Glass Notes publishes an update every week on Mondays.
In 2006 Don Christensen and I were perusing the 'Philip Glass Recording Archive,' the cornerstone on which Orange Mountain Music was built, and we came upon a 2CD/100 minute highly-produced recording of a children's opera-ballet called "Le Streghe di Venezia" which neither of us had any knowledge.
I was particularly overwhelmed by this discovery of this piece. The opera was also revealed to be a commission from La Scala in Milan, the most prominent opera house in the world. Furthermore, upon auditioning the recording we found the piece to be musically wonderful - a playful delight full of wonder and comedy (Glass writing music for The Ogre is priceless!). How is it possible that no one had ever heard this piece outside of its limited run back in 1995?
"The Witches of Venice" was based on the children's book of the same name by Italian artist Beni Montresor. The La Scala production was designed by Montresor and featured elaborate costumes and choreography. The reason for the highly produced recording, including sound effects, was that the original production was performed live to a recording. In other words, the recording was made expressly for the first production in Italy.
We began our research and found some photos of the production in the photo archive, the original Glass manuscript (essentially composed for the Philip Glass Ensemble instrumentation), the original Monstresor children's book, and the original opera bill from La Scala. Undiscovered gems like these are what we live for. We immediately resolved to create a commercially available recording which embraced as much as possible the intentions of the authors.
Right away we found out was that Beni Montresor had passed away five years before in 2001. So we began to discuss the possibility of this project with his estate. Though with no direct information, I began to speculate that the creation of the premiere of the opera may have been challenging for Glass and Montresor. One insight I have noticed in the world of Philip Glass is that if certain projects are difficult, it sometimes seems like they are filed away in a different part of Glass's mind regardless of the ultimate quality of the project itself. While we were discovering "Witches" to be a little treasure, I don't think Glass had given the piece a second thought since the mid-1990s.
So more materials were unearthed and we began to think about the creation of an album. The first thing we considered was how the piece would be constructed. The sequence of tracks on the album does not correspond necessarily to the sequence that we found in the archive. The 100 minute recording did not really make sense sequentially and we did not have other materials to guide us. We also felt that the piece, at over 100 minutes, probably tested the patience of children (for whom it was intended).
Our starting point was Montresor's book. We obtained permission to use the drawings and commenced a process of adapting and balancing the story in the book with the libretto by Montresor, and the actual music that Glass composed. As you would suspect, a large revision of the piece including re-sequencing, cutting, and adapting material significantly altered the dramaturgy of the whole piece. Glass was very supportive of our efforts to bring the opera to the public "anew" in this way and I thin the end result is a strong piece of theater.
Around the time we were doing this we were contacted by a fellow name Roberto Terribile from the Fondazione Aida in Italy. Terribile was invovled in a retrospective exhibition on Montresor and had interest in taking the OMM version of "Le Streghe" and producing it live on stage with additional dialogue by screenwriter Vincenzo Cerami (Life is Beautiful). The resulting production, specifically designed for children, was played across Italy including at the Auditorium in Rome in 2009.
The opera is very interesting in the Glass catalogue for a numer of reasons. As a composer for children I don't think Glass pops into people's minds very often. With that said, there is a very strong thread of playfulness in many of Glass's pieces. His and Robert Moran's opera "The Juniper Tree" is based on the story by the brothers Grimm is nominally for children (though in truth it might be a little too scary for children!), and his recent pieces ICARUS: At the Edge of Time and LIFE: A Journey Through Time have been very successful in the "family concert" format. Philip Glass loves children, having raised four of them himself (indeed two of his children are still quite young) and the composer embodies a playful childlike love of life which comes to the fore in his personality and many of his works despite his general penchant for big serious subjects like 'social transformation through nonviolence' (Satyagraha) and race relations in America (Appomattox).
In the end I don't know what place these children's pieces take in his overall output. But with this weekend's announcement that "The Witches of Venice" will have its American premiere next summer in Saratoga, we were happy and validated by our efforts to trawl the depths of the Glass recording archive for "Le Streghe di Venezia" would never have seen the light of day otherwise.
