An Immersive Experience that Shakes a Listener to the Core

22/02/2018

Glass: Philip Glass Ensemble / Michael Riesman (conductor, keyboards), San Francisco Conservatory of Music Girls Chorus / Valérie Saint-Agathe (conductor), presented by San Francisco Performances, Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. 20.2.2018. (HS)

Glass – Music with Changing Parts

On a visit to York Minster decades ago, my wife and I sat in the choir space for a Sunday eventide and walked out under the massive bank of organ pipes, just as the organist’s improvised postlude reached a thunderous climax. It was a powerful blast of sound that shook our bodies, a sonic thrill.

Philip Glass’ Music with Changing Parts, performed Tuesday at Davies Hall by the Philip Glass Ensemble, powered a similar effect.

The piece starts swirling from the very first measure and doesn’t stop for an hour-and-a-half, the rhythm relentless. A kernel of melody begins with just two electronic keyboards, and eventually spreads to five. It’s repetitive: a hallmark of Glass’ earliest compositions—an ostinato taken to extremes. Subtle shifts in rhythm—notes added to and subtracted from the nucleus of the musical cell—keep nudging the meter in different directions.

The amplified sound is also loud. A dozen wind players add to the tonal texture (and eventually signal the approaching finish with a descending scale). A 32-voice chorus of sopranos and mezzos intones chords that provides additional color. Mezzoforte never occurs—let alone piano or pianissimo. It starts loud and gets louder and shakes a listener’s body to its core.

Glass worked on this ultra-minimalist piece from 1971 to 1974, before his name became a household word with his operas Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha. He had not performed it with his own ensemble since 1981 but, inspired by younger ensembles’ performances, he went back to the work and expanded the sonic palette, expanding the instrumentation. In his program note, he writes, ‘This presentation…is a richer version of the music and a more satisfying completion of the original idea.’ An earlier performance, with the same personnel, took place last week in Carnegie Hall.

In this version, two trumpets, two trombones, additional woodwinds and an extra keyboard deepens the sound. In form, it follows a signature Glass technique of building on small cells and positioning robust chords against a rolling ostinato.

Never having heard the original version live, I can only compare this with the 1971 recording, made before Glass finished massaging the piece further. The recording reveals more transparency than the dense current version, and a cleaner balance. The sound in Davies Hall occasionally descended into distortion, overwhelming the chorus. There were times when it was hard to make out how their harmonies were shifting, despite microphones on stands arrayed in front of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Girls Chorus, led by artistic director Valérie Saint-Agathe.

At the end, the audience must have been responding to the overall effect when it leaped to its feet for a prolonged standing ovation. It certainly sent me out into a chilly San Francisco night on a high.

Harvey Steiman

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • NEW! The Twelfth English Music Festival Coming Soon in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Kenneth MacMillan’s The Sleeping Beauty at the London Coliseum in June __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018/19 Birmingham Classical Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe Star in The King and I at the London Palladium __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 BBC Proms __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera Celebrates its 25th Anniversary with Nicolò Isouard’s Cinderella __________________________________
  • NEW! Pop-Up Opera’s 2018 Mozart Double Bill __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Let’s Dance International Frontiers (LDIF) 2018 Celebrates its Eighth Year __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Chess at the London Coliseum from 26 April for 5 Weeks __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Abandoned Liszt Opera Sardanapalo Premieres in Weimar in August __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! The London Orchestra Project’s Metamorphosen on 27 May at LSO St Luke’s __________________________________
  • NEW! MARKUS POSCHNER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Massenet’s Thaïs at the Cadogan Hall on 23 June __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Carly Paoli Sings for Chelsea Pensioners, at Cadogan Hall, and Signs for Sony/ATV __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • NEW! A First Charity Classical Music Concert at Finchcocks on 27 May __________________________________
  • NEW! MICHAEL SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! Trinity Laban Moves to Abolish All-Male Composer Concerts __________________________________
  • NEW! ARABELLA STEINBACHER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR LAURENCE EQUILBEY IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month