Kile Smith discusses the importance of Philip Glass
Philip Glass is one of the most influential composers of the last 50 years. He’s not the only composer to use slowly changing repetition as a formal device, but his prolific output and the legacy of decades of performances by the Philip Glass Ensemble, have made his sound-world recognizable to millions.
He’s composed numbers well into the double digits of symphonies, operas, and film soundtracks, along with string quartets, concertos, ballets, songs, and so much more. His autobiography Words without Music recounts what Ornette Coleman told him: there was a difference between the music world and the music business. It's a lesson he never forgot.
He worked in his father’s Baltimore record store, and was a furniture mover, cab driver, and plumber. He studied at Juilliard and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, then formed his ensemble and began touring. Operas, beginning with Einstein on the Beach, made him so famous that Peter Schickele poked fun with a P.D.Q. Bach opera, Einstein on the Fritz. Philip Glass loved it.
He's worked with Ravi Shankar, Martin Scorsese, Samuel Beckett, and David Bowie, and broke down the wall between uptown classical and downtown vernacular. The sound of contemporary music is due, in no small part, to Philip Glass.
Forms traditional, and those not so, arise on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 18th at 9 pm. Composers often wrestle over titles, hoping to trumpet putative musical originality with a never-seen-before moniker. Paul Moravec, however, writes a piece for string quartet plus piano and calls it what it is: Piano Quintet. With the Lark Quartet, with pianist Jeremy Denk, and with his keen ear for profound energy, Moravec has that ease to call things what they are, and we are rewarded.
John Hodian’s six-part MMU-14 is mysteriously-titled but engagingly entertaining. Written way back in the 1980s, it’s a work of surface repetition, but listen closely, as it’s rare that any two measures are exactly like the next two. For overdubbed acoustic instruments, MMU-14 uses just a soupçon of electronics to produce an attractive yet propulsive drive.
Passover passes and remembrance continues on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 11th at 9 pm. The composer and guitarist David Leisner tells the story, in Acrobats, of circus performers on a concentration camp-bound train who mistakenly end up at a circus. Life-and-death decisions are made in split seconds. Raphael Mostel was concerned with the Second World War destruction and eventual liberation of Rotterdam, but as he composed in September 2001, a plane headed to the World Trade Center flew over his building. Shofars and brass shudder in Night and Dawn.
John Morton recalls, by way of a modified music box, a Passover meal’s interlude in The Parting. Conductor Gerard Schwarz is also a composer, and wrote In Memoriam for the passing of a friend. It premiered at a Holocaust memorial concert, and featured as soloist Schwarz’s cellist son Julian. The Hebrew term for the Red Sea actually translates to “Sea of Reeds,” so that may be the body of water that the Israelites crossed in their Exodus from Egypt. From the Sea of Reeds CD by Gerald Cohen is a work for violin, clarinet, and piano, an extended blues called Variously Blue.
Two Philadelphia composers explore sacred themes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 4th at 9 pm. Holy the Firm is the song cycle by James Primosch on texts by Denise Levertov, Annie Dillard, Susan Stewart, and the 7th-century John Climacus, whose monastic treatise The Ladder of Divine Ascent takes its inspiration from the angels in Jacob's dream. From Primosch's Sacred Songs CD, this is magical and colorful writing for soprano and small orchestra.
Curt Cacioppo's Women at the Cross, from his recent CD Ritornello, is a suite for string quartet and piano focused on the week of the Passion of Christ. The movements are Maria gratia plena (Mary, full of grace), Procula, Veronica, Maddalena, La terza Maria, Salome, and Sons of Thunder; the finale refers to James and John, called "Boanerges" or "Sons of Thunder" by Jesus, and thought to be the sons of one of the women disciples, Salome.
It’s all whispers and shadows on Now Is the Time, Saturday, February 28th at 9 pm. Deliciously riffing on Shakespeare takes us to where comedy, tears, and romance meet, in Daron Hagen’s Much Ado for orchestra. JG Thirlwell produces sweeping cinematic drama in his Brooklyn studio with 10 Ton Shadow, and the glorious sounds of Chanticleer revolve William Byrd around Walt Whitman’s “Whispers of Heavenly Death” in Whispers by Steven Stucky.
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project performs Lewis Spratlan’s Apollo and Daphne Variations, an extensive metamorphosis on the myth of change to escape predation. Carleton Macy closes the program with Elusive Dreams for saxophone quartet.
Everything's numbered on Now Is the Time, Saturday, February 21st at 9 pm. Rudy Davenport comes up with Seven Innocent Dances for harpsichord, and for piano are the Bagatelles of Paul Chihara, subtitled Twice Seven Haiku.
The Ancia Saxophone Quartet performs David Bixler's Heptagon, and Joel Chadabe electronically modifies the playing of Esther Lamneck on the tarógató, the Hungarian single-reed instrument related to the saxophone, in Many Times Esther. Lucas Ligeti writes about three places he's visited in Triangulation, for the electronic percussion instrument called marimba lumina.
It's ice and echoes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 31st at 9 pm Eastern on the all-classical stream at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Figure-skating and Stravinsky inspire Joan Tower's gliding Petroushskates, and Allen Ginsberg narrates his own poem in Echorus by Philip Glass, for two violins and strings. From the CD Winter is Eric Ewazen's Elegia, for trumpet and piano.
The Tibetan Heart Mantra is at the center of Echoes by Paul Fowler, for the women of The Crossing, and Peru echoes in the harpsichord work by Kent Holliday, Dances from Colca Canyon. Barton McLean runs environmentalist John Muir's descriptions of glaciers through his own software to construct Ice Canyons. The echoes of minimalism by way of Steve Reich close out the program, in this recording of New York Counterpoint arranged by saxophonist Dave Camwell for his CD Time Scape.
Everything's coming up threes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 10th at 9 pm. Childlike simplicity is deceptive in creativity but Brian Belet achieves that goal in Drei Kinderstücke for solo piano. John Corigliano fascinatingly pairs soprano with flute for his Three Irish Folksong Settings, and for soprano with piano are settings of a Scottish poet in Three Tannahill Songs of Evan Chambers.
Philadelphia's own David Bennett Thomas comes along with Three Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, and for violin, cello, and piano is the Trio of Lera Auerbach. And to honor the memory of Fred Sturm, who just passed away in August, a saxophone quartet closes the program with one of his wonderful jazz-inspired compositions, Picasso Cubed.
We turn the corner into a new year of Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 3rd at 9 pm. Kevin McCarter's Prelude and Excursion for orchestra leads into a sacred new year's dedication for chorus by Carson Cooman, Set Me As a Seal. And then the pianist Marc-André Hamelin performs Twelve New Etudes, Book 4 by William Bolcom.
Robert Honstein snips dialog from an online dating service to entitle the electronic chamber works in his CD RE:you; we'll hear I know the feeling…. For violin and piano is Eric Moe's Preamble and Dreamsong from the 4-5 a.m. REM Stage. The last movement of Symphony of the Universe by Wendy Mae Chambers comes to us in a live recording from the cavernous Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and what better way to listen to Evolution, music for 100 timpani?