Philip Glass at the New World Center, March 17

Philip Glass

New World Center

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Better Than: The last time you raptly sat through 85 consecutive minutes of a classical concert.

Philip Glass, noted minimalist composer, performed Thursday night at the fantastic new New World Center, designed by Frank Gehry.

But before discussing the concert, I would be making a serious error by not lauding the New World Center. Unlike the Arsht Center's immense bulk looming over concert-goers, the New World Center is open and inviting.

Once inside, you can reach your seat within 30 seconds if you choose. The placement of audience seating makes it so everyone can almost be within arm's reach of the performer(s) and the acoustics of the building are superb. If you can find an affordable concert, this experience will be much more intimate than that found at the vast majority of spaces devoted to classical music.

Glass began promptly at 8:15 p.m. after a brief introduction by the Rhythm Foundation spokesperson. He emerged dressed casually in a dark long-sleeved shirt and slacks to a standing ovation. Solo on piano, he took a humble and direct approach to performance that was refreshing. (I wish 75 percent of indie rock bands would take his attitude to heart.) He gave a brief introduction to his first piece, Etudes, sat down, and commenced a challenging, intricate half-hour set of six etudes.

Each piece was in the mold of classic Philip Glass compositions, a simple theme interlocked with rapidly repeating hypnotic harmonies. The effect was at times overwhelming, with the composer staggering dissonance and chord changes into subtle shifts of the underlying "chorus."

Glass's performance of Mad Rush, Metamorphoses, and Dreaming Awake followed a similar pattern: an introduction and then a return to the piano, scarcely settling himself before launching into the piece. In particular, Metamorphoses was an interesting piece, bearing a strong resemblance to Erik Satie's Gymnopedies with its distinctive melodic lines, although Mr. Glass presents this against a backdrop of sinuous and nearly chaotic repetitive left hand passages.

The highlight of the concert, however, was the Wichita Vortex Sutra. Originally performed in tandem with Allen Ginsberg reading the poem that was its namesake, Glass explained that he had ceased performing the piece for nearly ten years after the poet's death. But with its anti-war theme as relevant as ever, he had resumed performing Wichita Vortex Sutra, aided by a recording of Ginsberg reading the poem. The piece describes, like the poem, a journey from staid Kansas cornfields to the inner-outer regions of Ginsberg's revolutionary consciousness, where he proclaims an end to the Vietnam War. A slow march climaxes with a rapid fire of raga-like runs, before slowly returning to earth. A short, mesmerizing encore followed a standing ovation. And by 9:50, everyone had sadly been forced to return to earth themselves.

Critic's Notebook

The Crowd: Debonair mid 20s hipsters to the elegant matriarch I saw clutching her cane. Mostly well-dressed middle-aged professionals, though.

Overheard in the Crowd: Nothing but the rustle of concert programs interspersed with the occasional sneeze.

Random Detail: Did people really have to get into their seats while Philip Glass was performing? Wait until the end of the piece.

Philip Glass's Program:

Six Etudes (Nos. 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 10) [1994-1999]

Mad Rush [1980]

Metamorposes (Nos. 2, 3, 4) [1989]

Dreaming Awake [2006]

Wichita Vortex Sutra [1990]


On the Balcony/Closing [1991/1981]

-- Gabe Miller

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