glass notes
GLASSWORKS at (le) poisson rouge

It’s unbelievable that Glassworks has never been done in New York. In a way it makes sense though. The piece wasn’t written as a ‘piece’ but rather as a studio album for Columbia (later to become Sony) as an introduction to Philip Glass’ music.
And that’s exactly what it ingeniusly did. But the Philip Glass Ensemble hasn’t in a long time (or didn’t at all) taken to the road performing it.
Correcting this huge oversight this weekend in NYC is the new music group Signal performing it under the baton of Brad Lubman with live performance arrangements done by some guy you may have heard of: Michael Riesman.
They have added a second show; first is at 7:30 and the second is at 10. Strongly recommended.

6 thoughts on “GLASSWORKS at (le) poisson rouge”

  1. Signal’s performance of “Similar Motion” was absolutely stunning, perhaps as good as the Alter Ego version (though I’ll always prefer the brash analogue sound of the original PGE recording.) The live mixing for “Similar Motion” was also near-perfect, which was not always the case later on in the concert. (Levels were particularly off, for instance, during “Facades”, where the winds were mixed far too loud over the rest of the ensemble, to the point of distortion on the sustained notes. But perhaps my issues with the live mixing were only particularly notable from my seat near the back of the venue.)
    Following the bracing beauty and formal rigor of “Similar Motion”, the ensemble did a jump-cut of about twenty-five years, to early-nieties cinematic neo-Classical Glass– selections from “Anima Mundi” and “Belle et la Bete”, which were ably performed and well-arranged. We then looped back to a midpoint between “Similar Motion” and the film suites, for “Glassworks”.
    Most of “Glassworks” was executed flawlessly, but I must note that the performance of “Floe” was completely destroyed by one of the french horn players who (a) had an extremely significant part in the arrangement and (b) never, ever seemed to be able to stay in key for more than a few tantalizing seconds at a time. There is really no polite or diplomatic way to say it: I have never heard such a terrible outing by a single performer, ever, as in this movement. I was certain that at some point, midway through, Brad Lubman or Michael Reisman were simply going stop the ensemble and start the piece over, but they all just chugged forward. (The performance was being recorded, too; I can only hope that the second performance went off without a hitch, so that Signal can mix and match the best takes from the evening’s two performances. I suspect the horn player might have been wiped out by the demands of “Similar Motion”; but I still can’t help thinking the Ensemble must have rehearsed these pieces for weeks or months.)
    It must be a testament to the ensemble that they got everything right back on track with “Islands”; indeed, “Islands”, “Rubric”, and “Closing”, were quite compelling and tightly-performed. The ensemble’s playing in these movements, and in “Similar Motion”, made me regret that I missed their earlier performance of Reich’s “Music for Eighteen Musicians”.
    As I noted, the programming was clever enough, beginning with a seminal early chamber masterpiece, moving on to a couple of early-nineties film works, and then looping back around to the early 80s for “Glassworks”. The piece more and more sounds like the exact mid-point in Glass’s development, formally and aesthetically. Could it be the most quintessentially “Glassian” of all Glass compositions?

  2. I have to agree with you about Floe. My favorite piece on the album, its performance here immediately brought to mind why Mr. Glass is so inclined to only have the PGE play PGE works. With all due respect to that French horn player, his chops were probably busted from playing similar motion beforehand. I felt bad for him when he flubbed the opening note, and then again when he flubbed it at the midpoint repeat. Especially because they were recording it. I also thought the mixing was lacking, with too much bass here and not enough there. I did, however, feel that Signal really hit their stride during Rubric. It sounded properly full and was executed flawlessly.
    Really, these are demanding pieces to play. The performance implications of Glass’s music (a recent topic of discussion here) were on full display last night. Overall, I thought they did a nice job, and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance.
    You’re also right about Glassworks being definitively “Glassian”. From what I’ve read, it was meant to serve as an introduction to Glass’s music, made for the walkman, with each piece being as accessible as the last. When I inroduce his music to friends, it’s always Glassworks or Mishima. Speaking of which, I can’t wait until some enterprising upstart group of musicians brings that one out of the vault.

  3. I wish some group would tackle Act II of “The Photographer”. One of Glass’s most “Glassian” works (wordless voices, interlocking keyboard lines, “on the edge”, intense, loud, fast, gothic, beautiful). I estimate that I have listened to the recording around 3,000 times over the years since it was released, and would love to hear a group attempt it live!!!!

  4. I got a kick out of “H Brief”‘s comments about the horn players. I’ll go further under the protective sheen of Internet anonymity and say that if every last french horn disappeared from the face of the Earth, never to be replaced, I wouldn’t shed a single tear! As an avid concertgoer, I find it is a universal law of musicianship that the most likely flub at any concert of any kind is in the horn section, particularly on those dreaded attacks at the beginnings of their score parts.
    Yes, Wagner would never sound the same, but we’d be spared the consistent flubs from otherwise world-class ensembles!

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