It may be hard for some to imagine, but "it wasn't always like this." In the first two weeks of September I see at least seven new releases which are in part or in whole dedicated to the music of Philip Glass.
Among these titles, we have two new releases from Orange Mountain Music including Michael Riesman's new solo piano record "Beauty & The Beast" (1) which is an extended transcription of Glass's music from "La Belle et La Bete." Also from OMM is Massimo Menotti's new album of Minimalist Guitar Music (2) featuring two early masterpieces Two Pages and Music in Similar Motion. Other non-OMM releases include eighth blackbird's recording of Two Pages (3), Nicholas Horvarth's hyperactive version of the etudes (4), Francesco Di Fiore's versions of The Hours and Truman Show (5), the Carducci Quartet's recording of the Fifth String Quartet - the Sextet - and music from Dracula (6), and new remixes based on Brubaker's recent piano album (7).
For long time fans of Philip Glass you might know how welcome this flow of activity is. For more than two decades in the 1980s and 90s, Glass fans would (at best) be given a one album per year trickle from CBS (Sony) and/or Nonesuch. One album! Glass's work ethic represented dozens of albums which simply never got made in the old recording climate. It was really with the advent of the internet when OMM founder Don Christensen saw an emerging market for bootlegs on eBay that the idea of OMM, a label dedicated to Glass and his unreleased music, was born.
In the first few years of OMM, we almost instantly went from one release a year to three or four releases a year. Copyright dictates that the terms of first recordings of works are authorized by the authors. Back in the 1980s when Glass had no other means or hope to record his large-scale works like Akhnaten and Satyagraha without the "major labels," he took what was available to him. Later, in the 1990s when Glass had his own subsidiary label Point Music, which was part of Polygram, he had already more flexibility to do not only the projects which were asked of him, but other projects which were more personal.
The advent of OMM opened the flood gates in more ways that one. And not coincidentally, it happened around the year 2000 at the same time as Glass's sound exploded into the mainstream. The dormant back-catalogue which was deemed unworthy of release by the major labels proved that it was viable in the marketplace. Add to this, in 2013, the majority of the titles financed by Nonesuch reverted back to Glass (and consequently OMM). For all those years, decades of "one release per year" Glass had been composing on average probably enough for three albums a year or more and for a passionate fan-base, this simply was not enough.
After 2001, one record release a year turned into five releases a year. By 2006, five years into OMM, the company was on pace to produce 10 to 15 titles a year. Authors control first recordings of works but second and third recordings fall under what they call "Compulsory Licenses." This means that provided that one obtains and pays for mechanical licenses from the publisher, almost anyone can record a new version of a work - especially when it comes to notated music like Glass's.
Soon there were new versions of symphonies (Marin Alsop on Naxos), new interpretations of string quartets (Smith Quartet on Signum, Carducci Quartet on Naxos). In recent months we've seen 7 or 8 releases of the piano music including already now three or four collections of Glass's newly published piano etudes. We have seen a second recording of the Violin Sonata, a second recording of Violin Concerto No.2...and on and on. In addition to all these new interpretations we also have vinyl reissues of almost all of the Sony titles (Solo Piano, Photographer, etc) as well as classic cult interest titles like Candyman (including 400 available cassettes from One Way Static Records).
Should everything be released? At OMM we decided that that really was not our principle concern (who were we to judge?). Successful releases helped the creation of other new releases. If people found a certain release to be not of interest then that was fine. There seemed really to be no connection or formula for success. A personal disappointment I grappled with for years was that certain things I thought or hoped would do well might not. Then later other albums which I had perhaps less interest in performed very well. In other words, sales had nothing to do with quality. For OMM, sales just represented the load bearing walls of a house that contained the entire creative enterprise of the composer.
So what does this all mean? I honestly don't think you can read too much into it. In the age of streaming - the major labels and streaming services have colluded to create a perception that recorded music is worthless. In fact, the Glass titles that are streaming represent music that to some extent Glass does not control or exercise control over. Regarding vinyl, it a common perception that there is a vinyl bubble, and what sells today for $30 might be difficult to unload tomorrow for $10.
