(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.
6 thoughts on “Goodbye 2009. (Updated) Into 2010….”
Great post, as always Richard. Here’s hoping that this next decade will prove to be more rewarding for us all musically and culturally, economically, etc.
Your post also invites me to do what I’ve been meaning to do for a while and come up with my own list of ten of my favorite Glass’s CD releases (something I can actually judge as opposed to say live performances). Hope you don’t mind haha ;). This task is very diffcult considering the sheer number of gems OMM has relased so this is the creme de la creme.
#1. Naqoyqatsi – Seriously. There is something about Reggio’s films that brings out a beast in Glass. In my mind this contains some of the richest themes Glass has ever written. I’ve heard this decade. There were legions of fans who were waiting a sequel to Koyaanisqatsi and this is exactly what they should be listening to. The opening theme, Primacy of Number and Massman is heck of a one, two, three punch and the rest is equally good.
#2. Symphony #8 – In short I agree that this is the best Symphony Glass has written to date (and that’s saying something).
#3. Etudes vol. 1 – Because no one performs these etudes better than the composer himself and nobody gets those pauses and changes of thempo like he does. It’s perfect and the music is fantastic too.
#4. The Concerto Project vol. 2 – actually I like all three and this one just happens to be the one I consider to be the best. The Piano Concerto is superb and the second movement in particular is very suprising.
#5. The Hours – Film music at its best.
#6. Songs and Poems – not the least because of the stunning Tissues originating from my #1 pick.
#7. Orion – Kinda wish I knew who contributed what to this project. Awesome.
#8. Waiting for the Barbarians.
#9. Mosters of Grace.
#10. Music in 12 parts Live – would be a lot higher if this was the original release.
Here’s my list of my all time favorite Glass CD’s (I’ve been a hardcore Glass fan since around 1984 and have been to over 50 Glass events over the years, and hopefully will be able to attend many more in the future). My favorite works tend to be the ones that strike me as very otherworldly:
#1: The Photographer. I figure I’ve listened to this over 2,500 times, seriously! Glass at his best! Powerful, catchy, hypnotic, on the edge, I NEVER, EVER get tired of it!
#2: Another Look at Harmony, Part IV (Early Voice CD)
#3: Music with Changing Parts (Icebreaker)
#4: Monsters of Grace
#6: Orion (this CD also has the best sound quality of any Glass CD ever), also was able to see it live in Austin, TX- unforgettable
#7: Songs and Poems- amazing piece, incredibly played!
#8: Piano Concerto No. 2 “After Lewis & Clark”- I luckily have the Nebraska Public TV DVD of this which includes the premiere performance in its’ entirety- with amazing sonics and video to boot- thanks Paul Barnes!)
#9: Music in 12 Parts
#10: Einstein on the Beach
Well, so often my favourite Glass piece is the one I’m listening to at the time. But I want to put in my two cents anyway.
My alltime favourite Glass piece so far is The Passion of Ramakrishna. I didn’t hear it in concert but taped it off the radio and listen to it constantly. It’s my desert island piece and I”d love to see OMM do it.
Appomattox is gorgeous and tightly dramatic. I was at the world premiere and was intoxicated by the music and story from the first bar. Fortunately, it was also broadcast on radio….
Satyagraha. I wish I could have seen the Metopera production. Fortunately, it was also broadcast on radio….
And so much more. I couldn’t possibly stop at 10 favourites.
Yes, “The Passion of Ramakrishna” is awesome. I was lucky enough to be able to record the online broadcast and play it all the time, and experienced a live performance in Nashville also. I didn’t include it in my list as there is no official recording. AWESOME piece!
I really really want to see them in person. If only I got a chance even if it’s one last. I’m an avid fan.
Bravo to Richard! There is so much to recall in the last year, let alone the
last decade. When I think back to the Monsters of Grace tour, before the
year 2000, and see how the Glass catalogue has grown- it is absolutely
stunning. And yes, there are the critics that will say so much Glass music
is the same or rehashed. I think the critics cannot deny some of the
landmark pieces; Barbarians, The Hours, Book of Longing, The Illusionist,
and Orion. Another tip of the hat to Philip’s accomplishments is that there
are more recordings and live productions coming out from other performers
presenting Glass works. I think he has proven he can navigate across the
musical waters of soundtracks, symphonies, and operas. I am personally
facinated with Phil’s stamina- touring the globe doing rehearsals and
performances as well as putting in the time to work on composing new music.
In the last decade we also saw the Philip on Film Tour (3 to 5 consecutive
nights of Glass music with the films); Philip walking the red carpet for an
Oscar nod for “The Hours” and the Philip Glass Ensemble play the Hollywood
Bowl. The Nonesuch release of the Glass Box… Many milestones for this last
The “industry” of producing, selling, and distributing music has drastically
changed in the last decade. Now we can download entire Glass albums off of
iTunes- although I will always purchase and relish holding a CD in my hand.
Let us also not forget there is a vast, DEDICATED team of engineers,
producers, musicians, tour manager, and webmaster to support and present all
of the glory that is the world of Glass music. I want to say thank you to
OMM, Looking Glass and Pomegranate Arts.