Performance Tuesday, January 31, 2012 | 8 PM

American Composers Orchestra

Philip Glass 75th Birthday Concert

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
It really is his birthday! Philip Glass was born on January 31—75 years ago—and the American Composers Orchestra commemorates the occasion with the US premiere of his newest symphony. It’s a genre that Glass has been focusing on since 1992, when he completed his “Low” Symphony based on the 1977 David Bowie album.
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The Program


About the Composer

Arvo Pärt was born in 1935 in Paide, Estonia. After studying in Heino Eller’s composition class in Tallinn, he worked from 1958 to 1967 as a sound engineer for Estonian Radio. In 1980, he immigrated with his family to Vienna, and then traveled a year later on a DAAD scholarship to Berlin.

As one of the most radical representatives of the so-called “Soviet avant-garde,” Pärt’s work passed through a profound evolutionary process. His first creative period began with neo-Classical piano music, followed by 10 years during which he experimented with the most important compositional techniques of the avant-garde: dodecaphony, sound-mass composition, aleatoricism, and collage technique. Nekrolog (1960)—the first piece of dodecaphonic music written in Estonia—and Perpetuum mobile (1963) earned the composer’s first recognition in the West. In his collage works, avant-garde and early music confront each other boldly and irreconcilably—this confrontation attaining its most extreme expression in his last collage piece Credo (1968). But by this time, all previously employed compositional devices had lost all their former fascination and seemed pointless to Pärt. The search for his own voice drove him into a withdrawal from creative work that lasted nearly eight years; during this period, he immersed himself in studies of Gregorian chant, the Notre Dame school, and Classical vocal polyphony.

In 1976, music emerged from the silence with the little piano piece Für Alina. It is obvious that with this work, Pärt had discovered his own path. The new compositional principle used here for the first time, which he called tintinnabuli (Latin for “little bells”), has defined his work right up to today. The tintinnabuli principle strives towards an extreme reduction of sound materials and a limitation to the essential.

Pärt’s achievements were honored in his 61st year by his election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2000, he was nominated as the 14th International Composer by London’s Royal Academy of Music. In May 2003, he also received the Contemporary Music Award at the Classic BRIT Awards ceremony.

In the Composer’s Own Words

When I first saw Marsyas by Anish Kapoor in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, the impact that it had upon me was a powerful one. In his sculpture, Kapoor has caught very well the tragic element of the Greek Marsyas myth. It was this tragic aspect that inspired me and provided the foundation for my composition Lamentate. Death and suffering are themes that concern every person born into this world. The way in which the individual comes to terms with these issues (or fails to do so) determines his attitude towards life. Accordingly, I have written a lamento—not for the dead, but for the living, who have to deal with these issues for themselves—a lamento for us, who don’t have it easy in dealing with the pain and hopelessness of this world.

Lamentate is music written for piano solo and orchestra. With respect to its form, however, the composition cannot really be described as a typical piano concerto. I chose the piano to be the solo instrument because it fixes our attention on something that is “one.” This “one” could be a person, or perhaps a first-person narrative. Just as the sculpture leaves the viewer with a light and floating impression in spite of its overwhelming size, the piano—as a large instrument—allowed me to create a sphere of intimacy and warmth that no longer seems anonymous or abstract. Overall, it could be said that my work is marked by two diametrically opposed moods: I would characterize these two poles as being “brutal-overwhelming” and “intimate-fragile.” The two characters are not simply placed opposite one another, but are left to develop themselves in a conflict that runs throughout the entire work.

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Symphony No. 9

About the Composer

Philip Glass has had an extraordinary and unprecedented impact on the musical and intellectual life of his times through his operas, symphonies, and compositions for his own ensemble; as well as his wide-ranging collaborations with artists ranging from Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen to David Bowie.

Glass’s operas—Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, Akhnaten, and The Voyage, among many others—play throughout the world’s leading houses and rarely to an empty seat. Glass has written music for experimental theater and for Academy Award–winning motion pictures such as The Hours and Martin Scorsese’s Kundun. Koyaanisqatsi, his initial filmic landscape with Godfrey Reggio and the Philip Glass Ensemble, may be the most radical and influential mating of sound and vision since Fantasia. His personal and professional associations with leading rock, pop, and world-music artists date back to the 1960s, including his collaborative relationship with artist Robert Wilson. Indeed, Glass is the first composer to win a wide, multi-generational audience in the opera house and concert hall, as well as in popular music, film, and the dance world.

Glass was born in 1937 and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. He studied at The University of Chicago, The Juilliard School, and in Aspen with Darius Milhaud. Finding himself dissatisfied with much of what then passed for modern music, he moved to Europe, where he studied with the legendary pedagogue Nadia Boulanger (who also taught Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, and Quincy Jones) and worked closely with the sitar virtuoso and composer Ravi Shankar. He returned to New York in 1967 and formed the Philip Glass Ensemble; these seven musicians performed on keyboards and a variety of woodwinds that were amplified and fed through a mixer.

The new musical style that Glass was developing was eventually dubbed “minimalism.” Glass himself never liked the term and prefers to identify his work as “music with repetitive structures.” Much of his early work was based on the extended reiteration of brief, elegant, melodic fragments that wove in and out of an aural tapestry. To put it another way, his music immersed a listener in a sort of sonic weather that would twist, turn, surround, and develop.

In the past 25 years, Glass has composed more than 20 operas, both large and small; nine symphonies (with others already on the way); concertos for piano, violin, timpani, and saxophone quartet; string quartets; a growing body of work for solo piano and organ; and soundtracks for films ranging from the stylized classics of Jean Cocteau to Errol Morris’s documentary about former defense secretary Robert McNamara. He has collaborated with Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Yo-Yo Ma, and Doris Lessing, among many others. He presents lectures, workshops, and solo keyboard performances around the world, and continues to appear regularly with the Philip Glass Ensemble.

ACO has had a long and fruitful relationship with Glass. He wrote his first commissioned orchestral work, The Violin Concerto, for ACO, and it was premiered here at Carnegie Hall in 1987. ACO also premiered his Sixth Symphony here in 2002. ACO performed the US premiere of his opera White Raven (2001), and has recorded two of Glass’s works: Symphony No. 4, “Heroes”; and the CIVIL warS. Glass is also a board member of ACO.

About the Music

Symphony No. 9 is a large-scale, three-movement work for orchestra. Direct in form, it is formidable in performance with doubled piccolos, bass brass, and timpani, as well as a fortified horn section. Symphony No. 9 promises to be, in Glass’s words, “big and unrelenting.” Avoiding solo passagework, the work is a real team effort throughout the course of the piece. Each movement follows a similar plan:  a broadly stated opening theme; a contrasting, highly energized middle section; and a slower ending with a new version of the opening theme. The music becomes increasingly dense and contrapuntal throughout the course of the piece, giving the whole work its overall dramatic shape.

Though the piece has no programmatic influence, Glass does admit to reworking a theme used in a film called Rebirth, which will be played in an exhibit at the Ground Zero Museum. It appears in the beginning of the second movement and is considerably transformed by the time he is finished with it.

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

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