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Mobtown Modern Smooth as Glass

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P. Glass, Glassworks, Philip Glass Ensemble, M. Riesman
Mobtown Modern, Baltimore's black sheep contemporary music concert series, returned on Wednesday night for a performance of music by Baltimore favorite son Philip Glass. For this concert, Mobtown Modern partnered with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which is also presenting a major new Glass piece this week, Icarus: At the Edge of Time, which it co-commissioned (January 14 to 16 -- a full report on that tomorrow). This collaboration involved the participation of a few musicians from the BSO, who joined the ensemble of about a dozen for a performance of Glassworks, a 1981 work created for Glass's first recording on the CBS label (now available in a remastered re-release). It is a sort of suite, six movements that condensed a few of Glass's musical ideas into an album-length work, meant as a response to the invention of the Walkman, a vehicle to bring minimalism to a much greater number of moving ears.

The first movement ("Opening"), an arpeggiated chord pattern for solo piano, seemed promising, with more chords in the loop than is sometimes true of Glass. The rhythmic disjointedness of simultaneous duple and triple meters (2 vs. 3) is established in the first movement and pervades the work. Mellow paired horns marked the start of "Floe," the second movement, later joined by Glass's trademarked fluttering woodwind arpeggios, and the third ("Islands") was driven by arpeggios in a forlorn 6/8 from the strings (viola and cello). The fourth movement ("Rubric") featured the crazy wash of notes (sixteenths alternating with even smaller values) often associated with Glass's music, with the synthesizer and flutists especially getting quite a workout. This aspect of Glass's style calls for a different kind of virtuosity and consummate concentration, something that the Philip Glass Ensemble, for example, was expert in, after years of endless arpeggios. Mobtown Modern's ersatz ensemble did not do so quite as comfortably and seamlessly, the running notes not always quite aligned rhythmically or uniformly in tune, even with Julien Benichou's conducting.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, Mobtown Modern demonstrates enduring appeal of Philip Glass (Baltimore Sun, January 13)
The fifth movement ("Façades") was pretty spell-binding: gloomy, oscillating triplets whose tanglings created more interesting dissonances, with a floating soprano sax solo from Mobtown's curator Brian Sacawa (I assume -- it was difficult to see). The final movement had an undulating control of dynamic swells, part of an overall rather calm and subdued approach to the score that emphasized the tidal appeal of Glass's music. The only problem with this performance was its location, part of Mobtown Modern's attempt to extend its reach beyond its home at Baltimore's Contemporary Museum. The gritty little venue, The Windup Space on North Avenue, was stuffed to the gills, with people standing and sitting in every available space (with the faces of Marin Alsop and Baltimore Sun critic Tim Smith, for example, dotted among a rather eclectic mix of people). I understand the idea behind performing in this kind of venue, but I would prefer a comfortable seat in the Kennedy Center any day. Guy Werner's accompanying video projection, shown over the seated musicians at the back of the room, was out of my line of sight, so it receives no comment.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performs Glass's new piece Icarus: At the Edge of Time this evening (January 14, 8 pm) in Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The next concert from Mobtown Modern (February 23, 8 pm) will be back at The Windup Space, featuring Will Redman's Book.

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