Around this concert is a heightened environment.
Over the past 15 years the general music director in Linz has been Dennis Russell Davies. The opera house in Linz has performed four Glass operas over the years and recorded three of them. The most recent was The Lost which opened the new opera house, the stunning Musiktheater am Volksgarten. Davies commissioned the first six piano etudes, Namekawa became the first pianist to record both books of Etudes, and the orchestra has an expansive Glass repertoire including performing, recording, premiering a vast lot of Glass compositions.
Concert with Philip Glass, Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa
Venue Great Hall Music Theatre
Duration 01 hrs. 30 min.
There is much buzz around the performance of Philip Glass's Heroes Symphony (from the music of Bowie & Eno) at Glastonbury, the world largest music festival, on June 25th in a midnight performance on the Park Stage as a tribute to the late/great David Bowie. The performance will be performed by Army of Generals and members of the British Paraorchestra conducted by Charles Hazelwood.
In reviewing the performance history of Heroes Symphony it's understandable that there would be a such a spike in interest in the piece after Bowie's death. Composed in 1996, Heroes Symphony received its New York premiere only in 2011 when the Wordless Music Orchestra performed it under Brad Lubman. Only weeks after Bowie's passing, conductor Evan Ziporyn conducted both Heroes and Low Symphonies in a memorial concert at MIT in Cambridge which was captured live by Q2. It was a cathartic experience: both the audience and musicians had all been clearly touched by the life and music of David Bowie and it was a way that people who, for lack of a better term, work in the world of notated music, could pay homage to this great 20th Century genius.
From Express: "
Glass, the composer, was greatly admired by Bowie and saw him as a big influence on his work.
Glass said: “When Charles told me of his plan to take my ‘Heroes Symphony’ to Glastonbury, I was delighted.
“It's very exciting to think of it playing - at the midnight hour - out across the parkland, a true celebration of Bowie.
“I am so very pleased members of the British Paraorchestra and Chris Levine's epic light performance will be part of it.
“What a spectacular collaboration. This is sound and vision Bowie-style.”
So after many years of relative obscurity Heroes Symphony seems to taking root in the concert hall with already 6 performances in 2016 as a way that the classical music world can remember Bowie's music and enjoy the variety and invention of what Glass internalized and constructed from it. Below are my notes on the piece from the recent Glass Symphony Box collection:
Symphony No. 4
from the music of David Bowie and Brian Eno
Philip Glass commented on the creation of his Fourth Symphony in 1996 in preparation for the recording of the work, which was to be used for Twyla Tharp’s ballet “Heroes”:
“Heroes, like the Low Symphony of several years ago, is based on the work of Bowie and Eno. In a series of innovative recordings made in the late 70’s, David and Brian combined influences from world music, experimental avant-garde, and rock and roll and thereby redefined the future of popular music.
Almost twenty years later, I have gone back to their original material, using it as a point of departure and inspiration, much as composers of the past have based their work on their contemporaries. Using themes from Heroes I have made a new composition which hopefully will reintroduce this music to today’s listeners.
I mentioned the new work I was doing to Twyla Tharp, the American choreographer with whom I had worked on In the Upper Room, a dance work for her company. She suggested I think of Heroes as a ballet score for her new dance company. We suggested this to David, who immediately shared Twyla’s enthusiasm for the Idea. Accordingly, I set Heroes as a six- movement work, each movement based on a theme from Heroes, with an overall dramatic structure that would be suitable for dance. The result is a symphonic ballet - a transformation of the original themes combined with new material of my own and presented in a new dramatic form.
The continuing influence of these works has secured their stature as part of the new “classics” of our time. Just as composers of the past have turned to music of their time to fashion new works, the work of Bowie and Eno became an inspiration and point of departure of symphonies of my own.”
By the time Glass had written his Fourth Symphony, the symphonies of Philip Glass contained some of the composer’s best music. It was music that stood apart from all his other work. These pieces had their own musical agenda. By this time, when one considers the complete catalogue of the composer, it’s not easy to embrace the composer’s assertion that he is simply a “theater composer.” With the tentative step toward the form of the symphony with his first “Bowie-Eno” inspired orchestral work in 1992, Glass seemed fully confident with the huge undertaking when writing his essay in polytonality, Symphony No. 2, in 1994.
