As the UK tour of a human rights opera, "In the Penal Colony", kicks off overseas, last night I went to one of the most American of places, Ellis Island. How I finagled an invitation to this party was improbable. The irony of the night was everywhere. It was an event recognizing the 90th anniversary of the ACLU. When boarding the ferry at Battery Park you are forced to go through "airport style security" including taking off your jacket, belt, shoes, everything. This was irony no.1 in regard to an evening celebrating civil liberties. Luckily I think of most of that type of illusion of "security" as a pathetic joke. (click to enlarge photos)
The weather was perfect and most of the people I met were very nice and very dedicated to their cause. It's all very nice and I was asked more than once to join but I'm not much of a joiner of anything. We disembarked right near the entrance to the main hall there on the island. It was something out of Annie with waiters in tuxedos lining up on either side guiding us, the well-dressed hoi-palloi (note, I was an impostor) into the building and showering us with wine and hors d'oeuvres. There was cocktail hour in the museum section on the first floor with all the exhibits, then full dinner up in the main hall. Irony number two was this incredibly swanky and generous dinner which was in opulent contrast to the function of that very hall where years ago the world's poorest immigrants were processed and became Americans. It was fodder for much thought and reflection.
Most of the evening's speeches and entertainment were delivered with much conviction and righteousness. As I work in classical music, I have my own "cause" and so I sympathize with people who believe in what they do and want to talk about it, but I couldn't help but think that how it wasn't my thing. Anyway, the speeches were followed by celebrities including Deborah Harry, Joan Osborne, and Suzanne Vega reading landmark legal cases of which the organization was proud of playing a part.
BUT I was there for the music. Philip Glass was the final act after he was introduced by the executive director of the ACLU. Glass had written a new piece called Pendulum for piano trio for the 90th anniversary. It's a wonderful piece and the performance was solid.
Pendulum is about 8 minutes in length. It opens in a thrilling tone which is the piano in the lowest registers playing arpeggios (how many times have I heard this type of thing and how many times can it be thrilling in a new and different way, true alchemy)with the violin entering playing double stops, then the cello is introduced. It's in sort of an A-B-C form with each of the string players (Tim Fain on violin and Wendy Sutter on cello) trading themes and motifs. There isn't tons of conventional development but after the material is presented, we enter into a thrilling coda. It was a clear crowd-pleaser and Glass & Co. got a standing ovation. I'm sure this piece will find it's way to Glass' many continuing chamber music concerts.