Glass Notes publishes an update every week on Mondays.
At the outset of a new year I took at glance at the performance calendar at PhilipGlass.com and saw that the first performance listed is of the Second Violin Concerto in Belgrade Serbia. In scrolling further down it seems in general that Europe is the place to be in this year, 2016 - the year before Philip Glass has a big anniversary year when he turns 80 in 12 months from now.
On February 29th, a new production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible (set in Salem, MA - current home to Glass Notes) with a new score by Philip Glass will start previews on Broadway starring Soairse Ronan.
2014 ended on a high note with the THE COMPLETE PIANO ETUDES having its New York premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, an event which took place immediately after the OMM recording was released as well as the accompanying published sheet music. For 2015, I crafted a small survey of major Glass events in 2015 including recordings, events, and new commissions.
Perhaps the most unusual thing that happened this year in terms of Glass's productivity was the appearance of his memoirs WORDS WITHOUT MUSIC which was published by Liveright. In betwen all his other normal hyperactive activity, Glass took to the road on an honest-to-goodness Book Tour to promote the work. The book was very well received by the public as well as, among others, the NY Times book review. Completely different in character than his first book MUSIC BY PHILIP GLASS, this memoir takes a softer less cerebral tone and was clearly conceived for not just an exclusively musical public. I was a fan of his first book which covered his early musical days up to 1987 including his first Violin Concerto. Much of WORDS WITHOUT MUSIC covers a lot of the same territory yet this time with more of a storyteller's craft. The memoir ends in the mid-to-late 1990s before Glass's career went supernova. A master at leaving the audience wanting more, so much of Glass's later music, collaborations and expereinces goes unaddressed in this book. However, that is perhaps my only criticism of the book I had the privilege to read in draft form, and twice in finished form.
Notably, not long after the Complete Etudes (the show) was presented at BAM, a number of pianists undertook recording the Etudes either in part or whole inlcuding Paul Barnes, Jenny Lin, Bojan Gorisek, Nicholas Horvath, and Andrew Chubb. New Music champions like Lisa Moore, Bruce Brubaker, Valentina Lisitsa, Francesco Di Diore, and Floraleda Sacchi had very interesting new interpretations of well-trodden Glass piano music. There were a number of really interesting new recordings by major artists like Gidon Kremer's performance of Violin Concerto No.2 on an album called "New Seasons" , Momenta Quartet's new recording of "Music in Similar Motion,",or eighth blackbird's recording of "Two Pages" with Bryce Dessner.
There were a number of cool "Singles:" Matt Haimovit'z recording of "Orbit" for Solo Cello, Paul Barnes's "Dreaming Awake," Gamelan Pacifica's recording of "Opening", and this cool organ/saxophone rendition of "Facades"
A couple of my favorite albums of the year were the Carducci Quartet's new recordings of String Quartet No.5, a suite from Dracula, and the String Sextet and Iveta Apkalna's pairing of the organ works of Glass and Bach. Special mention also goes to Michael Riesman's OMM album of transcriptions from Glass's opera La Belle et la Bete, completing the piano versions of the Cocteau trilogy (Barnes' Orphée suite, and Namekawa/Davies two-piano version of Les Enfants Terribles.)
but the company fulfilled its principal function as being the only company which brings NEW recordings of NEW Glass music into the world. As such OMM release Tim Fain's excellent premiere recording of "Partita for Solo Violin" as well as the never-before-released- film score to "A Brief History of Time", "Symphony No.10/Concert Overture 2012" by Glass stalwarts Davies/Bruckner Orchester Linz.
Philip Glass continues his lifelong habit of performing all over the world in interesting places, and the same can be said for his music. A number of major events popped up which caught my attention including the opening of the new Philharmonie in Paris which has hosted already performances of Glass's Symphony No.1 "Low", Symphony No.4 "Heroes", his Three Ifè Songs with Angelique Kidjo (also performed at the San Francisco Symphony), and this spring they will play host to Glass's newest concert work, his Double Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra. Fall and Winter of 2014 were committed to the composition of that concerto and it's begun to make its way around the world soloists, the Labèque sisters have performed the work at its premiere in Los Angeles, in Instabul, and they will take it to the Paris Philharmonie as well as to Madrid Spain and Scandinavia this spring. The first half of 2015 saw Glass devoted almost exclusively to the composition and re-conception of his 2007 opera APPOMATTOX. To call this piece a revision is insufficient. There will well over an hour of new material, resequencing of old material, to the point where it bears almost no theatrical relationship to its first version. I consider the piece to be one of the more impressive things Glass has created to date. After two very positive reviews in the Washington Post, the piece received mixed reviews elsewhere. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this opera.
