(a children's performance of Akhnaten in Byans sur Doub, France, December 2009)
A Note of explanation on my year end review (directly below). Knowing as many hardcore and lifeless classical music fans as I know, let me make a small note about quality. The list below presents a large body of work which any composer would be proud to have produced in a lifetime let alone a decade. However, let me state that what is important here are the accomplishments of both quantity and quality.
The greatest hope any film score has is recognition manifest in either winning awards or selling a lot of records. Glass' score to The Hours did both. But it was also extended an all too rare additional distinction of becoming a bona fide concert piece, a de facto piano concerto. Michael Riesman has performed the work internationally and performances continue to this day.
Thousands of really good symphonies have been discarded in the waste basket of time. There seems to be a slower acknowledgment of merit in the world of orchestral music. It's infrequently talked about in the midst of large marketing campaigns, but orchestral music on a high level is the stiffest and most cynical type of music making there is. So, I don't hold my breath for performances but I still argue that Glass' 2005 Symphony No.8 is not only his strongest essay in the medium, but also deserving of many performances. Again, I don't expect the old grand maestros to sweep aside yet another presentation of the complete Beethoven symphonies (zzzz) rather giving themselves and their audiences an opportunity to really engage with a great piece.
The world of theater has been Glass' bread and butter for a long time. Of the 6 operas he composed in the 2000s, I have heard/seen 5 of them. Not all of Glass operas will be remembered, but a good many are frequently revived. Some of the operas present a refined theatrical sense of a matured master composer offering truly dynamic works of theater which will speak to generations to come. Of these last ones, I believe Waiting for the Barbarians, also from the Greay year of 2005, will last the longest and speak the loudest. Why? Why are we condemned to repeat history? On top of that mystery, the music and story are wonderful. The opera presents the most traditional narrative-type opera I can recall in the whole of the Glass oeuvre, which will also be more comfortable for the (doubtlessly more conservative) audiences of the future.
These are three great works in three different media. In themselves remarkable accomplishments for a composer at the height of his creative powers.
Had Philip Glass passed away at the age of Schubert (33) or Mozart (35) he would have made it up to about "Music with Changing Parts." Had he lived to the age of Beethoven we would have all the extant string quartets, 3 symphonies, many of the famous operas including the Cocteau trilogy. For me, to view this last ten years from up close, I see a composer who was drawn from his world of theater, into commercial film work (which seems to be winding down), and now into two really distinct fields of composition, both of which present their own challenges.
The first is so-called classical music. Glass is talking about writing a string quintet (to be paired with the Schubert double cell quintet), recently wrote a piece called "The American Four Seasons" and with the recent debut of the Glass Chamber Players, the debut in April of his Double Concerto, and the promise of the 9th and 10th symphonies, we look forward to those pieces, understanding the lineage to which they are meant to belong.
The second field of composition is Glass has always had ideas in his head for pieces he always wanted to do. By way of example, he obtained the rights to Barbarians in 1990, but needed to wait till 2005 to have a chance to compose it because at that time people wanted it and were ready for it. We wait with bated breath to find out what else he has "always wanted to do."
-Richard Guerin, January 4, 2010
Everyone is coming out with his or her year end review so here are my two cents.
I touched on the past year last week, but something occurred to me recently when reading an op-ed in the NY Times about the past 10 years. Basically, at least as an American, the last decade was horrible. Partly due to our political debacle in "electing" W, but also in almost every other measurable sense. I don't believe I'm alone in expressing feelings of being lost. Or as Randy Newman put it:
Like the Spanish Armada adrift on the sea
We’re adrift in the land of the brave
And the home of the free
With that said, when one looks back on the last 10 years in the Philip Glass catalog, we see some pretty spectacular accomplishments.
3 Symphonies: Nos. 6 "Plutonian Ode," No.7 "Toltec," and No.8
6 Operas: Galileo, In the Penal Colony, The Sound of a Voice, Waiting for the Barbarians, Appomattox, Kepler
Numerous Film Scores including 2 Oscar nominations: The Hours, Notes on a Scandal, The Illusionist, Roving Mars, Naqoyqatsi, Cassandra's Dream
5 Concertos: Tirol Concerto, Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpani, Harpsichord, Piano Concerto No.2 "after Lewis and Clark, Violin Concerto No.2
Other works: Orion, Book of Longing, Songs & Poems for Solo Cello, Violin Sonata, Passion of Ramakrishna, Four Movements for Two Pianos
And lest we forget, that born in 2001 was Orange Mountain Music. In the last 8 years the company has produced over 50 recordings of Philip Glass' music including a large amount that would never have seen the light of day.
Despite the cultural anguish, let's hope for peace and prosperity for all in the next decade.