Thanks Steve for the reminder. ICARUS: On the Edge of Time is a surprising work. I consider it the second work of its kind. The first of these multi-media/orchestra works was LIFE: A Journey Through Time which was presented at the World Science Festival last year. I don't know, but I'm sure Philip Glass had no idea that that work was going to have "legs" the way it has. It's been done in Southern California, Italy, the Cabrillo Festival, Baltimore, New York, and with the London Symphony.
That piece pairs already existing Glass music, variously orchestrated by Michael Riesman, with nature photography by Frans Lanting. Having never seen it live I've been told it works. Though I imagine that I would have a hard time casting images of The Secret Agent, Anima Mundi, les Enfants Terribles, and other works out of my mind as I am seeing close-ups of frogs and water buffalo (ok, well maybe anima mundi). Anyway, that's my problem.
So since Philip Glass never actually wrote a new piece, the commissioners, led by conductor Marin Alsop asked Glass for a new piece for orchestra and film. The story was to be based on Brian Greene's children's book ICARUS: On the Edge of Time. The gist of the thing is that it's a re-imagining of the Icarus myth, but instead of flying too close to the sun and melting his wings, this Icarus flies too close to a black whole.
Glass' score is, I would say, about 50% underscore. The work also includes a narrator against which the orchestra needs to get out of the way as both elements drive the story forward. As a piece of music, I'm not sure Icarus would or should stand alone as an orchestral piece. It's carefully crafted to defer to the narrator and the story where it needs to, but in its best moments, there seems to be some classic Glass music: including the ominous opening (something he can do better than anyone) which portrays the loud humming of the motors of the space ship and the tricks of meter and tempo that he uses as Icarus gets closer to the black hole, thus distorting human perception of time.
The piece is intended for children and I think the authors did a wonderful job of creating a piece for them. If LIFE did so well with no new music, a sort of Philip Glass' greatest hits for orchestra, perhaps ICARUS will have a chance to exist as its own original piece. Already it's scheduled for future performances in London and Baltimore. For the premiere, the work was conducted by the indefatigable Brad Lubman with the orchestra of St. Luke's who did a wonderful job despite a technical glitch with the film element which ended 30 seconds too early. It wasn't a problem for me as we were treated to the grand finale of orchestra alone. The problem was sorted out by the second performance 5 days later at NYU. There was talk that to accommodate the stage size that this version was done with reduced string section but that it would be done with full strings, as intended, in London in a couple weeks: July 3 and 4. I can see where this piece would benefit from more strings.