In general, Glass's catalogue got a workout this season. Symphonies Nos.1,2,3,4, and 7 were performed multiple times as well as many of the concertos and tone poems like The Light, which seems to be making a comeback - as well as pieces like Days & Nights in Rocinha. On the opera front numerous operas were produced from multiple productions of "Hydrogen Jukebox" to "In The Penal Colony" and "Galileo Galilei."
The other appearance of Glass' name on a major platform was for the film FANTASTIC FOUR (10% on Rotten Tomatoes) co-composed by Marco Beltrami. To my ears, other than a slight Glassism in the opening track, I couldn't decipher much of a presence of Glass's common gestures/harmonies. All the same, it was a thrill to consider Glass scoring a big super-hero music, albeit a not very successful one.
NEW WORKS: So in 2015 we had one true premiere of a major work with the DOUBLE CONCERTO FOR TWO PIANOS and a major rebirth of an opera with APPOMATTOX 2.0. In the interstices there was a surprise piece written for double bassist Robert Black called "The Not Doings of an Insomniac (in the form of a Partita for Double Bass)" premiered in June at the Double BAss convention in Fort Collins Colorado. Apparently on the road in a hotel room suffering from insomnia, Philip Glass found the time to compose this 20 minute piece for double bass designed to be performed with poems read in between the seven movements.
And finally, another piece popped up recently when cellist Matt Haimovitz commissioned Philip Glass to compose a Prelude to Bach's G major Cello Suite. Glass composed a 4 minute work which will be recorded by Haimovitz in the new year. Haimovitz, who lives in Montreal, will perform a Glass cello concerto next season with the Ochestre Symphonique de Montréal. As such, he premiered the new Glass piece at a coffeehouse outside of Ottawa.
Glass Notes publishes an update every week on Mondays.
In advance of the release of the recording of the new concerto on Friday, I thought I might include my original and expanded liner notes for the iTunes album.
In a series of works that dates back to 1987 when Philip Glass composed his Violin Concerto No.1 which premiered at Carnegie Hall (the manuscript hangs on the wall inside the venerable institution), Glass has gone on to compose twelve concertos, nine of which have been composed since the year 2000. The form really caught the composer’s attention when he embraced the inherent narrative concept of the concerto as typified by the soloist positioned as a hero who fights against, and almost without fail, triumphs over the orchestra. In variation, this model has been composed many times by Glass and countless other composers throughout time. Only in Glass's recent concertos including his Double Concerto for Violin & Cello has Glass diverged from the classic heroic model of the concerto. Instead Glass has developed a new compositional approach in which the orchestra functions as an organic extension of the soloists.
Dispatching totally with any sort of introduction, in Philip Glass’s Double Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra (2015) from the very first bar we hear that the pianos and the orchestras are part of one tapestry of sound. The orchestration itself seems to treat the orchestra pianistically. All throughout the work one hears the pianists playing figures which are doubled by sections of the orchestra, or where the range of certain instruments end, other instruments pick up the thread and continues melodic or rhythmic line. It’s not the approach that one would find in a concerto grosso where sections of the orchestra act as soloists but rather an effect of the pianos being the leader of one big band on equal footing.
This approach not only provides orchestrational flexibility, but also in the musical language itself. In Glass’s very recent works we find an unusual density for a composer who is widely known for economy of means. This Double Concerto is packed thick with frenetic movement as if ten ideas are coming at you at the same time all layered one upon another. As such, at the opening of the piece we are thrown right into the midst of a joyous carnival. Indeed, Glass himself categorized the first two movements as being joyous in character. The third movement unwinds into music of a more lugubrious character. Generally speaking, this is some of the most dense music Glass has ever written. It’s also perhaps his most chromatic.
