Hopes are high for the Baltimore Symphony and Marin Alsop, the first woman to be appointed Music Director of a major American orchestra. Last night at Strathmore, Washington got a taste of adventurous programming we may expect from Alsop, who has made a name conducting contemporary music, especially by American composers. In a brief introduction to this program devoted to the music of Philip Glass, born in Baltimore 70 years ago this year, Alsop made no reference to the embarrassing neglect of Glass in Baltimore for so many years. That era, she said by gracefully not saying anything, is over. To put that neglect into context, the BSO is the only major ensemble in the Washington and Baltimore area to acknowledge Glass's 70th birthday.
Frans Lanting, LIFE: A Journey through Time (2006)
Glass's music works best when it accompanies visual images, which is why he is such a good film and opera composer. Some of Glass's most memorable music accompanied the striking films by Godfrey Reggio, especially the first one, Koyaanisqatsi, from 1983. His latest film score, for Notes on a Scandal, is up for an Oscar and deserves to win, because it is such an important part of that movie. (In fact, because Glass is in Los Angeles this weekend for the Academy Award ceremony, he could not attend this series of concerts.)
Photograph by Frans Lanting, courtesy of National Geographic
The score is everything one expects of Philip Glass, static, pulsating, and hypnotically pleasing to the ear. It occurred to me last night that Glass is the modern counterpart of Antonio Vivaldi, whose music was played with such verve and polish by the Venice Baroque Orchestra in a magnificent concert earlier in the week. Glass's music appeals widely, is mostly programmatic and rhythmically activated, trades on formulas in easy-to-understand forms, and is characterized by a high degree of self-borrowing. What is most evident in LIFE is just how important Michael Riesman's orchestration is to Glass's success: the underlying ideas are so simple, but Riesman's layering of instrumental colors dresses it all up considerably.
Photograph by Frans Lanting, courtesy of Baltimore Symphony
Tim Smith, An overdue toast to Baltimore's Glass (Baltimore Sun, February 24)
Stephen Brookes, 'Life' Proves That BSO Can Be a Real Glass Act (Washington Post, February 24)
This program will be repeated on Friday and Saturday evenings (February 23 and 24, 8 pm) and Sunday afternoon (February 25, 3 pm), but only at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore. Plenty of tickets remain. Frans Lanting will speak about his LIFE photographs on Tuesday (February 27, 7:30 pm) at National Geographic Society headquarters (1600 M St. NW)