Is all this activity supported by a real market? In other words are there enough Glass fans in the world to consume all of this music and justify the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to create the recordings? Well, that is a more complicated question but to me that the answer is yes. I think the creation of these titles represents on a very real level a basic and healthy interest in the music. New artists are discovering this music, performing it widely, and finding it interesting enough to want to record it. That's the reality.
That kind of reality is the most healthy reality in the world of music. It's right up there with people showing up for your concerts and rowdy energetic applause instead of reserved, obligatory and formal clapping.
For music lovers - a.k.a. "consumers" it is a wonderful situation whereby they not only have a chance to discover the music, but they get to select from a large number of versions of a single piece.
For the composer, with this kind of intense interest in his music in terms of hundreds of performances of a broad sampling of his music over an extended period of time, it can all be translated as a message that sometime over the past 15 years that the music became bigger than him.
Glass Notes publishes an update every week on Monday mornings.
Starting this past spring, I started to toy with the idea of writing a book on Philip Glass. Perhaps it was in response to the excitement of his new book, Words without Music. Or perhaps it was because of what's not written in either of his two books. Glass's first book, Music by Philip Glass was written in the mid-1980s and contains a sort of "how we got here" narrative which I love. At that time, Glass was right in the middle of an incredibly creative period - those ten years right after Einstein on the Beach through the first Violin Concerto when he left Minimalism behind in the pursuit of a thirty year rapprochement with tradition.
Glass second book, Words without Music, covers some of the same ground and in fact only goes up to the death of Allen Ginsberg in 1997 and only covers a decade after the end of Music by Philip Glass. For many of Glass's fans, that totally omits the last two decades of his creative life - some ten operas, ten symphonies, twenty film scores, and much more. Words without Music is also clearly thew work of an older man looking back with a sort of distance between him and the story he was telling. In Music by Philip Glass, Glass still had something to prove, still had very vocal and powerful musical enemies, and Glass did not have the perspective of knowing how it was all going to turn out or what future work lay in front of him.
So both books are very valuable documents from two very different perspectives. But neither book presented the narrative of Philip Glass's career as I see it. So I began to conceive of a story that began with my first exposure to Glass's work in a "Music Appreciation 1827-Present" course through my decade of experience actively working for Glass and on behalf of his catalogue.
Glass has been fully supportive of this idea and because of many extensive interviews that I have conducted with him, I felt I had the raw material to endeavor a trial chapter of a proposed book. Because of timing of OMM releases, the first chapter would be about the Glass symphonies. In more than one interview about his own symphonies, I found Glass actually quite taciturn on the subject of symphonies - not other composer's symphonies or the great masterpieces of the past, only his own. This was not the case when we spoke about theater work, operas, and other projects when Glass's eyes would light up and he would be overflowing with ideas and stories. But on the subject of his own symphonies, I ran into a wall of "Dennis Russell Davies forced me to write symphonies."
So after three interviews over the period of three years on the subject of symphonies my frustration led to a simple path away from the composer and to the conductor, and from the conductor to Glass's other collaborators. If Glass wasn't going to give me in insight I was looking for in his own work, perhaps Davies and the rest of the people with whom Glass has worked would. This immediately led to the bigger revelation of planning a book.
To go straight to the point: I would go straight to the collaborators! Over the course of five decades Glass's collaborators have ranged from major film directors, to conductors, poets, instrumentalists, world music stars...the resources are endless. So I wrote my chapter about symphonies and I will soon be moving on to the next subject and conducting more interviews. Returning to the idea of my own personal subjective narrative about Philip Glass and his music invoked a common phenomenon among many of his collaborators - it seems a lot of people have different ideas about who Glass is as an artist and what his music about, where it comes from, and what effect is has on them and audiences. I also don't intend on leaving it there. After my interview with Davies on the subject of the symphonies, another fascinating thing happened. I asked Davies flat out which symphonies were among his favorites and why. Then I told Glass about his response and asked him the same question. The resulting proxy dialogue is really quite interesting and I look forward to seeing how this process evolves.