Entering the quicksand of composing chromatic music has the potential to either be imitative or collapse under its own weight. What Glass accomplishes in this piece is writing a piece full of thick harmony and constant change based somewhat on chromatic movement. This is a dangerous direction for any tonal composer to embark on (who wants to relive the 20th Century?). However, there are real benefits in Glass’s idiom which are rewarding including the emphasis placed on passing tones giving them more weight and importance than in any of his other music. Glass enters those waters with a joy and fluidity which has become the hallmark of his very recent music.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic is the most dynamic performing arts organization in North America. It’s also the only American orchestra with a consistent commitment to the music of Philip Glass having performed a great deal of Glass’s music in the last decade including Violin Concerto No.1 at the Hollywood Bowl with concertmaster Martin Chalifour as soloist under Leonard Slatkin, Interludes from Glass’s opera Orphée, Symphony No.3 also at the Bowl set to choreography by Diavolo in a piece called “Fluid Infiinities.” The orchestra commissioned Symphony No.9 that was conducted by John Adams in its West Coast premiere in 2012 in celebration of Glass’s 75th birthday. Adams also conducted scenes from Akhnaten as part of the orchestra’s Minimalist Jukebox in 2006. In a collaboration with the Los Angeles Master Chorale the orchestra and chorus performed Glass’s opera The Civil Wars under Grant Gershon in 2014. Glass made his belated Hollywood Bowl debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009 when the orchestra commissioned and premiered the orchestral treatment of Koyaanisqatsi live-to-film with the Philip Glass Ensemble. It prompted a second similar commission to orchestrate Glass’s Powaqqatsi in 2011, again with the Philip Glass Ensemble. However none of these pieces were world premieres of a new piece and so it was with great relish that Glass composed his Double Concerto for Two Pianos for the organization that has given him so much, and for the first time an opportunity for collaboration with its music director Gustavo Dudamel. Having never worked together before, Glass was impressed at something that transpired in rehearsals before the premiere of the new concerto, some he had never experienced before.
It’s not uncommon that during rehearsals that certain orchestration is adjusted to make the balances work the way a composer imagined them. At one point, during the final rehearsal, Glass approached Dudamel with a concern about the balances of instruments. While considering changes to the dynamics in the score, Dudamel jumped into action and simply reconfigured the way the instrumental groups had been placed on the stage. This is something Glass had never encountered. When orchestra and soloists played the problematic passage again it had been corrected, as if by magic. It was an example of how well the conductor knows the acoustic of Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Katia and Marielle Labèque are known as perhaps the most celebrated piano duo of their generation. Tireless champions of the new and old, the duo began performing the music of Philip Glass in the past five years with his piece Four Movements for Two Pianos. This led to Glass composing a new piece in 2013 for the Labèques and the Namekawa-Davies duo together called Two Movements for Four Pianos. So this opportunity to compose a new work for soloists, conductor, and orchestra that were personally and artistically important to Glass proved to be an irresistible opportunity. The result of that collaboration can be heard on this current recording which was made during the live first performances of this new concerto by Philip Glass.
– Richard Guérin, Salem, MA 2015
Grammy winners Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, along with pianists Katia and Marielle Labéque, will release the world-premiere recording of Philip Glass' newest concert work, his Double Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra on Orange Mountain Music on December 11 exclusively on iTunes. The digital-only recording is also available for pre-order now.
Recorded during its world premiere at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in May 2015, Glass' Double Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra was composed for soloists Katia and Marielle Labéque in the fall and winter of 2014-15 and commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra, Göteborgs Symfoniker and Orquesta Nacional de España. This performance provided the first opportunity for Glass to collaborate with Gustavo Dudamel and the Labéque sisters.
In a series of works that began in 1987, Philip Glass has gone on to compose twelve concertos, nine of them since the year 2000. The form really caught the composer's attention when he embraced the inherent narrative concept of the concerto as typified by the soloist positioned as a hero who fights against, and almost without fail, triumphs over the orchestra. Only in his recent concertos, including his Double Concerto for Violin & Cello, has he diverged from the classic heroic model of the concerto. Instead, Glass has developed a new compositional approach in which the orchestra functions as an organic extension of the soloists. From the very first bar of Double Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra, we hear that the pianos and the orchestra are part of one tapestry of sound. All throughout the work one hears the pianists playing figures which are doubled by sections of the orchestra, or where the range of certain instruments end, other instruments pick up the thread and continue the melodic or rhythmic line.
Gustavo Dudamel appears courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon and Fidelio Arts Ltd. Katia and Marielle Labéque appear courtesy of KML Records.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, under the vibrant leadership of Music Director & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, presents an inspiring array of music from all genres - orchestral, chamber and Baroque music, organ and celebrity recitals, new music, jazz, world music and pop - at two of L.A.'s iconic venues, Walt Disney Concert Hall (www.laphil.com) and the Hollywood Bowl (http://www.HollywoodBowl.com). The LA Phil's season extends from September through May at Walt Disney Concert Hall, and throughout the summer at the Hollywood Bowl. With the preeminent Los Angeles Philharmonic at the foundation of its offerings, the LA Phil aims to enrich and transform lives through music, with a robust mix of artistic, education and community programs.