By that point that Glass had been making up for lost time. Low Symphony was a tentative step into the vast ocean of symphonic literature. Symphony No. 2 was a great full dive into
that ocean. Rather than succumbing to the weight of historical baggage, by the time of Glass’s Third Symphony in 1995, Glass had wholeheartedly embraced the idea of writing symphonies. As we have discussed, Glass’s Third Symphony was very much a nod to tradition: not only with the nod to Richard Strauss and Bartok, but also as a celebration of the strong American practice of writing string symphonies. After not writing a symphony from ages zero to fifty-five, Glass composed four major symphonies in 1992, ’94, ’95, and ’96.
Such “clusters” of activity within certain genres can be seen in Glass’s work. Usually within such clusters there is a wide variety. At the end of what Glass considers his Minimalist period in 1976 with Einstein on the Beach, Glass received a commission from the Netherlands Opera to “write a real opera.” Glass describes the premiere of that new opera, Satyagraha, as a complete let-down to the audience as there was a great expectation that he would create a fitting sequel, something very similar to Einstein on the Beach. Glass had no interest in repeating himself. Basic artistic need for variety exists in Glass’s symphonic output as well.
Unlike Glass’ first three symphonies, Symphony No. 4 “Heroes” or Heroes Symphony of 1996 was not premiered traditionally as a symphony. If we step back a couple decades into his career, we see that Glass the composer is attracted to the concept of the trilogy. The big statement of his early career was his ‘Portrait Trilogy’ (the operas Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.) When opportunities started to open up for the composer in the early 1990’s, Glass embarked on two new triptychs: that of a series of operas based on the work of Jean Cocteau and a set of symphonies based on the music from the David Bowie albums made in collaboration with Brian Eno. These three symphonic works take inspiration from the three albums Low (1977), Heroes (1977), and Lodger (1979). Glass embraced the source material very much in the tradition of classical composers using folk music sources of famous themes by past composers. In this case, for Glass it provided an attractive opportunity: to take what he considered wonderful melodies – and to combine them with his own music in realizing a bigger whole. In Low Symphony, this was manifest in three large-scale movements. In composing Heroes Symphony, Glass had already decided that this piece would also be his “Dance Symphony” set to choreography by Twyla Tharp, a gifted collaborator with whom he had already had a long relationship dating back to their hit ballet in In the Upper Room some ten years earlier.
The symphony is scored for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, percussion, harp, piano, celesta strings. Unlike Low Symphony in which Glass committed to long-form writing, his Fourth Symphony is in six shorter movements: 1. Heroes, 2. Abdulmajid, 3. Sense of Doubt, 4. Sons of the Silent Age, 5. Neuköln and 6. V2 Schneider. The piece gives symphonic dimension to the Bowie/Eno works but in a much personalized way than in Low Symphony and often with much more subtle use of the source material. From Low, Glass took elaborate instrumental phrases and expanded, re-harmonized, and elaborated them in an organic symphonic process.
In Heroes Symphony, Glass again re-harmonizes the Bowie/Eno pieces, but this time he uses the material differently and in a much more condensed way. Rather than wholesale elements being appropriated, Glass seems to take smaller edits of original melodic phrases or sometimes just gestures as a point of departure. In Heroes Symphony, Glass’s predilection tends to deal more with representing the material in his own language, including embedding more of his own rhythmic ideas as one can hear in the pulsing opening movement Heroes. In Sense of Doubt, Glass uses the main descending Bowie figure, but in the remaining seven minutes of the movement it’s all Glass original material. In Sons of a Silent Age Glass takes the glorious main melody from the rock song and builds his own music around it showcasing it in a whole new light. In V2 Schneider, the symphony’s rousing finale, Glass extracts the sense of harmonic cadence (not literal extraction, again re- harmonizing it). In other words, it’s generally easier to identify the original Bowie/Eno material in Low Symphony than it is in Heroes Symphony, a sentiment that Bowie himself agreed with. In all, Heroes seems to be more of an internalization by the composer of the source material than in the First Symphony.