On Sunday Aug 30th @ 3pm
ABC Classic FM presents
Lisa Moore - solo piano and voice
in a live concert and broadcast of :
"A Bigger Picture"
Works by Philip Glass and Martin Bresnick
Glass: Etude no. 2, Mad Rush, Metamorphosis I&II, Satyagraha Conclusion Act 3
Bresnick: For the Sexes - The Gates of Paradise with DVD images by William Blake/Puppetsweat Theatre
Venue: The ABC @ Eugene Goossens Hall, 700 Harris St Ultimo, Sydney 2007
Glass Notes publishes an update every week on Monday mornings.
This weekend at the Cabrillo Festival for Contemporary Music cellist Matt Haimovitz and violinist Tim Fain will perform Philip Glass's 2010 "Double Concerto for Violin & Cello" and it brings to mind a number of memories about the creation of the work leading up to its 2010 premiere.
Responding to a commission from the Netherlands Dance Theater, forever the "theater" composer, Glass proffered the idea of doing a double concerto with violin and cello in lieu of a standard ballet. The two soloists would act as musical avatars to the two principal dancers on stage. Each orchestral movement would be preceded by a duo where the dancers would be separated from the company - thus addressing a major issue of concerto writing: whether to pit the soloist(s) as heros battling against the orchestra or to have the soloists as aprt of the organic whole of the orchestra. Glass had it both ways. The duo sections present the violin & cello laid bare.
In the orchestral movements their role is not traditionally concertante in the tradition of a vituoso concerto. Even in the presentation of the ballet, the soloists would be in the pit yet elevated above the orchestra yet not quite on stage. It was a good plan and Glass would have an opportunity to compose a concerto for two soloists that he had been working with closely at the time, violinist Maria Bachmann for whom he composed his Sonata for Violin and Piano, and cellist Wendy Sutter for whom he composed Songs & Poems for Solo Cello. Everything came together well and one could hear in the piano reduction demos what a dynamic piece had been written. Later videos showed the completed piece that emerged, Swan Song, by choreographers Paul Lightfoot and Sol León was nothing short of beautiful.
Then a volcano erupted. Glass's Double Concerto, along with many other classical music pieces which premiered in Europe in the spring of 2010, might be subtitled "Eyjafjallajökull." The Icelandic volcano erupted on April 14th broadcasting a huge ash cloud over Europe practically eliminating the possibility of air travel over all of Europe for an extended period of time.
On April 22, 2010 the Hague Philharmonic under Jurjen Hempel premiered Glass's new concerto not with Bachmann and Sutter but with violinist Cecilia Bernardini and cellist Maarte-Maria den Herder. Glass was not present at the premiere nor had he ever met the soloists who premiered his concerto. It has happened, like the with recent premiere of his Partita for Solo Double Bass in June 2015 that Glass was not present for a premiere. But I can think of only one other time that Glass was not present for the premiere of a major piece and that was weeks after September 11 when his Cello Concerto premiered in China when Glass was advised not to travel at that time.
Bachmann and Sutter finally arrived a few days after the premiere and resumed the run of 10 performances of the piece with the Netherlands Dance Theater. The piece was also scheduled to be recorded so the dance troupe could perform Swan Song to the recording when on tour. Because of rescheduling that took place because of all the disruptions in April and May, Bachmann, for whom the violon role was written, could not participate the recording sessions in June and another long-time collaborator of Glass, Tim Fain, jumped in and recorded the piece with Sutter in what I consider one of the best performances of a Glass work ever captured on recording.
Despite its somewhat troubled origins the piece has gone on to a life of its own having been performed under Jaap van Zweden in Dallas and in China with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Tucson, Denver, and Dusseldorf. This weekend's performance represents the West Coast premiere for the five year old piece.
Starting this week, Glass Notes will publish an update every week on Monday mornings.
Last week saw the release of Symphony No.10. It was chosen as album of the week by Q2, WQXR's Living Composer branch. It's somewhat nice to see debate is alive and well regarding the music of Philip Glass. Some comments about the symphony were so filled with vitriol that it inspired a second piece on the subject. To me the most interesting things about Symphony No.10 (the symphony formerly known as Los Paisajes del Rio) is that it's in fact truly Symphony No.Eight-and-a-half having been composed in 2007, years before Symphony No.9. That fact seems to get lost in the discussion. Q2's readers seemed to be offended by the very fact that Glass has composed this many symphonies. What an affront!