Orange Mountain Music is a record company created to serve the fans, aficionados and academics studying the music of Philip Glass. Founded in 2001, the foundational idea for this label developed out of a project undertaken by Kurt Munkacsi and Don Christensen to archive all the master recordings that Philip Glass has made. Over some 40 years Glass had produced hundreds of hours of recordings in the process of creating operas, concert works, film scores, musical theatre pieces and studio albums. This became the foundation of the label; the company began to release these recordings in the early 2000s, eventually leading to the production of new recordings, not just archival material.
Under the leadership of director Don Christensen, fifteen years into the project, OMM's catalogue contains over 100 titles including the majority of Glass' creative output: ten symphonies, seven string quartets, dozens of film scores, chamber music, world music and numerous operas. OMM has released a wide variety of Glass's music featuring a roster of prominent international ensembles that include the Bruckner Orchester Linz, New York Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Sinfonieorchester Basel, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and Pacific Symphony; theaters including the Landestheater Linz, Teatro Real Madrid, Music Theatre Wales, Portland Opera, and Brooklyn Academy of Music; soloists including Robert McDuffie, Matt Haimovitz, Julian Lloyd Webber, Maki Namekawa, and Tim Fain; new music groups including the Philip Glass Ensemble, Kronos Quartet, Brooklyn Rider, Dublin Guitar Quartet, Alter Ego, Signal Ensemble, Icebreaker, and Cluster Ensemble; and conductors Dennis Russell Davies, Dante Anzolini, Michael Riesman, Gerard Schwarz, Anne Manson, Jurjen Hempel, and Marin Alsop.
"A lot of people shared my excitement about Philip Glass’s and Christopher Hampton’s “Appomattox,” which, after seeing a second time on Friday night, I remain convinced is a superb opera."
It was with much anticipation that I headed down to Washington DC this weekend to see the premiere of Appomattox 2.0 at the Washington National Opera and to echo Anne Midgette's review in the Washington Post, I harbor feelings of wanting to go see the piece again.
This is a big personal departure for me because the original version of Appomattox was, despite its noble intentions, never a fully realized piece and it didn't excite me very much. I recall the horrifically short period for which Glass had only a number of weeks to compose the whole opera. While the normal sequence for writing an opera for Glass includes years of gestation and idea-forming - with the actual composition of the music not necessarily taking a huge amount of time - Appomattox is a unique creation in many ways.
In the spring of 2007 I had a moment with Glass after he had just delivered the finished opera to the San Francisco Opera. At that time the composer expressed a wish for more time to work on it. Unlike any other opera, symphony, or chamber work Appomattox is significant for being the only piece I can think of which was subject to a wholesale overhaul from a composer who almost never looks backwards.
When I say revision, I mean revision. One of the many thoughts I had when leaving the opera on Saturday was that I wondered if the authors considered changing the name of the opera because it had changed so much. The old piece clearly had more to do now that the meeting between Grant and Lee at Appomattox court house at the end of the war than being a single word title which evoked the history of race in America.
I have known Appomattox 1.0 for 8 years now. I have come to know its drama, its pacing, and its music inside and out. Admittedly, Appomattox 1.0 does have issues. While I think it's a quality opera, it is somewhat misshapen with a fully realized first act and a somewhat convoluted second perhaps owing to the lack of time to compose it.
So right off the bat on Saturday night I noticed the opera no longer began with women's voices singing about the sorrows of war in a beginning, it had been very close to that of Satyagraha - voice and then slow minor key ostinati. Now the opera opens with a "colored" regiment singing the "Tenting On the Old Campground" traditional. Glass original choice of using women at the outset had to do with his remembrances of growing up during the Second World War - as was so often the case in war, with all the men gone the women are left holding the bag, left with the task of keeping the world functioning.
In this new opening with the soldiers, a number originally found in the middle of Act 1, we now start off with the opera's real primary subject - that of the legacy of race in America. From here we move then to the women singing a long sequence about how so much blood has been drained during these four years of the war and hopes that this will be the last time. This is followed with a new scene of Frederick Douglass meeting Lincoln after his second inauguration responding to Lincoln's question about his hopes for the country after the war ends. Douglass's hope is for the vote for all men of color (note, not women - that too, is later addressed in dialogue).
