Saturday, August 27, 2011

Imagining the Parts of a Whole Complete on Their Own - Philip Glass World Premiere of Duos No. 1-5

Maria Bachmann & Matt Haimovitz performed the World Premiere of Philip Glass' Duos No. 1-5 at the Days and Nights Festival

The music for Duos Nos. 1-5 are extracted from Glass' larger work Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, 2010, similar to the Violin Concerto No. 2 where the solo violin became "The American Four Seasons." The program was followed by an early Schoenberg sextet Verklaerte Nacht Op. 4 (1899) and then Philip Glass' String Sextet (1995). The program notes suggests the music for the concert is a return to the music of Glass' youth --music he would listen to with is father during the 40's and 50's. The blend of the newly composed pieces by Philip Glass with the older Schoenberg was delightfully rich and illuminating at how subtle shifts in style can create something entirely new.

As a composer, I found it fascinating to take an existing piece apart to create something new, complete with flow and direction, without making it feel disjointed. Glass succeeded with the Duos Nos. 1-5: each movement was complete and yet part of a greater whole, with the entire work progressing through the stages unabridged.  The first movement reminiscent of Bach was slow and pensive, with wonderful interplay between the flowing lines.  The next movement was playful, blending the lines over top one another to create a thoroughly modern sound.  The 3rd movement started dark but eventually built to a fevered pitch.  The 4th had elements of the opening two movements, and the 5th wrapped up the piece with dark and soulful music hearkening to older styles, yet maintaining a sense of Glass' unique presence.  While the music is accessible in terms of being immediately enjoyable, it is also complex in the way it shifts and travels through its journey.  I suspect this piece will quickly become a popular piece for duos to perform as it provides both a challenge to the players and is completely at-home for the audience.

Maria Bachmann (pictured) and Matt Haimovitz were in complete sync through the music.  Each of their lines were very soloistic, yet each needed to be wholly aware of the other player, folding their lines together to make a complete sonic experience.  Watching and listening to the pair play the Duos was like watching a ballet pas de deux.  Each player so very in control of each moment in the music and filling the joint lines with pure passion.  If they are not a performing pair, they really should consider doing this more often.  Their connection is electric!

The connection between the players continued into the Schoenberg and extended to the additional players for the sextet.  The Verklaerte Nacht Op. 4 was dark yet lovely, melding the lines between the romantic music of Schubert and the stretched tonality of the 20th century.  Tim Fain, David Harding, Manuel Tabora and Edvany Klebla de Silva completed the sextet.  An early Schoenberg piece, the Verlaerte shows the relationship between the romantic music and his later "atonal" music.  There were sweeping themes that devolved into crunchy harmonies, intricate lines that initially appeared simple, but when combined with the other "simple" lines created complicated sonic puzzles.  The final movement was capped with a burst of enthusiasm by the audience.  The intimate performance space at the Hidden Valley Music Center allowed the audience to really connect with the music and the players --the applause echoed their appreciation.

The final piece of the evening was Philip Glass' String Sextet. In immediately recognizable style, the piece begins with flowing lines of music.  However, the interplay of these lines bringing out melodies and then subverting them into the mix was masterfully done.  The music's ebb and flow was captured with flawless crescendi and dimenuendi by the ensemble.  One line would rise, while another would fall, melding into each other so, unless you're intently watching which instrument is playing what, you'd never know whether you're hearing a beginning or an end.

Eventually, the piece presents a beautiful melody by the 1st violin, Maria Bachmann.  The melody is haunting, with a sense of longing.  Just when you think the melody has run it's course, Maria moves on to something new while Tim Fain takes on the melody.  There is a trick of the ear as the music sounds the same and yet different.  As Schoenberg suggests,  a good motive should be similar enough to its predecessor to be recognizable and yet different enough to maintain interest - the melody moved with a different sound by virtue of a different approach, a different instrument and a different accompaniment.  Threes are also charmed; just when Tim is finishing his rendition of the melody David Harding takes it on.  This time the melody played on the viola, yet in the same upper register played by the violins, the music is further sublimated into the mix.

If there was a critique of the music it would be the over-use of sound fading into nothing to end a movement. Not every movement used this technique, but it appeared often enough to question whether Glass could have found some other way to close out the movements.  Still, a really small issue in an otherwise stellar evening of chamber music.  Each piece was uniquely its own, yet held elements so familiar with the other pieces the connection between them all, and to the greater world of chamber music, was evident.

The Days and Nights Festival is half way through.  So far it has been a journey of various parts.  Tonight's concert was in a small way, a tying together some of those parts.  Not only is Duos part of a larger work, but it considers the other works performed highlighting a sense of line evident in each of the pieces performed.  The overall music from this evening blended concepts of music from the Romantic period into the modern day, connecting not only with music from over a hundred years ago (similar to the connection between last weekends Schubert and Glass pieces), but also to the lines and structure of John Moran's theatrical performance.

There are more performances today.  Chamber music by the Days and Nights Festival Players featuring Philip Glass' Company for String Octet, Bartók's String Quartet No. 1 in A minor and Mendelssohn's String Octet in E-Flat Major, Op.20. Tonight is Dance w/ Molissa Fenley and Dancers and Philip Glass on piano, with another performance tomorrow afternoon. AND yet another week...


No comments: