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Homages, Paeans and Admirations

New York
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
12/08/2017 -  
“Reflections in Glass–Philip Glass and the Next Generation”:
Pauchi Sasaki: GAMA XVI (World Premiere)
Bryce Dessner: Réponse Lutoslawski (New York Premiere)
Philip Glass: Violin Concerto No. 2 “The American Four Seasons”
Symposium: Philip Glass, Pauchi Sasaki, Edward Yim

Pauchi Sasaki (Electronics and Speaker Dress), Tim Fain (Violin)
American Composers Orchestra, George Manahan (Conductor)
Derek Bernel (Artistic Director), Dennis Russell Davies (Conductor Laureate), Edward Yim (President, Moderator), Robert Beaser (Artistic Director Laureate)

G. Manahan/T. Fain (© Courtesy of the Artists)

“For me, music has always been about lineage. The past is reinvented and becomes the future. But the lineage is everything.”
Philip Glass (1938– ), from Words Without Music

While unsure about Philip Glass’ meaning, it seemed to make sense with the trio of composers last night at the American Composers Orchestra concert. The first work, Pauchi Sasaki’s GAMA XVI was an homage to Philip Glass, who had been her mentor for a year, sponsored by Rolex. Bryce Dessner’s Réponse Lutoslawski was a variation on the great Polish composer’s Musique funèbre, which itself was dedicated to Béla Bartók. And Philip Glass’s Second Violin Concerto was a near-homage (see below) to Vivaldi.

Yet there was even more. As Ms. Sasaki and Mr. Glass were questioned after the performance, Mr. Glass’s own influences were Ravi Shankar and Nadia Boulanger, so, as Edward Yim noted, the heritage of the Indian and French artists was handed to the American Glass, and then inevitably handed down (Mr. Glass’s “lineage”?) to Ms. Sasaki.

The main thing, though was the music. And as always, George Manahan didn’t have to Man-a-han-dle his American Composers Orchestra. Their musicianship has an alacrity, a transparency, a lucidity in even the most difficult works. Three of which were paraded here.

P. Sasaki (© Musiknote2016)

Literally paraded by Pauchi Sasaki, who slowly perambulated down the aisle through the exit door, up to the stage, wearing her Speaker Dress. This was a dress she constructed for herself using 100 electronic speakers. Which meant that with each of her movements, sound would come pouring out of different parts of her diminutive body.

This goes along with the amazing 27-year-old composer’s background, an inter-disciplinary artists merging electronics, painting, music and every other art, with a bevy of international prizes and commissions.

What happened here was an orchestra which was very Glass-like in their murmurings and repetitions. The electronic sounds coming from Ms. Sasaki’s body were so sensitive and delicate to the nth degree as she positioned herself in different statures, that it became a patina, almost a palimpsest for the music itself.

It probably exemplified Ms. Sasaki’s own rationale, which is (to say the least) both enlightening and obtuse. “GAMA XVI is inspired by the process of manifestation: the transformation of an abstraction–living in a space without gravity to a defined stream of energy...the oscillation between the parameters of pressure and looseness, harmony and dissonance, discontinuity and rhythm, timid whispers...”

Then again, one have had to be there to see and hear it.

Bryce Dessner’s paean to Lutoslawski’s Funeral Music was an equally stolid work, a piece, like the original, was for string orchestra, and also like the Bartók, made of interweaving canons. (the third Des Traces was a series of the most complex repetitions and canons).

(Then again, the fourth movement was named “Warsaw Cannon”. Whether this was a typo or a pun or neither, I cannot say. The composer was in Montreal and couldn’t get down for the performance.)

I hadn’t heard the Lutoslawski work for several years, and won’t make even the most abortive effort to dissect the relationships between Dessner’s piece and the original. But I do remember the Polish work with the most translucent tone rows, the most serious and memorable music. It was not easy to tell whether Bryce Dessner’s piece was dodecaphonic, but again we had a composer who is sure of his material and his language.

Another performance or a score or more words from the composer would give a worthy exegesis, but last night was outstanding in its own way.

The second half was devoted to Philip Glass, though his American Four Seasons was not really an homage to Vivaldi. The composer had been commissioned to write a work to be on the same program with the original Four Seasons, and he never publicly titled the movements. No cadenza as such, but a solo piece introduced each of the linked four sections.

I had heard this at its premiere in 2009, with the soloist who commissioned the piece and for whom it was written. That violinist, dressed in a banker’s suit, and a banker’s impassivity, played the notes precisely, correctly and was probably afraid to take liberties with Mr. Glass’s score.

At that point, I felt it was worthwhile, intriguing enough to figure out which movements were which season. The soloist was so deadpan and literal in the interpretation, that the result was (I hate to use this word) “typical” Philip Glass. So my occasional mind-wanderings were not iniquitous.

Mind diversions were utterly impossible last night. The young fiddler/composer Tim Fain, who seems to have done everything in music, and who collaborates with Mr. Glass on various tours, understood instinctively (and probably had some coaching from Mr. Glass), that this is a work which could have come for the apex of the Romantic era. Mr. Fain never even began to “do Glass”. He played with the glorious tones and sweeping phrasing usually reserved for a Paganini or Brahms concerto.

That original violinist had done his best. Mr. Fain turned this work into a thing of the most gorgeous moments. Mr. Manahan’s orchestra, with its varied rhythms, its energy and a brio–inspired perhaps more by Mr. Fain than Mr. Glass–gave the Concerto the fire, resplendence, brightest and darkest moments, as if Mr. Glass had written not an homage to Vivaldi but an adoration to Caravaggio.

Harry Rolnick



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