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CLASSICAL  October 2007

CLASSICAL October 2007

Subject:

Trio Tristesse - P. Glass, L. Cohen, J. Kosman

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Fri, 12 Oct 2007 15:43:35 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/10/11/DDMMSNME6.DTL
<VBG>

Review: Philip Glass takes on Leonard Cohen. Big mistake.

   Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
   Thursday, October 11, 2007
   
   The whole Philip Glass celebration had been going along so nicely,
   too.
   
   First there was a lovely, intimate recital in Herbst Theatre,
   with the composer himself participating. Then there was the
   premiere of the inconsistent but often potent "Appomattox,"
   still running at the San Francisco Opera.
   
   But on Tuesday night, the third shoe dropped with a fetid,
   soul-deadening thud onto the stage of Stanford's Memorial
   Auditorium, and there was nothing to do but avert one's eyes
   and ears in disbelieving horror.
   
   "Book of Longing," which opened the new season at Stanford Lively
   Arts, is an evening-long song cycle that weds Glass' music with
   the words of songwriter Leonard Cohen. It comprises nearly two
   dozen numbers, performed without intermission by a quartet of
   singers and an eight-member instrumental ensemble, and there is
   scarcely a moment in the piece that doesn't inspire shame.
   
   Long, tedious, witless and numbingly repetitive, "Book of Longing"
   is a sort of perversely virtuosic display of awfulness. The only
   thing keeping it from being utterly negligible is its unshakable
   air of grandiose self-importance.
   
   That air, as well as much of the awfulness, stems chiefly from
   Cohen's lyrics, a stream of undercooked apercus and barely veiled
   self-regard.  The texts encompass love songs, political commentary,
   Skid Row posturing and more, all of it channeled through a filter
   of pretentiousness.
   
   The pretentiousness may contribute to his reputation as an artist,
   but beneath his long-standing pose of a sensitive hipster, Cohen
   retains the sensibility of a frat boy on the lookout for a sexual
   score. The text of one interminable song, "The Night of Santiago,"
   could be rendered more succinctly as "I met this awesome chick
   one time and we, like, totally did it."
   
   Yet even that might have been tolerable if Cohen's use of language
   were not so impoverished, his writing such a morass of monosyllables
   and clunky end-rhymes. One representative couplet can stand in
   for the rest: "The Paris sky is blue and bright/ I want to fly
   with all my might."
   
   I guess there are some who could hear that and, like Homer
   Simpson, murmur appreciatively, "Mmmm ... poetry!" The rest of
   us can only blanch.

   Cohen's doggerel in turn brings out the worst in Glass, a composer
   who should never be given a pretext for writing foursquare rhythms
   in neat four-bar phrases. The unexpected has never played a very
   large part in his aesthetic, but I don't think he's ever written
   anything as predictable as "Book of Longing"; you can practically
   tell from the opening strains of one song how the next one will
   end.
   
   Tuesday's performance was the one the piece deserved. The singers,
   Dominique Plaisant, Tara Hugo, Will Erat and Daniel Keeling,
   seemed to be staging a competition to see who had the patchiest
   top notes, the breathiest phrasing and the weakest pitch (verdict:
   four-way tie).
   
   Conductor Michael Riesman, a stalwart veteran of Glass' work,
   couldn't sustain a strong beat. The production, staged by director
   Susan Marshall, involved the projection of a series of Cohen's
   line drawings: endless self-portraits, endless naked ladies, and
   a saltshaker.
   
   But was there nothing to recommend, you may ask, nothing at all
   to savor? Well, Glass did insert a series of instrumental solos,
   and freed from Cohen's influence, the performance leapt briefly
   to life (one soloist, bassist Eleonore Oppenheim, delivered her
   assignment with particular eloquence).
   
   And in one song, "How Much I Love You," Glass writes a beautiful
   instrumental figure for woodwinds and strings in parallel thirds
   that serves as a welcome reminder of how ravishing his music can
   sometimes sound. If it were sung expressively and in tune, that
   one could make a serviceable outtake.

Janos Gereben
www.sfcv.org
[log in to unmask]

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