The Twyla Tharp Company toured the ballet Heroes in 1996 performing it 28 times that season and again 58 times in 1997. The where-and-when of the premiere of the piece as a concert work is presently unknown. The Heroes Symphony was recorded for Point Music in 1996. At that time, right before the recording at the Masonic Temple in Mid-Town Manhattan the American Composers Orchestra, Davies, Bowie, Glass and others all came together to hear a rehearsal before the team, as with Low Symphony, went into the studio for the sectional recording process. But the piece did not receive a premiere at that time.
The Fourth Symphony has had an interesting life since. As a symphonic work the piece has also been recorded by Marin Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. The Symphony has been performed as Symphony No. 4 “Heroes” many times in Germany and Austria (usually championed by conductor Dennis Russell Davies), Norway, Scotland, Russia, Holland, Italy, and the United States. Around the time of a performance of the work by the Wordless Music Orchestra at the Society for Ethical Culture in New York City in May 2011, a previous public New York performance could not be found. Essentially the New York public had to wait more than 15 years to hear Glass’s Fourth Symphony performed live in concert. The whole process from the conception of the piece as another studio album, a recording used then for the dance performances, to overlooking a proper New York premiere suggests that the whole project was ad hoc. The conductor of the New York performances in 2011, Brad Lubman, was shocked to find out that the conductor’s score itself was just a photocopy of the Glass manuscript – the piece had never been copied or engraved. Recently, both the Low Symphony and Heroes Symphony were recently performed in January 2016 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the baton of Evan Ziporyn, just weeks after the passing of David Bowie as a memorial to that great artist.
The new recording featured in this set is by the Basel Sinfonieorchester under the direction of its Music Director Dennis Russell Davies. As with the new recording of Low Symphony, this is a stunning achievement. In 2009, Davies conducted Heroes Symphony in the heart of the city of Linz Austria an audience of 6,000 listeners. Since 2009, upon starting his Music
Directorship with the magnificent Basel Sinfonieorchester, Davies thought back to these two Glass symphonies from the 1990’s (without cuts that were made for the recording – the first movement is a full four minutes longer than the first recording) with an intention to present these symphonies as they were meant to be heard – unencumbered and able to breathe freely. The result that Davies draws from the orchestra is remarkable.
Glass Notes publishes on Mondays.
Philip Glass's former recording studio was called Looking Glass Studios and was located on the ninth floor just a half a block north of Houston Street on Broadway. To most visitors it was the Looking Glass Studios but it also was home to Glass's publishing company and later to Orange Mountain Music. I had seen glimpses of the studio in documentaries about Glass and as far as I could gather it was established in that space sometime in the early 1990s.
Anyone obsessively pouring lover liner notes (back in the day when liner notes existed) would see the byline "Recorded at the Looking Glass Studios" would be intrigued about what Philip Glass's recording space might be like. Of course it was where Glass's music was recorded constantly, but it was also a place where artists ranging from David Bowie and Bjork to Coldplay and The Cure would record. As a hardcore Philip Glass fan I was intimidated the first time I visited the space back in early 2006 when I showed up for my job interview with OMM.
The building is like any other in that section of town. You'd walk through the front door and encounter one of the rotating shift of Ukrainian doormen sitting at a lectern in a minuscule lobby space made smaller still by a bank of two mini-elevators. As I ascended to the ninth floor I remember clearly being struck by the fact that these elevators had glass windows in them. You couldn't really see anything other than the occasional passing of the other elevator but it was still a memorable detail.
Upon arriving at the ninth floor you encountered a small square room with hardcore heavy duty doors with a punch code pad (code 4620 in the shape of a cross). The big orange-red door on the left belonged to the Looking Glass Studio and once you gained entry you were immediately faced with a long skinny white hallway. It's actually best to envision the whole suite as one long hallway with doors mostly off to the right. After about 20 paces there where huge windows on the left looked out towards nothing but a light shaft. On the right, below a dnagling arrow that said "Reception" was an opening where the reception area was complete with a wall featuring all the albums which had been recorded at this historic studio.