The opera builds, layer upon layer with history and issues which haunt us to this day. Each scene spawns more interesting episodes and rich theatrical material. If there was a danger inherent here it's that there are too many issues and too many characters to ever really address in one evening. The magic of the theater is that not only can the drama move forward without succumbing to the weight of it all, and only music has the real power to make it all propel forward without collapsing under its own weight. This, is perhaps the small miracle of Appomattox 2.0, that Glass's score draws us in - keeps us there - and carries us through these two gigantic conceptual acts. Inasmuch, this is perhaps one of Glass's most impressive scores.
In a way, Appomattox is an opera, in both its forms, about text. Christopher Hampton's masterfully crafted libretto is every bit as impressive as Glass's 500 pages of score. The task of the composer is to do something with all that text and scenario, to make sense of it, to imbue it with that magic. Act 1 is largely set in 1865 at the end of the American Civil War with the exception of the last scene of Act 1 in which T. Morris Chester - an African American journalist whom we first meet in a scene at Appomattox Courthouse when Chester is optimistic that now that the war is over, the fortunes and destinies of African Americans is going to change for the better. The last scene of Act 1 is a solo for Chester in which enough time has passed for us (and Chester) to understand that his optimism had been misplaced.
The great contrast in this new version is the entirety of Act 2. The older music which largely comprises Act 1 is much more dour, more black-and-white and antique sound than the vibrant color to be found in Act 2. It is true that a main characteristic of the whole new score is Glass highlighting melodic content within the orchestration. Over this past decade Glass has moved further into a Romantic musical language that relies more on orchestral variety and detail. This is on full display in Act 2 with more traditional tunes arranged by Glass which serve as signposts of American identity. Their presence ushers in moments of lighter musical language, 'good old tunes' which most American audience would know. I think their inclusion was a stroke of genius. Add to these Glass's own settings of well known texts and Glass's established and ubiquitous sound which nowadays forms a part of a universal musical vernacular and the whole tapestry of Appomattox begins to feel very familiar.
This seems to me like something that couldn't have been done before. What I mean by that is that I don't think that Glass could have composed this piece at any time in the past. Subject matter and new developments aside, I don't feel that he even could have or been prepared to do it.
The same thing goes for the audience. Over 40 years Glass has earned our attention on this scale and duration. As constant listeners we are willing to go along for this long journey precisely because of an artistic trust he has built up. For those willing to go on that journey, it's one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had in any theater.
The cast demands are huge including 13 principals (many of them doubling) and more than one chorus. The forces in this case were all wrangled by Maestro Dante Santiago Anzolini. Anzolini is one of those conductors that for anyone with a modicum of musical knowledge, every gesture is a clear direction. The conductor breathes with his singers and was on top of every cue and every balance. This is a gigantic score and in comments before the opera Glass said he had asked Anzolini (who not a month before conducted Akhnaten in Turin) to jump in on very short notice for an injured Dennis Russell Davies and Anzolini agreed. Then laughing, Glass said that after Anzolini agreed that Glass hadn't mentioned that the score was an (uncorrected) 500 pages of very complicated new music.
For me, a constant Glass listener, this all added up to something very interesting. The takeaway of the new Appomattox is such a rich and profound commentary on the American trajectory through the past 150 years, resting in an overwhelmingly opulently well-informed and elegant libretto, that only a composer who has spent a life in the theater and opera house could even attempt to make sense of it. Particularly in Act 2, with the hilarious Texan patois of Lyndon B. Johnson, that Glass managed to elevate into something palatable (the biggest and well-needed laughs of the night), I found the essence of the identity of the whole piece. Glass corralled the stories of dozens of primary participants of this important American history and coalesced them, pulled them by force into an intriguing narrative flow.
By force of sheer will, like a weight-lifter lifting up the 400lb. weight of race relations in American History into the light for all the world to see, and by seeing we are able to see that history for what it actually is: a shameful goddamn mess.
The recent assaults on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as well as the recent racial strife in the country show that, despite disavowal in many corners of the United States, that the shame continues. Some think that all the big proactive work has been done in the name of race relations in the USA. Some think too much was done and it's better left alone. Some factions simply don't care. Appomattox is Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton, screaming from the top of voices that you should care, and there are a million reasons why.