Philip Glass & Philip Glass Ensemble Malmo Live Konserthus 50th year jubilee Malmo, Sweden May 26, 2019
Throughout his nearly 6-decade career, composer Philip Glass continues to light up stages around the world. Particularly during this past May, his music lit up many stages throughout Europe as there was a flurry of activities and performances of many of his works. He premiered his new symphony No 12 that is based on David Bowie's Lodger in London, there was a Philip Glass Weekend in Paris where during the course of three days many of his works were performed including the >em>Etudes and sitarist Anoushka Shankar performed the music from the Passages, while in Barcelona he performed alongside pianists Maki Namekawa and Anton Batagov. There were performances of his watershed operas such as Einstein on the Beach (in the Netherlands) and Akhnaten (in Germany) and parallel to this there was a brief tour through Sweden with the renowned Philip Glass Ensemble. And this is just a tiny portion of performances that were occurring only in Europe. Naturally, I leaped at the chance to see a performance by one of today's most renowned composers in concert and the night did not disappoint. The evening had been long awaited and a source of anticipation after being a fan for so long.
Malmo Live Koncerthus in Malmo, Sweden hosted the magnificent Philip Glass Ensemble which marked its 50th anniversary with two hours of dramatic, mesmerizing and downright awe-inspiring contemporary-classical music. The ensemble was formed back in 1968 after Glass' lengthy work and travels in Paris, India and North Africa. Quickly the ensemble became an Ensemble and he began giving concerts both formal ones in downtown art galleries as well as informal Sunday afternoon ones in his Bleeker street loft. The concert in Malmo was the first stop in the Ensemble's 50th-anniversary celebration itinerary.
The city of Malmo is very beautiful with its dense and eye feasting architecture where the portions of the city are at a walking distance. Located very near to the Central bus station and close to the city's center is the renowned Malmo Live Koncerthus, a complex consisting of concert halls, restaurants, and a hotel. The main concert hall where the concert occurred is truly a feast for the eyes with its amazing space, design, and acoustics. It's designed in such a manner that the stage is surrounded by seats from all sides and the musicians are at the palm of a hand. Thanks to Glass' kind and very able touring manager and the personnel at Malmo, prior to the Ensemble's performance I had an opportunity to briefly interview Glass and talk about issues concerning the Ensemble's history and some of his activities to date. He is a kind and forthcoming gentleman who provides a wonderful insight into his own work.
Clearly, Philip Glass is one of the most rewarding of the maverick composers scattered through 20th-century music. He is hugely prolific and a protean figure who can cherry pick great compositions from various corners of his career. The concert was structured in two chapters with a 20 minute intermission between the first three compositions: "Cologne section" of the CIVIL WarS, "Dance Piece No 9," "Music in Twelve Parts, Part 1 and 2" and last three compositions: "The Grid" from Koyaanisquatsi "Floe" " Façades" and "Rubric" from Glassworks and "Act III" from The Photographer.
And from the very beginning, the Ensemble began playing with breathtaking energy and synergy including enthusiasm (not to mention stamina). They were so attuned to each other that it became performance art that was utterly mesmerizing to watch and listen. The persistent rhythms and cycling melodies were accurate without a conductor and their energy was continuous right through until the end. Glass' work is also phenomenally taxing to play, testing musicians' sheer stamina, as well as their musical concentration and virtuosity, to the limit. As the pieces grew in intensity, the performers didn't tire but continued to deliver. And these compositions aren't just portrayals of virtuosity as there is a deep emotional resonance within them.
What also amazed was how all of this sounded very good. The sound crew really did their job very well and this was one of the best sounding concerts I have ever attended. It kind of opened my eyes and ears and provided an even deeper insight into his compositional prowess. Philip Glass is a master architect and in a live setting, his works appeared to function on several levels. In fact, experiencing Glass' music live served to dismantle the wall of sound I've been hearing on his studio recordings into its individual instrumental parts, highlighting the lyricism and sheer inventiveness of his creations. Somehow, in his music, the workings appeared to be as visible as the moving parts of a clock with all the parts performing different functions but were powered and moved by these unseen forces. But all of these parts and details added to something that was far greater than the sum of them. Most importantly his music told stories on many levels.
Another rare and great thing about the Malmo performance was hearing performers who are expert in a living classical tradition. The classical world has numerous ensembles that are steeped in the music of composers they've been playing for centuries. Seldom, though, do you hear groups that have come to world renown with a tradition whose creator is performing with the musicians.
Of course, no performance is really complete without an encore and the Ensemble performed "The Knee Play 3" from Einstein on the Beach where they squeezed every ounce of expression out of Glass' lyrical phrases and rolling arpeggios without allowing the music to lose its focus. From the opening with the "Cologne Section" to the bombastic conclusion with Einstein on the Beach two hours later, the Philip Glass Ensemble, under music director Michael Riesman, held the stage with a seemingly limitless color palette and an unerring sense of dramatic flow. The performance was full of dynamics and forward motion and eventually, this vigorous and compelling performance brought the audience to its feet and there were standing ovations that lasted for several minutes. The applause rang very loud and long.
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