At the time a nice guy with a mohawk named Carlos manning the phones. Carlos was on the right, the music publisher/lawyer were straight ahead, and on the left right across from Carlos was Studio C. Studio C has been seen in a number of documentaries about Glass as during the early 2000s that were all the film scoring work was done. Directors and producers would meet in the publishing offices and then go into this little dark room, where at the time a young Nico Muhly or Trevor Gureckis would be taking Glass's manuscripts and entering them into the computer, sequencing them and putting synth demo version up against the picture. Studio C was a small room maybe 12 by 12 feet. It's all very small in my memory but up against one wall was a couch - on the opposite wall was a big flat screen TV with a keyboard and computers below it, and there was a desk off to the left. It was always dark in Studio C. I don't recall the light ever being on in there just a small desk lamp or two.
All of Glass's manuscripts and anything else of value ended up in a room behind reception. It was incredible. You'd see rows and rows of gray boxes on shelves with tags. Imagine plucking a box off a shelf that says "Satyagraha" and seeing the yellow three-decade-old original score written by hand. Another box would say "Music by Philip Glass" and there was the manuscript of Glass's first book written by hand on yellow legal pads. On another shelf would sit his Golden Globe for The Truman Show. I can't even remember why I would have a good reason to be in there but I was in there all the time ogling old photos or scores, probably unconsciously mumbling "my precious" for all I know. It's all a blur at this point.
A clandestine peak at the Satyagraha manuscript in the Philip Glass archive July 2007:
Back out in the hallway if you were to walk past reception you had another 15-20 paces to go, always passing large posters of films Glass had scored or operas which he had composed, before you got to a kitchen area. Once nice thing about recording studios is that they usually seem to have an endless supply of fresh coffee. There were always two coffeemakers going most of the time and there was an inexhaustible supply if for some reason they were out. Right off the pantry on the right, was Studio B.
I admit in the years I was at the Looking Glass I only went into Studio B a few time. It was usually where outsiders who were coming there would work. Since I'm so into my own musical interests I have lived a sheltered life. When the studio was in full swing all sorts of people came through Studio B and of course I didn't know any of them. I eventually learned to watch how nervous the studio interns got around certain people. Bowie's producer Tony Visconti was often there. I remember Roger Waters, who I learned later was in a band called Pink Floyd was there (I'm being only a little snarky here - of course I have heard of Pink Floyd but other than that "hey teacher leave those kids alone" song I'd be hard pressed to identify another). But these were the type of people who were always there around Studio B and the kitchen.
A final door right off the kitchen was for the biggest studio room in the whole suite, Studio A. Studio A was a big set of rooms. If you accessed it by the door from the kitchen you had to walk through a climate controlled room where all these big computers were running all the time. You had to go through a sound proof sliding door to get into the biggest room, the control room, with the big SSL console and all sorts of other things which made you feel like you were on the bridge of the SS Enterprise. The control room looked onto a "live room" where about 15-20 players (at most) could be recorded. This is where lots of Glass's scores were recorded sectionally. In general the control room was a comfortable place. There was a big floppy couch in the back. In addition to loads of coffee, another thing to know about recording studios is that people eventually have to eat and when they eat they order in. All studios seem to have a huge binder of current menus of all the local food joints, and in New York that's hundred of menus.
The SSL in Studio A at the Looking Glass Studios
Of small note were the adjoining rooms to the kitchen area. There was a really small room with a couch which was actually quite handy, you could disappear into that room to talk to someone privately or to take a phone call. There was another tiny editing suite as an appendage to Studio B, and of course the mens and womens bathrooms. There was also that iconic cartoon strip of a woman in the back of a cab driven by Philip Glass looking at her license saying "You have the name of a famous composer." In my mind's eye I also remember hanging in the kitchen a poster for Les Enfants Terribles, also recorded at the Looking Glass, signed and dedicated by Philip Glass to the studio.
The whole studio was long and skinny. If you continued down the hallway towards the window at the back wall of the building there was a freight elevator on the left and a door on the right. The door on the right housed three offices and a tiny desk area. This was the original home of Orange Mountain Music.
