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5.10.11

Philip Glass at the Phillips



See my review of the first concert of the season at the Phillips Collection:

Philip Glass at the Phillips Collection (The Washingtonian, October 4):

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P. Glass, Metamorphosis / Mad Rush, P. Glass
Let’s just say this up front: Philip Glass is not a virtuoso pianist. Technical ability was not the reason he drew a full audience to the Music Room at the Phillips Collection on Sunday afternoon, to kick off a new season of concerts. Glass was there to play his own compositions, in the simplified, repetitive style—call it minimalism, although Glass does not like the term—that has made him famous. This style can be found in his film scores (Koyaanisqatsi and Notes on a Scandal, among others) and his ground-breaking operas (Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha, for example). Glass also spoke about the pieces he played during the course of the recital and in a post-concert talkback session with the audience. The Q&A was led by Caroline Mousset, the director of the museum’s music program. Somewhere between what he said and what he played, in spite of the uneven technique and sometimes halting rhythm, the performance became quite compelling. Glass will turn 75 this January, and one had the sense of being in the presence of someone who had made an immense mark on the course of music history.

All of Glass’s music is essentially the same: He begins with the pulse of a repeated pattern, then layers on other patterns that add rhythmic complexity, creating a harmonic pattern that is the basis for variation, not unlike the chacona and passacaglia ostinati used in earlier music. It has struck me many times before that Glass did his best work in the 1970s and ’80s, the heyday of his creative energy, and that was also the case here. The best piece on the program, Mad Rush, dates from 1979. The piece was first performed on organ the organ for the Dalai Lama’s visit to New York in 1981. As adapted for piano, it features a simple Alberti bass sort of pattern in the left hand, contrasted with sextuplets in the right, with the thumb of the right hand jabbing out a jazzy, syncopated rhythm. The tumult of faster notes in the B section, which returns a couple times, gives the piece its name. The opposition of energy and stasis in the two musical ideas was compelling. [Continue reading]
SEE ALSO:
Philip J. Kennicott, Philip Glass opens Phillips Collection concert series (Washington Post, October 4)

Stephen Brookes, Hands of stone: Composer Glass jars in playing his work (Washington Times, October 4)

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