Over the weekend I watched a documentary called "Paths Through the Labyrinth" about the life of Krzysztof Penderecki. Towards the end of the film Penderecki says that in the coming years he hoped to finish his own symphony cycle. He only wanted to go up to No.9, which meant he had to compose two more. The "issue" of a Ninth Symphony still lingers over living composers. My own feeling is that it's absurd to be so prostrate before tradition and/or superstitious.
Yes, Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert, Bruckner, Dvorak are said to have died at No.9 - but such a perception is largely inaccurate. Conductors love to refer to Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" as a symphony...It is perhaps his "8.5" symphony. All arguments this week on "Who Wrote the Best Tenth" include Mahler. For someone who didn't make it past No.9, there are over 30 recordings of his "complete" Tenth. Recently I learned that in much of Europe, Schubert's Ninth is actually what we think of as his "Unfinished" (the "Great" C-major is known as his No.8). My argument is that if purists want to discount Mahler's Tenth then you need to discount Schubert's Ninth, meaning that Schubert only in fact had eight symphonies and avoided any sort of curse. By most counts Bruckner composed at least 11 symphonies. To say he died after No.9 is being a little dramatic. But we are music lovers and we love to be dramatic. One can only speculate that Penderecki did not want to go past No.9 out of some sort of respect for history. Glass did not seem to have those same hangups but it seems history was a big enough presence in his mind that he wanted to be as far away as No.9 as soon as possible.
So for us Glass fans, what's interesting in all of this is why Philip Glass with his Buddhist, Toltec, Taoist spiritual interests, would so seriously consider the "The Curse of the Ninth" that he would dust off an old piece written before his Ninth, orchestrate it, and call it his Tenth? There is talk of commissioned for a couple more symphonies in Glass's life. We will see if those pieces come to be. I was present once earlier this year when someone asked the composer how many he would compose. When someone mentioned the number 15, Glass said, "No. Shostakovich composed Fifteen Symphonies. I can't write that many. I have too much respect."
Comments from Q2's site on Glass's Tenth Symphony:
Norman from NY State (probably the same Norman who masquerades as "Boolez" on iTunes reviews and lives in his parent's basement):
"Music composed under commission by the manufacturer of Excedrin Extra-Strength Headache relief medication."
Glass should Music a favor and stop composing
Nothing but dull repetitious crap
Carol from Garfield, NJ (more level headed)
So, just because Philip Glass wrote more symphonies than Beethoven or Bruckner, that doesn't mean he can compare with either of them.
Can't believe I'm really liking this....keep playing it, mainly movement IV! If you get in the "zone" it's amazing!
Have to agree with Alice completely, and love her metaphors. In fairness, I only got through most of the first movement before the persistent percussive beats gave me a headache. To compare this stuff to Beethoven borders on heresy.
Philip Glass – Symphony No.10 / Concert Overture (2012)
Orange Mountain Music presents the world premiere recording of Philip Glass’s Symphony No.10 performed by the Bruckner Orchester Linz under the direction of Dennis Russell Davies.
Following the grand sweep and large canvas of Glass’s Ninth Symphony, his Tenth Symphony is described by the composer as the “Not-Nine Symphony.” Set in five shorter movements, this shorter work is a compact tour-de-force – originally inspired by a public fireworks project that premiered in Spain in 2007. Glass orchestrated the work in 2012 and it premiered in 2012 in France under Dennis Russell Davies as Symphony No.10.
“Concert Overture (2012)” was composed as a celebratory piece to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and had a simultaneous premiere in Toronto with the Toronto Symphony conducted by Peter Oundjian and in the composer’s hometown of Baltimore with the Baltimore Symphony and Marin Alsop. Juxtaposed with Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” which celebrated the end of the war, Glass’s “2012 Overture” became “a celebration of a celebration.” The rousing overture is featured here in its world premiere recording, all works under the direction of Dennis Russell Davies and the Bruckner Orchester Linz who previously recorded Glass's Symphonies Nos.6,7,8,and 9 to great acclaim.