I have already made my measured, lukewarm case for the Philip Glass
concert in Herbst Theater
and yes, it should be Cocteau), but now there are sounds of ecstasy are
heard in the distance, using Josh Kosman's report as proof.
Let's see just how judicious and balanced Mr. K. was in his assessment,
how close he came to my "Glass Half Full," rather than exclaiming the
new King of the Music Hill. Clearly, he appreciates Glass more than I
do - and I like him well enough - but Glass is still basically the Michael
Flatley of classical music - neat moves, repeated, income accumulated.
Glass, guests make magic in intimate Herbst show
Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
Monday, October 1, 2007
Philip Glass' music will be widely in evidence this month, between
the premieres of his "Appomattox" at the San Francisco Opera and
the Leonard Cohen collaboration "Book of Longing" at Stanford
Lively Arts. But San Francisco Performances got the jump on the
festivities Friday night, with a short and intimate recital
program in Herbst Theatre.
Glass was the star, naturally, playing piano and introducing
five of his instrumental pieces in his best befuddled-mournful
manner. He was joined by the superb cellist Wendy Sutter and
percussionist Mick Rossi, and together they held an enthusiastic
house spellbound for an intermissionless hour and a half.
The source of that magnetism was not hard to spot. Glass'
trademark compositional palette of *minor-key harmonies, hypnotic
repetitions and elemental melodies can be deployed in seemingly
endless ways to produce music with the eloquence and simplicity
of a lullaby.
His techniques vary somewhat from piece to piece, but not a lot.
In a program that ranged across nearly 30 years' worth of music,
*the same sorts of rhetorical gestures and harmonic strains
recurred over and over - each time slightly redirected, but never
This is not a criticism, because no one comes to Glass' music
for surprises or new directions. We come to hear what wrinkles
he can work on the established ground plan, and to experience
once more the sorcery by which he conjures music of such improbable
depth and power from such simple means.
Part of the trick lies in Glass' ability *to flatten the horizon
of expectations through simple repetitions, so that a single
deviation - a brief metrical shift, say, or a chromatically
inflected harmony - registers on a listener as a dramatic event.
Another part is his ability to place the elemental building
blocks of music - linear melodies, arpeggios, oscillating
accompaniment figures - in an expressive light without hesitation
Some of the music on Friday's program used these procedures to
memorable effect. Four short pieces from the soundtrack to
Godfrey Reggio's 2002 film "Naqoyqatsi" - called "Tissues" because
they served as connective passages between sections of the movie
- set infectious tunes and figurations against vivid harmonies,
never more arrestingly than in the second number, a quickstep
for cello and celesta.
Perhaps the evening's most haunting offering was "The Orchard,"
a short excerpt from music that Glass wrote with Foday Musa Suso
for a 1990 stage production of the Jean Genet play "The Screens."
Here, over an insinuating piano accompaniment, the cello plays
a slow, minor-key melody that occasionally bursts into bruised,
accusatory arpeggios; there's a whole emotional drama delineated
in a few extraordinary notes.
And from a little further afield came "Songs and Poems for Cello,"
a recent suite of pieces that sound like Glass' answer to Bach.
Sutter, a New York-based virtuoso who performs with the Bang on
a Can All-Stars, delivered them with a blend of contrapuntal
clarity and verve.
Glass is, quite rightly, a celebrity of the new-music world, and
the fans who crowded Herbst Theatre were clearly there to see
him as well as to hear his music.
The catch is that he is no more than a competent pianist at the
best of times, which gave his collaborations with Sutter and
Rossi the feeling of a pro-am event. And when he opened the
program by stumbling through an inexpressive, error-prone account
of four movements from "Metamorphosis," it was enough to break
the heart of anyone who knows how magnificent this music can and
Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>
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