Philip Glass at 75

Iowa State’s music & theatre department hosted a “75th Birthday Celebration” tonight. My wife and I left the young miss at home and enjoyed an evening of music. I’ve enjoyed listening to Philip Glass since the mid-80’s. When I saw his Ensemble in Rochester about two-point-five decades ago, it was one of my most enjoyable concert experiences. I would say it is still a top-twenty today.

Two impressions from tonight: breathing hands and melancholy.

In the Martha-Ellen Tye Recital Hall, I sat close enough to watch the musicians play. Pianists, string players, and saxophonist: it was like entering a trance to watch their hands and fingers. Most of the players looked relaxed, and the music breathed. And I got the sense of breath in the hands when I watched them play. Though one or two players looked nervous and a bit brittle.

With compositions sampled from five decades, the overarching theme was one of melancholy, but a subtext of playfulness. Here’s the line-up:

The programming was outstanding. Piano pieces bookmarked the event. I liked the Orphée excerpts, and they were competently rendered. This arrangement is typical of later Philip Glass, and reminded me of the Metamorphosis pieces from his 1988 disk of solo piano music. Also on that disk is an earlier work, “Mad Rush,” which was a fitting conclusion to this concert. Nicholas Roth “gets” Glass. No other way to describe it. More than any of the other players, I saw the breathing of the piece in watching the pianist’s hands.

The full String Quartet No. 5 was the centerpiece. From 1991, it had the most variety in style and mood. Like any Glass work, it has a heavy strain of lament, but with a wink of playfulness about it. I’m less familiar with the string quartets (I think Glass has composed nearly a dozen) but this piece was engaging, ever surprising, and artistically rendered.

The two brief pieces from the cello quartet were warm and enjoyable.

Gradus was composed in 1968 for Glass’ longtime collaborator Jon Gibson. Early minimalism, and delightfully unpredictable.

Dr Sturm had perhaps the most virtuoso performance of the night. He accompanied video sequences from the film Koyaanisqatsi. I didn’t get to see the hands there as much as watch the lament of the overly busy modern life.

I love living in a university town with musical experiences like this.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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