Haimovitz, CSO sing in haunting Glass concerto

April 1, 2012

Composer Philip Glass featured the cello in his soundtrack to the Godfrey Reggio film “Naqoyqatsi,” he said, because “we think of the cello as the instrument closest to the human voice.”

On Friday night, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and cellist Matt Haimovitz performed the world premiere of Glass’ Cello Concerto No. 2, “Naqoyqatsi,” a CSO commission based on his film score. On the podium was Dennis Russell Davies, a frequent Glass collaborator.

Haunting and deeply beautiful, it is a concerto for our time. Even without knowing the film’s striking imagery, the cello emerges through Glass’ brooding score as symbolic of the lone human cry against a turbulent, technological, war-torn world.

The Music Hall audience barely moved during its 40-minute duration, and provided an enthusiastic reception at its conclusion. Glass, who is observing his 75th birthday year with international celebrations, is one of the Cincinnati Symphony’s creative directors this season.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed the prominent cello part to Glass’ original film score, the third film in Reggio’s “Qatsi” trilogy. “Naqoyqatsi,” from 2002, is Hopi for “Life as War.” Glass distilled music to make five movements and two solo interludes.

It’s interesting to see how Glass, who calls himself a composer of “music with repetitive structures,” has evolved since his early work became known as “minimalist” for its repeating arpeggios and long durations of simple harmonies.


The music of his concerto was distinctly Glass, with trademark repeating arpeggios in violins and other repetitive patterns. It was also, in many ways, romantic and lyrical. Glass’ orchestral palette included tolling chimes, chant-like passages for the low brass, flourishes for the winds and the startling crack of a “whip” in the colorful percussion section.

Haimovitz’s cello entered against the tintinnabulation of a triangle. Through each of its movements, Haimovitz performed the expansive themes with emotion and timbre ranging from gritty to deeply beautiful.

The cellist was given two exquisite solos. The first, “New World,” was a plaintive melody that Haimovitz performed with beautiful intonation in the upper register of his instrument against a shimmering cymbal. He found a sweet tone in his instrument for the second, “Old World,” performed against a simple motive in the harp (Gillian Benet Sella).

Davies was a confident leader who galvanized the tutti (full orchestra) sections, and he captured a sweep that can only be described as cinematic. He brought propulsive energy to the movement “Point Blank,” which evoked war with military percussion and brass. The epilogue had a quiet beauty and included a lyrical solo for cello. As the music turned from dark to light, the piece ended on a hopeful note.

The concerto was taped live for a recording on the Orange Mountain Music label, to be released at a future date.

In the program’s second half, Davies led a beautifully-paced, richly atmospheric Symphony No. 6 by Bruckner. A native of Toledo and chief conductor of the Bruckner Orchestra of Linz (among other posts), Davies, 67, has recorded the complete Bruckner symphonies. He is a leader of vivid musicality, and it was a reading of breadth, spiritual beauty and power. The great brass buildups of the outer movements had splendor without overpowering. The slow movement was eloquent and Davies masterfully took his time in the shaping of each phrase.

The musicians gave it a top-notch performance.

By Janelle Gelfand

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