So how did this phenomenon affect AMC's reaction to the Philip Glass/Tim Fain "An Evening of Chamber Music" at the Schwartz Center of Emory University? Well- AMC's anticipation was very very high since of learning about the concert- sometime last Spring. So what happened? Wait for it....Wait for it...
The concert was a smash for AMC! No disappointment what-so-ever, save for one slight criticism related to the human voice in such a rich acoustical environment, but more of that later.
Glass' resists being categorized as a "minimalist" composer. He prefers rather to be described as a "classicist" but his minimalist pieces were sprinkled liberally through the program. "Mad Rush" which opened the program is a prime example, as was "Closing," played as an encore. More classicist-type of music included the "Chaconne from Partita for Solo Violin in Seven Movements" featuring soloist Tim Fain. Fain, by the way, seems to be Glass' go-to-guy for playing the composer's solo works.
"Mad Rush" is a gorgeous work, rich in melodic content. Glass observed that he wrote the piece as a prelude to an address of the Dalai Lama. Since it was uncertain as to the actual arrival time of the Dalai Lama, Glass says he was asked to write something whose length could be adjusted. Glass quipped that that was not a difficult challenge for his type of music. AMC had the sense that Glass played the music here until he felt it was time to stop and so he ended by playing the lowest note on the piano (AO), which seemed to have no relationship to the music itself.
To AMC's ears, Glass employed two primary minimalist techniques. There are probably more, but this is a good start. The first is where a melody is surrounded by a filigree of chords and scales, which serve to enhance the melody, yet also provide a hypnotic drone-like construction. The second is where Glass embeds the melody in the fist note of of one of the droning cycles, so that the full melody plays out is a somewhat drawn out way. Without careful listening, it is easy to loss the melody to the hypnotic circular and repetitive droning. His "Metamorphosis No. 4 and Etude No. 2" are examples of this. But, make no mistake, Glass is a first-class melodist. He admits to having that master melody-writer Franz Schubert as his favorite composer. Glass seems to have taken his inspiration seriously.
Because likes to describe himself as a composer of sound tracks, it was appropriate that he included in the programs selections from "The Screens," music that he wrote to accompany the play by Jean Genet. While not technically a soundtrack, it does demonstrate the influence of the written word on his music. This music is more minimalist that classicist.
"Wichita Vortex Sutra" is piano piece that Glass composed to be an accompaniment to Allen Ginsberg reader his own work. Since Ginsberg's death, Glass has resurrected the work using a recording that the poet made reading the work. AMC was disappointed that the rich reverberation turned Ginsberg's amplified words into a blur. But Glass' minimalist piano was clearly spotlighted.
Fain is an extraordinary violinist. His figure moves incredibly fast, especially in his encore piece- one of the Knee Play sections from Glass' opera "Einstein on the Beach." He played it much faster than in the original recording of "Einstein, "and Fain created was a staggering buzz-like sound.
AMC was unsure if all of Fain's performance was amplified. His instrument was mic'd with a small round appliance next to the violin's bridge. There were also phrases in "Pendulum" that did not match Fain's bowing so it made AMC wonder if Fain was accompanying himself through a recording. Also, the tone of Fain's violin was golden and mellow- like the sound heard from an amplified violin, where the overtones are lost to the microphone. Since "Pendulum" was written for a trio, and played here as a duet, it may have been necessary to capture the musical scope that Glass was trying to achieve. There was also a staffed sound board toward the rear of the auditorium.
This was a wonderful concert and it did not disappoint. As an aside, while driving home AMC was listening to Sarah Brightman's new album "Dreamchaser." With music blaring, AMC drove by Turner field where a fireworks display was happening. What a great punctuation to end the evening and also a fine accompaniment to Ms. Brightman.
Well if AMC has whetted anyone's appetite for hearing this concert, you can watch this video, which contains the same material from a concert played in New York:
AMC would like to thank Donna and Marvin Schwartz for helping to underwrite the cost of this concert. Thanks also to all of the patrons and volunteers who also helped support it. A final thanks also goes to Emory University.
For a clever introduction to playing piano like Philip Glass, check this out: