It was just announced that next month, Trinity Wall Street will be performing Philip Glass’ mammoth Symphony No.5 conducted by Julian Wachner.
Glass’grand millennial symphony hasn’t been heard in New York since the year 2000 with Dennis Russell Davies leading the Brooklyn Philharmonic. The piece received sporadic performances, mostly in Europe, but seems to be making something of a comeback having been heard twice at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. including most recently this past November 2016. The conductor of that performance, Julian Wachner, will be taking the colossal work to the esteemed home of choral music in New York, Trinity Wall Street.
Symphony No.5 received a scathing review by the New York Times back in 2000. More recently, the piece was recently put in the spotlight in the Washington Post:
“You probably haven’t heard the Fifth Symphony live. Most American orchestras wouldn’t gamble on playing an evening-length contemporary work, particularly not one by Glass, who remains one of this country’s best known, most performed and least appreciated composers. To his detractors, some of his musical hallmarks — Those repeating arpeggiated figures! That declaimed, chantlike text setting! — yield work that is superficial or boring.
But there was nothing boring about the Fifth Symphony — quite the opposite. It is true that Glass doesn’t play by the standard classical-music rules. He builds drama and event through layerings of rhythms and textures, sustaining a full chorus on a bed of dark low strings, or punctuating tutti orchestral lines with little fillips of solo wind. In effect, this redefines what the concert hall has come to accept as “dramatic” music, or even as “narrative” music, because Glass is certainly telling a musical story; he’s just arriving at his thundering climaxes in a different way so that you are borne to them on relentless, driving rhythms rather than through melodic lines and polyphonic progressions. The climaxes, and the sense of motion, are still there, and he knows how to steer a narrative arc with the best of them. On Sunday, the symphony flew by, and not until the last of its 12 movements came to a close did I realize how long I had been there.”
Wachner’s performance in Washington was spectacular. There was a moment in the ninth movement where the energy, as can be expected, started to lag. It was amazing to see how Wachner marshaled his troops in that movement pulling together all the forces in front of him, of hundreds of performers, like tightening a loose stitch. As Midgette observed in her review in the Post, hearing the piece live was a revelation because of how quickly this huge piece floated by.
The best part of this overdue NY performance, the first in 17 years since the North American premiere in Brooklyn? The concert’s free…