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CLASSICAL  October 2007

CLASSICAL October 2007

Subject:

Of Glass We Hum

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 1 Oct 2007 16:49:24 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

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I have already made my measured, lukewarm case for the Philip Glass
concert in Herbst Theater
(http://listserv.cuny.edu/Scripts/wa.exe?A2=ind0709E&L=OPERA-L&P=R163 -
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
   significantly redefined.*
   
   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
   or embarrassment.
   
   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
   should sound.

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

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