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Jane Enkin

Review of the Opening Night Concert of WSO's New Music Festival which runs until Februay 2, 2018

by Jane Enkin, January 28, 2018

“I didn't enter the music world to change it – I didn't know I was changing it.”


Philip Glass spoke on the opening night of the Winnipeg New Music Festival 2017, recalling his early years as a composer. He did change contemporary approaches to music, with his innovative use of brief, cyclic rhythmic patterns. His theatrical works, operas such as Einstein on the Beach and film scores like Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance continue to influence both popular and concert music. Glass credits his own innovations to years of listening to 20th century works and studying classical composition. Significantly, his interest in “indigenous music from everywhere ...was fundamental to the way I made music.” He studied in Africa and Australia, for example, and was assistant to the famed sitar player Ravi Shankar.


Introducing his Symphony No.11 on Saturday night, Glass acknowledged his familiarity with the classical symphonic repertoire. He said, “I put aside the storytelling [of theatre work] and found that I could make use of a personal language of my own in a symphony... I approached this as something I had found, that I had never heard before.”


That personal voice, to my ear, was entirely joyful. The wonderful rhythmic feeling of the first movement reminded me of Eastern European folk music, and also of the Baroque symphonies that Glass mentioned. At times, the sustained pulse was topped by swirling strings. The trombones and trumpets brought in a hint of a jazz sound, reminding me of the work of Leonard Bernstein. This energetic, fun music had me grinning and picturing an inspired piece of contemporary dance to celebrate this beautiful sound.


The second movement started with a gentler pulse. Moments of ethereal music were followed by more grounded passages. Throughout there were singable melodies. The repeated brief shapes of rhythm and melody were not minimalist – they produced a lush, layered effect. The approach is like the singing of a Hasidic nign – take hold of a musical motif and repeat it enough times, a pattern of just a few bars but with constant, subtle permutations, and there is a transcendence of the intellectual mind. For a while, the pulse took over entirely, and then there was a return to a juicier sound.


The third movement opened with percussion only, like a military tattoo. The stately, still joyous opening built to a structured cacophony and an exhilarating climax.


My impression of the whole piece? Well, just gorgeous.


Glass spoke about his affinity for artists in the 60s and 70s. One of the artists he knew was the acclaimed Canadian Michael Snow. Snow is known for his improvised music in addition to film and other visual art. The New Music Festival commissioned Snow's first

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