glass notes
“classic art”….”This new concerto is unmitigated trash.”

Yesterday I saw Ivan Hewett's review of Philip Glass' new Violin Concerto No.2 "The American Four Seasons"  in the Telegraph which went something like this:

Philip Glass’s new violin concerto, The American Four Seasons…was dignified and contained, even when the
launched into passionate flights of virtuosity…By any measure, much of the material was absolutely ordinary, even
banal. And
yet Glass has a magical way of giving the merest twist to banality and
ordinariness, which makes it interesting – the mark of classic art
down the
ages. As for the solo performance by Robert McDuffie , it was beyond
as cool, poised and heroically strong as a piece of Greek statuary.

And here is ANOTHER review today from the Telegraph's Michael White:

Listening to Philip Glass is about as rewarding as chewing gum
that’s lost its flavour, and they’re not dissimilar activites. But I
did go to the UK premiere of his new violin concerto, more to witness
its reception than anything else. And the reception, I’m sorry to say,
was rapturous: a standing ovation. Which proves that even if you can’t
fool all the people all the time, you can hoodwink a depressing number
for a fair while.

This new concerto is unmitigated trash: the usual strung out
sequences of arpeggiated banality, driven by the rise and fall of
fast-moving but still leaden triplets, and vacuously formulaic. Whatever
gives Glass cause to think he can get away with it I can’t imagine
(well, perhaps I can: those damned standing ovations). But in this case
the offence is the worse for the portentous title he’s appended.

He calls it ‘The American Four Seasons’ – with, you’ll note, the
definite article: not just ‘a’ but ‘the’. In truth, there are some
correspondences of texture, mood and structure that support the title.
To a point. But Philip Glass is no Vivaldi, a composer who even at his
most wallpaper baroque still has something to say. Glass has nothing –
though he presumably deludes himself into thinking he does: hence the
preponderance of slow, reflective solo writing in the piece which
assumes there’s something to reflect on.

An American violinist called Robert McDuffie played the solos with
all the dignity he could muster (he’s tall, plays in a business suit,
looks like a senior vice president at Goldman Sachs: it helps) but you
couldn’t attribute any distinction to what he did. The tone was scrawny,
intonation suspect.

Marin Alsop conducted the LPO who had co-commissioned the piece. The
only question on my mind as I left the hall was: Why?

14 thoughts on ““classic art”….”This new concerto is unmitigated trash.””

  1. people are entitled to their opinions, yes. and the person who wrote that “trash” review sure has them—more so about how people receive glass and how glass goes on to create music that is actually glass music. sadly, though, his review does not focus so much on the music, what it does or doesn’t throughout the course of its delivery, movement. instead, it resorts to pretentious abuse of a personal nature, leading me to believe it is just a jealousy attack—some frustrated shadow artist who sadly wastes time trying to bring actually working artists down. to end, i always remember a dictum of aristotle’s that always helps me when i hear or read negative criticism about my work or the work of close others, “to be a proper judge, you should first be a proper performer.” doubtful the hateful reviewer is just such a person.

  2. Yesterday I wrote a comment under his piece of trash, mean spirited self serving piece of offal. Check it out if you like. The ironic thing is that Philip would just laugh & tell him to go listen to something else.
    We’re the ones who care, & don’t like a wonderful piece of Phil’s music to be trashed.

  3. I just listened to this new work on BBC 3, and I indeed think Michael White was off base. I wonder if it it a case of some people just hate Glass music. This new work carries PG’s distinct style and rhythm. It is not Bach, Vivaldi or Boulez- it is Glass through and through. I personally liked it. I did not think it sounded like PG borrowed parts from other works- that being one of the criticisms I usually hear. Robert McDuffie did a superb performance. I think the critic was out of line and must have had some axe to grind. Perhaps he had been chained down to a full performance of Music in 12 Parts.

