Friday, October 22, 2004

An Ovation for Glass

Philip Glass is my favorite composer, having knocked Wagner out of the running years ago.  Here are my favorite composers in order of enthusiasm:

1.  Philip Glass
2.  Richard Wagner
3.  Franz Liszt
4.  Ludwig van Beethoven
5.  Gustav Mahler
6.  Frederic Chopin
8.  Antonio Vivaldi
9.  Johann Sebastian Bach
10. John Philip Sousa

You ask, "are you crazy?  You rated Sousa above Mozart?"  No, I'm not crazy, I'm just dramatic.  I like dramatic, programmatic music, and Mozart wrote his share, but he just doesn't get my heart pounding like Sousa.  Chopin again, is a strange choice, but he speaks to my heart.  Mozart generally leaves me rather stony inside.  I can't help it, it's just me.

Currently I'm listening to a new recording of Philip Glass' oratorio, Itaipu.  An oratorio is a work for orchestra and chorus based on sacred text or dramatic poem, and presented without costumes and sets.  More traditionally, oratorios contain recitatives and arias, which Itaipu does not, otherwise it conforms to the oratorio description.

The older recording, by Robert Shaw and his Chorale (who originally commissioned Itaipu) is a good recording but it doesn't have the resonance, the sonority, the depth and color and nuance of this new recording by the Los Angeles Chorale.  I'm hearing new musical relationships, harmonies and dissonance, which escaped me in the Shaw recording.  And so the piece is coming alive for me again. 

I have followed Philip Glass's career for twenty five years, ever since I was introduced to his unique voice when I was in graduate school, and The Photographer made a national tour.  I missed that performance (possibly because I had to get drunk instead), and bitterly regretted it.  In the past ten years, however, I have never missed an opportunity to see, hear and appreciate whatever live performances of Glass's work come to Seattle.  As such, I've seen the world premieres of two works, his opera In the Penal Colony, and his concerto for harpsichord and orchestra.  At that performance I was able to actually speak to Maestro Glass and offer my heartfelt appreciation for all the spiritual sustenance his music has provided to me over the years.  I'm sure I looked like a fool, gushing, but when one has such an opportunity, one mustn't wasteit by playing coy.

Although Glass wasn't present at the performance of Itaipu by the Seattle Chamber Chorale, I did see the work performed live a few years ago.  It was a religious experience for me, a transcendant musical reverie as the chorus and orchestra gained momentum and power and force throughout the third section of the oratorio, The Dam.  The recording of Itaipu by the Los Angeles Master Chorale is available through RCM records. 

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