I have no conception of how my descriptive prose is coming across but at all times you should remember New York spaces are small. They might not be Paris small, but they are small. This back suite was a small claustrophobic hallway lined on the right with the impressive and complete recorded archive of Philip Glass recordings, and three tiny offices on the left. Once going through the door the studio manager's office was the first office, Don Christensen's office was in the second, and Michael Riesman's office was third. Past Riesman's office was a small back area with a window looking at the rooftops of lower Manhattan with their watertowers and a small glimpse of the Manhattan bridge. In this back space was a small desk. That's where my first working area at OMM was.
I actually quite enjoyed being in the back corner there. Glass lived nearby, only about 2 or 3 blocks away and came very frequently to the studio at that time especially during that his most intense period of film work. Since he was coming from the east side he almost always came up by the back elevator. The elevators in the front of the building weren't particularly fast but it's fair to say the elevator in the back was incredibly slow. It also froze up from time to time.
The scariest story I have ever heard came from Don Christensen who told me that one day, when leaving for the day was shouting to someone in the kitchen saying goodbye. He was still looking down the hall at the kitchen when he stepped into the elevator without looking. For some reason the elevator had stopped about 3 feet too low and Christensen was sure, as he stepped into the void, that he was a goner.
The back elevator exited onto Crosby street and an environment which is the epitome of "downtown New York City." If you looked to the south you'd see the vista which is on the cover of OMM's second album Early Voice:
If you looked to the left you'd see a small sandwich shop jammed into a closet-sized space. It was called the "Crosby Connection" and was manned by a big overweight guy and another skinny guy with a baseball cap and hardly any teeth and across the street the Bleecker Street Bar. It was quite a place to be.
From the beginning when Christensen was starting OMM, part of his deal in trying to make a go of it with the company was that he'd be given room to work including an office. In January 2006 I was hired as OMM's second full time employee after the person who was previously helping Christensen had left. The hiring of a second person was a big step at that time for OMM and in addition to our office space we needed room to store boxes of new CDs and to ship CDs out. These boxes wended up being crammed into the many nooks and closets all over the studio and office suite. I'm sure it aggravated all the people who worked there.
When I say we crammed boxes into every space available, I mean it. We had one really skinny closet where I had stacked some boxes, each about one square foot and weighing about 25 lbs (12 kilos) about 8 feet high. I had two or three of these wobbling towers built when one of them started to descend on me. I caught it just in time but I remember having the thought, "Imagine being crushed to death by boxes of Philip Glass CDs." My maladjusted mind at the time decided that "there were worse ways to go."
In 2009 it was decided that the Looking Glass Studios, unable to fight against the rising tide of New York City rent prices, would close. The publisher and OMM would move to a small office space one floor down in the same building. It was sad to see it go. I was sad to no longer be working with all the great people who had been there: Christian Rutledge the studio manager, Michael Trepagnier who first was interning for OMM but advanced to a proper studio employee, Ichiho Nishiki, Hector Castillo, and many others. It was most sad to see people lose their jobs, it was also sad to see a creative space extinguished like that. I don't think I really understood it until a couple months after we had cleared out, I was still going to work on the floor below, and one day I had popped up to the ninth floor to see what was going on up there and they had commenced demolition.
Those rooms where Low and Heroes Symphony had been recorded as well as countless others had been ripped down. Some of the last recordings we had made in that space included Michael Riesman's Dracula for solo piano, extensive recordings of Brooklyn Rider of the string quartets, Monsters of Grace and Paisajes del Rio with the Philip Glass Ensemble and many of Glass's film scores. It was devastating to see ripped apart.
So for three whole years this was the place that I had called "the office" and it's full of fond memories many of which include Philip Glass personally. In fact, my first conversation with Glass happened when I was by the freight elevator on the phone speaking in French with my father. When I finished, Glass said to be, "ben, tu parles francais alors..." and we conducted a whole conversation in French. later, I recall during the composition of The Passion of Ramakrishna, during one of those really slow trips down in the freight elevator I asked Glass how he managed to keep two film scores and an oratorio straight in his mind when doing them all at once, he said simply, "It's not a problem" and continued "You know, I really love to compose music."
I'm forever thankful for that wonderful environment and such fond memories. What a wonderful place the Looking Glass Studios was.
Glass Notes publishes on Mondays.
The pianist Simone Dinnerstein came to my attention about a decade ago for her belated ascension to become one of the most prominent pianists of our time. The story that had been going around was about this interpretation of Bach's Goldberg Variations which had come out of nowhere - arguably the most impactful recording of the iconic set of variations since Glenn Gould.
Furthermore, Dinnerstein seemed to be a self-starter, an incredibly hard worker, and an artist willing to take risks both artistically and professionally. I have been surveying her career ever since and been pleasantly surprised at each turn. The normal path for someone who has a smashing success is to do more of the same thing. While there has been a core-value of Bach's music in her activity, there's also into Gerswhin, Ravel, Beethoven, into music by living composers by commissioning a beautiful a new concerto from composer Philip Lasser, and even a collaboration with singer/songwriter Tift Merritt.
So I was thrilled yesterday to see an advance piece on her Mother's Day recital in Albuquerque this weekend which features a program by kindred spirits Franz Schubert and Philip Glass. I'm not the only one who has noticed the spiritual connection between Schubert and Glass's music. This is a program that she will be carrying forward to other cities over the next year.
Towards the end of the Albuquerque article, there's a small aside near the end which states, "Dinnerstein said Glass is currently composing a concerto for her that will premiere in about a year. He’s writing it to be paired with a Bach keyboard concerto."
The interconnectedness of this story feels so right it's uncanny. It's easy to remark upon the hardworking self-starting pianist and the hardworking self-starting composer. It's well known that Glass and Schubert share a common birthday of January 31st. Digging deeper into Glass's years upon years of studying Bach counterpoint in Paris in the mid-1960s - there's a poetic thrust and logic to a touring solo recital program Glass/Schubert leading into 2017 and a new concerto for one of the highest operating soloists in the world today who specializes in the music of Bach. In fact Glass and Dinnerstein shared the screen in Michael Lawrence's film Bach & Friends:
Dinnerstein on Bach:
Glass on Bach:
Glass's piano concertos all all very different. I'm considering the Tirol concerto for piano and strings, Piano Concerto No.2 "After Lewis and Clark", and the recent Concerto for Two Pianos. The Tirol Concerto from 2000 was commissioned by the tourist board of the Tyrol in the Austrian Alps. The main connection to the Tyrol is the loose incorporation of the traditional song "Maria, Hilf doch Mir" in the introduction to the first movement:
Glass' second piano concerto from 2004 is again connected to tradition. This time it was the bicentennial celebration of Lewis and Clark's trek across the North American continent. In the second movement Glass uses the native american flute to evoke Lewis and Clark's accomplice Sacagawea.
The recent Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra is cut from a totally different cloth. The piece belongs firmly to Glass's recent music and to his recent ways of composing concertos which has moved away from extreme concertante solo writing. Since the Second Violin Concerto Glass seems to be searching for a new way to present the relationship between soloist and orchestra. In the Tirol Concerto, the soloist conducts from the keyboard. In the Lewis & Clark Concerto an entire movement is given over to a flute soloist!, and in this recent Double Piano Concerto the pianos clearly act as the center of a big piano band. These are all departures from the traditional role of heroic and virtuosic soloist positioned against the orchestra.
So the (unconfirmed) prospect of Glass writing a new piano concerto to be paired with Bach's keyboard concertos is an exciting prospect. While harmonically connected to Schubert, the Bachian element in Glass is hard to ignore. The most oversimplified way of hearing Glass's music would be simply to say that it's a mash-up of Indian classical music and the music of J.S. Bach. Most astutely one would say that there's a certain compositional preoccupation in both composers' music; There's an instrumental neutrality to both composers which is why you can perform almost all of their music on different instruments and it will always sound good, or at the very least it will work. Most of the time it's about architecture and structure more than about instrumentation or color.
While the only information I have is that Glass is currently at work on his Eleventh Symphony. It's with great anticipation that I wait for his Piano Concerto (No.3, No.4?)
