Philip Glass: An Evening of Chamber Music
with Tim Fain
State Theatre, Ithaca, New York
March 1, 2014
If you have ever said a word over and over until it sheds all meaning and becomes its own sound, raw and devoid of attachment, then you know what the sound world of Philip Glass feels like. His melodies evolve in just such a way, nurturing new aspects with every iteration until they blossom of their own accord. His music has been called many things, from hypnotic to interminably monotonous. Its repetitive arpeggios and insistent themes have polarized listeners for decades. His admirers—myself among them—take comfort in his recognizability. His many critics, on the other hand, are often guilty of the very monotony of which the iconoclastic composer stands unfairly accused. Either way, resistance to his minimalist (im)pulses is futile: There’s nothing minimal about them.
But this is only half the story. Many will have heard Glass the composer, whose soundtracks for such films as Koyaanisqatsi and The Illusionist have long tickled the ears of even those unfamiliar with his name. Saturday night’s intimate chamber concert at the State Theatre was a choice opportunity to experience Glass the musician. Poised mountainously at a rococo baby grand piano yet with the touch of a willow’s tendril on water, he took concertgoers on a journey through his varied career by way of its most essential colors. To that end, he opened with a spirited performance of “Mad Rush.” The song was written—he explained to the audience—in response to a commission for a piece of “indefinite length.” This comment brought a collective chuckle and showed Glass as one at ease with his critics. It was obvious that the piece was originally written for organ as its waves crashed over one another in a gorgeous tumble. He also performed three selections from his Metamorphosis series. Like a jump between dream levels in the film Inception, each movement proceeded from a deeper place. The crosshatching of their dynamic pianism recalled the “stagger” technique of Baroque harpsichordists, and served to make an already resonant instrument brim with overtones.
Although Glass has ever been his own best interpreter, he has found in Tim Fain a viable partner in time. The American violinist, also no stranger to cinematic crossovers (he can be heard in Black Swan and, most recently, 12 Years a Slave), has emerged as one of the most exciting and innovative violinists of our generation. It was in the spirit of affinity that he joined Glass on stage for a smattering of scenes from The Screens. This incidental music, written for a stage production of the play by Jean Genet, was by turns sprightly and mournful. So, too, the concluding Pendulum, condensed here from a trio to a duo.
Yet it was Fain alone who secured the performance’s most stirring memories in the form of a two-part “Chaconne.” Excerpted from the seven-movement Partita for Solo Violin, it ranks among the solo violin works of Eugène Ysaÿe as a true inheritor of Bach’s hallowed craft. The purity and surety of Fain’s tone was alive with purpose as he leapt through a near constant chain of double stops. Concertedly, his strings sang the most recent music on the program, bringing everything back to Glass the composer and reminding us of just how he has evolved. Here was his art, soaring, full-throated, and open to whatever may come.
(See this article as it originally appeared in the Cornell Daily Sun.)