  4. Let’s get real here. This isn’t just a case of a critic panning a piece of music. He is being utterly dismisive of the composer’s entire output.
    But how can a man, whose perception of Glass as a composer is reduced to arpeggios, claim to understand or know the actual oeuvre his dissmising? Or even be a good listener (not critic) of music in general?
    Mr. Reviewer doesn’t even understand where Glass was, is or going. I would dare Mr. White to listen to Anima Mundi, Symphony #8 and Dance and NOT to marvel at the breadth of ideas, diversity of stylew and maturity of those works. You want classical music? The hapriscord concerto is great classical music. Though it would get kind of hard trying to start explaining where the melody comes from in works like Naqqoyqatsi but a great solution is avoiding mentioning these works altogether.
    Sure, let us instead spread the lies that all Glass does is repeat notes all the time. Heck, Mr. White even fails to understand what “Minimalism” actually is (pro-tip: rhytm IS melody) and WHY its popularity is completely unsurprising. We’ve been hearing these kinds of sorry to say idiotic and off-base comments decades ago and although did wonders in educating people some are clearly too biased to change. To paraphrase from the review, you can’t teach all of them.
    As for the actual style of the review itself, it is the height of snobbishness and unprofessionalism. Of special note are the comments comments describing the performer.
    Does Mr White have an editor? If so, does the editor approve of his tendencies to build himself up as the ultimate judge of everything music related (either “Ay” or “Nay”) and does he give him high marks for inappropriate “observations” on violinist’s CEO appeal as something clever or dare I say poetic?
    Heck, Mr. White even admitted he didn’t even want to hear the concert in the first place. Perhaps next time he will do us all a favor and stays home.
    It is “reviews” like this that I’ve been avoiding Telegraph and Guiardian altogether for years. These publications are an embarassment to UK.
    P.S. Are we sure Michael White is not an alias of Armond White? That would explai a lot.

  5. haha… I got no problem with a critic giving negative feedback to a composer’s work, regardless of his reputation or era, if it’s constructive and fair… but this White scumbag even admits he didn’t go there specifically for the MUSIC. What a clown, he should be let go from his postition.

  6. Glass is a genius – the ‘minimmalist’ classifcation doesn’t begin to do him justice. Great art is often a transfiguration of commonplace material – (see Jane Austen)

  7. For what it’s worth, I think Ivan Hewitt was right about the piece (which I like much more than some of Glass’s other recent pieces which I’ve found quite disappointing), but wrong about the violinist. I reviewed the disc featuring this very performance and found McDuffie to be well below the level expected of a concert soloist. Maybe it sounded different in the hall on the night, but on disc the performance does not cast a good light on McDuffie.
    You can read my review here:
    It seems nessecary, given the tone of many of the comments here, to point out that this is just my opinion and that other opinions are available.

  8. And I would like to offer that other opinion.
    I’ll start with the piece itself which has been a staple of my listening for many months now. I find myself coming back to it again and again not just because like so many great Glass works it has an addictive quality to it but because I find listening to it a very rewarding experience. It speaks to me as a lover of Classical music as much as as as a work that got me to become a fan of Glass’ music in the first place.
    There’s music here that I would call legitimitly great and even smart, something that I think should and will last. In particular, I would like to single out the (wait, for it) “Song 3” for it’s great expressionistic quality.
    I guess that the issue is that you really don’t have to be a Glass fan to enjoy this release but for some people it’s almost a requirement in order to be able to get past the minimalist portions of the music and see the greater beuty and balance within.
    McDuffie’s playing is also perfectly fine and is likely to continue to remain one of the diffinive interpretations of the piece for a while. It’s probably a touch more confident than his work on the first concerto which I also like, especially on the second movement. Gidon Kremer remains the fav overall though.

  9. Maxim you make an important point by noting that you have become familiar with the second violin concerto and often come back to it with pleasure. That is also my experience, and it goes with all of the new work for me.
    Reviewers too often make snap judgments, without taking the time to become familiar with a work.

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