glass notes
Comments on recent OMM Releases

How Now/Strung Out
(Philip Glass' debut concert May 19, 1968)

This was a very interesting release to me as a lot of archeology work went in to discovering what in fact was this recording that was foisted into my hand by Philip Glass about three years ago.  Glass had told me that there was a woman named Chantal Darcy, who ran the label Shandar in the 1970s.  Darcy recorded a concert "a long time ago" and this was it. However, he couldn't pinpoint where and when the concert would have taken place. 

Through detective work and looking at available accounts (some scholarly) which talked about the salad days of Minimalism in New York City, and talking to Glass, it was narrowed down to only one possible concert.  It just happened to be the famous concert that took place at the Film Maker's Cinemateque at 80 Wooster Street on May 19, 1968 – this was coincidentally the concert which Glass considered to be his "New York Debut".

It turned out that Darcy recorded the concert, as she did many concerts by Reich, Riley and others at that time – but didn't secure the permission from Glass to release it so it went unreleased. They later collaborated on the release PHILIP GLASS SOLO MUSIC which were the premiere recordings of Music in Fifths and Music in Similar Motion on Shandar. But somehow this recording got lost in the shuffle.  It's an interesting document and I'm happy it has seen the light of day. How Now has never been my favorite piece from this early Glass period.  As Glass composed new pieces for the Philip Glass Ensemble, it was quickly taken out of the repertoire. In How Now, I never felt as if Glass' mature language had surfaced yet.

The opposite is true of Strung Out – a 14 minute solo violin work.  Strung Out shows additive process being developed as well as inherent harmony just dying to be released from the self-imposed strict musical language.  Use of actual harmony would have to wait a couple years until after Music with Changing Parts and for the composition of Another Look at Harmony, Parts I-IV, three parts of which ended up in Einstein on the Beach.  But really what we know of as Glass' voice started with pieces like Strung Out.  It's so exciting to hear what it sounded like 46 years ago as a brand new piece.

ComposersNotes_coverA Composer's Notes

I came across an excerpt of Michael Blackwood's 1985 film A Composer's Notes – Philip Glass and the Making of an Opera on YouTube.  The image was of Glass working in a studio with a technician who was creating a synthsized approximation of his new score to the opera Akhnaten.  The film is remarkable for a number of reasons. Blackwood got Glass to travel to India and Egypt, and documented the two premieres in Stuttgart and Houston.  Not simply for the amazing images of Glass wandering into Indian theater houses (against which Glass' modern operas don't seem so strange to our Western eyes) and walking among the Pyramids in Giza – but at the point of filming in 1983 Glass had still not "made it."  We see a 46 year old composer only a couple years removed from his day jobs and ecited about what lies in front of him. One of the poignant scenes is Glass composing at a table, then walking across the room to a piano and playing a scene from Akhnaten. Viewers get to see a piece of music being born.  It's a fascinating wonderful film.

DublincoverDublin Guitar Quartet performs Philip Glass

Also a YouTube discovery.  I can't recall who sent me this link the first time but more than one person did.  These transcriptions of the Glass String Quartets to the strings of guitars brought up interesting questions.  Recently there has been a number of performances of Glass' String Quartet No.3 "Mishima" performed on saxophones.  Certain previously unappreciated facets of the music began to appear for me.  But even then, Glass has written quite a bit of music for saxophones so the sound pallette was still Glassian.

However, guitars remain things seldom utilized in the Glass tapestry.  I can recall the electric guitar used on one piece in the 1950s scene of Mishima; a guitar also popped up in the soundtrack to The Thin Blue Line as well as playing a key dramatic role in the opera The Fall of the House of Usher.  But that's it!  In dozens of hours of music we have very little actually composed for the guitar.  So to hear this fine ensemble take such special care in honoring Glass' intent with their adaptations while bringing their own expertise to the performance was something tremendously special.  The music has literally never been heard this way before.


Symphony No.1 "Low"

Glass laughed during a preconcert interview in the spring of 2012 at Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall as he recounted the evolution of becoming a composer of numbered symphonies.  He said it started with this collaboration with David Bowie and Brian Eno.  The well recounted tale was that Glass simply took their beautiful music – as Mozart and Brahms before him with folk music – and contructed a large piece with symphonic dimensions from the original material.  Glass was in the later half of his 50s when Low Symphony was premiered. 

Then Dennis Russell Davies commissioned Symphony No.2 two years later. Symphony No.3 for strings a year later for his Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra.  Another Bowie/Eno Symphony Heroes followed 18 months later and all of a sudden, within a matter of five years Glass had written four numbered symphonies.  Glass was laughing that day in Los Angeles because when he got to Number 6, he looked at Davies and said "Dennis, what are you doing?"….after all, heading into writing a Ninth Symphony is historically very dangerous business.  But it all started with No.1 – the Low Symphony. 

Please see the liner notes essay for further discussion on the evolution of Glass the symphonist. For now, it's enough to comment on this beautiful recording.  Two decades have passed since the first recording of this work.  The first recording was done in a studio – bringing in each section of the orchestra at a time.  This new recording was a revelation as to how beautiful this music is when allowed to breath and divorced from a click track.  Not only that, Davies' relationship to the music has changed and so has he.  Twenty years have passed – ten symphonies were born during that time.  Going back to No.1 was like visiting an old friend for the conductor.  Listening to this recording is like seeing an old familiar face for the first time in a long time.

4 thoughts on “Comments on recent OMM Releases”

  1. Thanks for the background on these releases. The Dublin String Quartet recording is fantastic! It brings a totally new dimension to the quartets. I’ve always wanted more guitar music from PG and this really hits the spot. I hope there are more adaptions in the works for this group.

  2. Great releases from this month and the past few months.
    I’ve heard Alter Ego’s versions of Strung Out and How Now, but I think the original recordings are also the best.
    The packaging for How Now/Strung Out reminds me of an LP record.

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