Glass Notes publishes an update every week on Mondays.
Friday sees the release of Glass's Symphony Box on Orange Mountain Music. The international release date coincides with the UK premiere of Glass's Symphony No.9 (2011-12) performed by the Bruckner Orchester Linz in London and Edinburgh this weekend.
I had the chance to put some of my own thoughts on paper about Glass's symphonies, as those thoughts stand now, when I wrote a chapter of a proposed book about Glass's music this past year. The resulting 50 pages were then adapted to become 41 pages of liner notes which are included in the digital download of the symphony box on iTunes and can also be Here.
Unlike Glass's string quartets which follow a linear progression in terms of becoming deeper and more involved musically, the Glass symphonies represent a much greater variety of experience. The First and Fourth Symphonies are based on music not originally composed by Glass. The Third Symphony is a symphonic chamber work. The Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Symphony are all programmatic in some way. Only the Second, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth are purely instrumental works.
I was informed last week that Glass is currently composing his Eleventh Symphony, which if you read my liner notes, you can imagine will be cast in the type of discourse which began in the Second, continued in the first movement of the Seventh and in the entire Eighth, and came to full realization in the Ninth. Of course we know now that the Tenth was composed before the Ninth, and wasn't conceived of originally as a symphony at all.
Considering the shape and proportions of the Eighth (movements of 19, 12, and 7 minutes respectively) I speculated that combined with time pressures, that the Eighth organically "got away" from Glass, its composition taking him to its own destination at the expense of any preconceived plan. In that way it became Glass's "unfinished" symphony. I consider the Tenth to be in reality No.8.5 in that it was composed in 2007 and only orchestrated in 2012 to become the "Not-Nine" Symphony, a sort of anti-Ninth. That symphony was seemingly predestined in Glass's mind to provide contrast to the big serious statements of Nos. 8 & 9.
In interviewing Glass, the composer stated that in writing as many symphonies as he has, he now has a personal expectation when facing the proverbial blank page at the outset of a symphony. More interesting are how Glass's recent music has changed very rapidly.In the past Glass has said that the process of perceiving real changes in his music usually take place over a 10 year period. Perhaps starting a few years ago in pieces like "Four Movements for Two Pianos" we see a sort of hyperactive and impatient thread appear in Glass's music.
Less progressive yet thrilling Glass pieces like the Concert Overture (2012) were still part of his output. However we begin to see frantically almost funky pieces like the Double Piano Concerto, The Lost, and the Sixth String Quartet become the new norm. These pieces are most easily described as busy, dense, full of constant change and full of thick layers. So it will be very interesting to see how Glass reconciles his own personal expectation on how his new major symphony will turn out with his very recently discovered new musical language.
In the meantime, for those in London and Scotland this weekend you'll get to hear Glass's latest ideas about what a Symphony could be. For the rest of us we can meditate on the already bold and varied body of work contained in the box set.
Glass Notes publishes an update every week on Mondays.
Opening March 31st is a new production of Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE on Broadway strarring Saoirse Ronan, directed by Ivo Van Hove, produced by Scott Rudin, with new music by Philip Glass. While I cannot speak for today, I can say that Arthur Miller's works Death of a Salesman and The Crucible were staples of American literature in American schools when I was younger. As a young dope, I remember clearly not connecting with the former, mostly I believe, because living in a fairly well to do suburb of Boston, I couldn't imagine a person such as Willie Loman positioning himself in life in such miserable and futile life.
Of course this is only one shallow element of "Salesman", but for a 12 or 13 year old in the late 1980s the idea of a traveling salesman was kind of passé and not something I could really connect to other than understanding that one needed to find a purpose in life which was spiritually fulfilling. This impression was reinforced in 2012 when I saw Death of a Salesman on Broadway with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield. If Hoffmann couldn't make Loman relevant and meaningful to me, then no one could. And to put it plainly, he couldn't.
