November 27, 2016
At Southam Hall
I’ve sometimes tried to imagine the expression that Brahms or Mahler or Prokofiev would have worn when hearing their music played back to them. Were some composers like those actors who claim they never see their own films because they can’t stand watching themselves?
Philip Glass certainly didn’t appear to have any such insecurities on Saturday night. The iconic American composer was at Southam Hall for a concert in honour of his receiving the Glenn Gould Prize. Glass listened intently, hands resting on the railing of his box, his body language conveying a mix of genuine pleasure and humility.
Glass, who turns 80 in January, has not only enjoyed a long career; he’s had an astoundingly prolific and varied one too. I don’t envy the people who had to whittle down his enormous output of solo instrument works, symphonies, film scores, chamber music, operas and more to just a few representative selections.
Like Glenn Gould, American pianist Simone Dinnerstein first came to international attention with a best-selling recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Dinnerstein started the evening off with a serene, expansive reading of Glass’s Etude no. 2.
Before the rest of the program could proceed, organizers had to get the the obligatory awards ceremony niceties out of the way. There was a video message from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a speech by Ontario Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, all briskly managed by emcee Petula Clark. Clark later lent her throaty alto to Glass’s Streets of Berlin, originally sung by Mick Jagger in the cabaret Bent.
Dinnerstein returned for another solo piano Etude, No. 6, with its hammered repeated notes and opaque harmonies. Cellist Matt Haimovitz gave a soulful performance of an Overture that Glass wrote for him. The Prelude from Bach’s Solo Cello Suite No.1 that followed was inventive and deeply personal.
Glass chose the young American pianist and composer Timo Andres for the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protége award. Andres played Heavy Sleep, his own skittish, brooding take on Chopin’s Nocturnes.
NACO played Glass’s Symphony No. 8 and the 5th movement from the Symphony No. 10 with astonishing virtuosity and grit. The music felt like an infernal machine: hypnotic, swirling latticeworks of arpeggios supported by a relentless mechanical pulse (courtesy of the mad-scientist lab of the percussion section). Longtime Glass collaborator Dennis Russell Davies provided ruthlessly efficient, fluent direction from the podium.
It’s not every day you see people head-banging at the symphony. This is part of the genius of Philip Glass: the ability to create music that achieves both the poetry of calculus and the irresistible, pounding drive of rock.
By: Natasha Gauthier
Read at: Ottawa Citizen