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Brooklyn Rider - Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass

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Artist: Brooklyn Rider

Album: Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass

Label: Orange Mountain

Review date: Aug. 18, 2011

He might be an elder statesman, but in a lot of circles, Philip Glass remains a punchline. Once that pulse quickens, the arpeggios whizzing by, you might as well make yourself comfortable; no matter the tempo, youíre going to be there a while. But if heís a joke today, insofar as Western concert music is concerned, itís a funny heís been in on ó cultivated even ó since his cab driving days in New York. Personally, I find it hilarious that the very institutions that once reviled him are now tripping over one another to plan the bigger, better 75th birthday bash this January. But with the state of contemporary classical music as sorry as Glassís plight used to be, I suppose itís not all that surprising. Pop will always eat itself, and art music will forever auto-fellate. Itís crude, but true. And ultimately, thatís what these two discs from the well-staffed Brooklyn Rider do ó remind the forgetful that, at one time anyway, Philip Glass was revolutionary.

It was no less a maverick than Arnold Schoenberg who wrote against using new music in old architecture. And with regards to chamber music, especially, thereís no idiom more archaic than the string quartet. So, if it is true revolution you want, youíd do best to lend an ear to the Michael Riesman-led Philip Glass Ensemble recordings. (Just as Beethoven eschewed aristocratic patronage, Glassís DIY band was a similar ďbite meĒ to the orchestras that wouldnít play him then.) All the same, Brooklyn Rider ó Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen on violins, Nicholas Cords on the viola and cellist Eric Jacobsen ó execute this difficult process music with a watchmakerís precision. Youíre a fool if you think that playing Glass quartets is any less demanding or taxing than those by Bartůk, Elliott Carter or even Helmut Lachenmann. It takes the persistence of a tortoise to play as fast as the hare, and this well-oiled machine of a group has certainly logged some time with the metronome. Specifically, on 1985ís String Quartet No. 3 (i.e. the Yukio Mishima one), the Rider runs roughshod over Kronosí earlier, subdued take.

Musically...well, what do you want to hear? Itís Phil fucking Glass! Heís been on The Simpsons for crying out loud. You know, a priori, not just how the story starts, but also how itís going to end ó neither bang nor whimper. Save for the thorny, academic pointillism of String Quartet No. 1 (Parts 1 and 2), itís the same olí song and trance. I wanted to hear something, anything, in the albumís world premiere recording of the suite from Bent (the film starring Mick Jagger, Clive Owen and Ian McKellen), but alas, itís simply nondescript. Of course, thatís not necessarily a bad thing on String Quartet No. 2, Glassís score for existential minimalist Samuel Beckett. Brooklyn Rider play it here with both aggression and aplomb.

True, what Terry Riley started ó American minimalism in American art music ó Steve Reich perfected. What then makes this offering such a potent madeleine of things Glass? Those eager to crucify St. Philip on a pyre of originality alone miss the mark of minimalism altogether. In Glassís scores, more so than Riley, Reich, John Adams, LaMonte Young, Charlemagne Palestine, Ingram Marshall, etc. ad inf., the music becomes automatic. Itís more like math, really. Whereas the composers uptown functioned with an integral calculus, Glass was more of a Leibniz: the rate at which his music changed was differential.

Weíre lucky to get one good idea in this life. Despite looking like a horseís ass now, a grateful Glass has never once looked his own gift in the mouth. Speaking again of calc, some might chart that as derivative. Instead, speaking more metaphysically, Iíd point out that that might just make him timeless.

By Logan K. Young

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