Saturday, October 6, 2012

Review: Philip Glass Festival

Philip Glass, composer & piano
Tim Fain, violin
Oct. 5, University of Richmond

Philip Glass, who turned 75 in January, is being fĂȘted all over the place during this anniversary year. The University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center has staged a Philip Glass Festival this fall; its climax came with the composer appearing for a talk and a concert with violinist Tim Fain.

The concert program, sampling more than 30 years of Glass’ output, centered on the Chaconne from the “Partita for Solo Violin in Seven Movements.” Glass modeled his partita after those of Bach, giving the violinist many opportunities for technical display and high-strung expressiveness, as well as a complex structure to negotiate. “I was looking for a structure that was both expansive and tightly knit,” the composer writes, and he achieves that combination expertly and memorably.

Fain, for whom the partita was written, proved to be both fluent and communicative in the two-part chaconne at the heart of the piece. He was downright frisky in an encore of an excerpt from Glass’ opera “Einstein on the Beach.”

Glass played several solo-piano works from various eras. The Chopinesque “Metamorphoses” Nos. 4, 3 and 2, vintage 1989, contrasted refreshingly with “Mad Rush,” a 1979 piece, originally for organ, whose insistent ostinato and liberal application of arpeggios are characteristic of his early minimalist or “steady state” style.

In “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” a 1990 setting of Alan Ginsburg’s Vietnam War-era poem, the poet’s exuberantly delivered recording of the poem overshadowed the piano accompaniment, despite the busyness of the piano line and its rather loud amplification in this performance.

Glass and Fain played two duets, including three excerpts from the composer’s 1989 music for the Jean Genet play “The Screens” and “Pendulum,” a 2010 work written for an American Civil Liberties Union anniversary celebration.

Like much of Glass’ later music, scored for instruments other than electronic keyboards, these pieces sound more expressive, atmospheric and/or playful – cinematic, if you will – and less rhythmically relentless.

The composer, dressed for a casual Friday and introducing the selections as if he were conversing in someone’s living room, did not give off Grand Old Man vibes.

Maybe when he turns 80, but I wouldn’t bet on it.