The Crucible on the other hand has the sex appeal and relevancy that anyone could want. Real life witch trials! Who wouldn't be interested in that? Add to that my hometown bordered the place, Salem Massachusetts, where the events of the real witch trials took place (Indeed I'm writing this piece today at my desk in downtown Salem). In general I've always gravitated to the macabre and dark and as school kids we'd take field trips to all the locales which are "haunted" to this day. While I always had trouble connecting to Salesman, Miller wrote The Crucible in the early 1950s in response to McCarthyism. At this point in history, it's pretty clear that hysteria and political mobs as a basic human need, inasmuch Miller's Crucible will always be relevant and immediately present in our lives. One need look no further than the current American political campaign.
I believe this last fact to be what attracted Philip Glass to the scoring of this place at this specific time. Glass composed about 30 minutes of new music for violin and cello which, in the live production, is complimented by sort of traditional protestant hymn songs and some droning. The music itself doesn't play at all to the period. It'll be interesting to see the visual interpretation and how it corresponds to Glass's new music.
Within the palette of what Glass has written for the combination of violin and cello - I can think of only two examples to contrast The Crucible against. The first would be the music Glass wrote for the 1993 production of Jane Bowles play "In the Summer House" and the recent "Duos Nos.1-5" which were composed for and drawn from Glass's 2010 Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra.
It must be said that this complete music for violin and cello has become an interesting micro-genre for Glass. In some ways, his music for "In the Summer House" can be heard as pure mood music. There are some moments of stunning beauty and stasis. The duos from the Double Concerto are much more classical in flavor and sound. That concerto was designed as a ballet, and the four duets in that piece became music for the two principal dancers that were set apart from the big orchestra tapestry. Glass later added a fifth fast paced duet as a scherzo movement, No.1a, for when the duos are performed as a piece of chamber music.
Salem Mass, as it is today in 2016
The music for The Crucible seems to fit somewhere in between. It has a through-composed feeling to it event though it essentially functions as incidental music. The music is dynamic and varied but doesn't seem to make any attempt to connect to any existing sound-world that would have existed in Salem in 1692. With that said, Glass made the decision to use a string quartet for his 1998 score to Dracula because the medium evoked an ancient sound. When one thinks of what music might have existed in Salem at that time (if indeed the Puritans permitted music?), the year that J.S. Bach turned 7 years old, it would have surely been perhaps a violin on guitar.
It's very exciting to find out how it'll all work within the drama. I hope to attend The Crucible in the coming weeks. I'll report back when I know more.
Glass Notes publishes an update every week on Mondays.
A word to the wise, for those on fence about picking up the new Glass Symphony Boxed Set which is due out April 22 to coincide with the Bruckner Orchester Linz and Dennis Russell Davies performing the London Premiere of Symphony No.9, I would move quickly as this is a limited edition of only 2500 units and now four weeks away from the release, fewer than 800 copies remain in OMM's warehouse and you should act quickly.
The 11-disc set is as much a celebration of a body of work than it is a commercial project. The body of work in question, these ten symphonies, has often been commented on by the composer as something like a surprising musical offshoot to his regular activity as a theater composer. "The Symphonies" has the definitive recordings of all extant Glass symphonies in their definitive interpretations by conductor Dennis Russell Davies who has commissioned 9 of the 10. What I mean by definitive is more authoritative than anyone else in the world is capable which is the direct result of over three decades of collaboration between the composer and conductor.
As a practical matter this claim also means more than a first glance when you consider a piece like Symphony No.7 "Toltec." That piece is only symphony which wasn't commissioned by Davies but 5 years after its world premiere under Leonard Slatkin, Davies presented the European premiere of the piece in Austria in a revised version. That revision was a major one and it gives a glimpse into the process that Glass has shared with Davies each time they bring a new piece to light.
For those who live in Los Angeles, buy your tickets now! The last Glass opera I recall getting this much good press was the ENO's production of Satyagraha.
The Economist: "So the ENO's latest production, of Philip Glass's "Akhnaten", is a welcome relief from all the bad headlines."
Express: "I MUST admit that I went to Philip Glass's Akhnaten at the English National Opera with few expectations of enjoying it."
Glass Notes publishes an update every week on Mondays.
The Times: Akhnaten at London Coliseum
A Younger Theatre: Akhnaten, London Coliseum
Financial Times: "Juggling and Nudity"