Maynard Wicked Local: Composer Philip Glass debuts partita at Peabody Essex Museum

June 15, 2017

Composer Philip Glass himself and cellist Matt Haimovitz come to Salem on Juen 22 for a concert of the composer’s music for cello. The program includes a world premiere, Glass’s Partita No. 2 for Solo Cello, which he wrote in 2010 but which has remained unperformed until this concert. The program will also include “Mad Rush,” for solo piano, selections from “Tissues,” and “The Orchard,” from Glass’s collaborative score (with Foday Musa Suso) to Jean Genet’s play “The Screens.”

If you go…

WHAT: An Evening with Philip Glass and Matt Haimovitz

WHERE: Peabody Essex Museum, East Indian Square, Salem

WHEN: Saturday, June 22, 8 p.m.

TICKETS: $50, $40 members, $30 students. Visit www.pem.org or call 866-745-1876.

Philip Glass is certainly one of the most influential and prolific American composers in history. Any discussion of minimalism starts with his innovations. His collaborations are profound and far-ranging: with teachers like Vincent Persichetti and Nadia Boulanger, and artistic partners like Ravi Shankar, Samuel Beckett, Robert Wilson, Peter Sellars, Allen Ginsburg, Martin Scorsese, David Bowie.

This year, marking his 80th birthday, has seen retrospectives and celebrations around the world. The Peabody Essex Museum joins in those events this Thursday, when Glass himself and cellist Matt Haimovitz come to Salem for a concert of the composer’s music for cello.

The program includes a world premiere, Glass’s Partita No. 2 for Solo Cello, which he wrote in 2010 but which has remained unperformed until this concert. The program will also include “Mad Rush,” for solo piano, selections from “Tissues,” and “The Orchard,” from Glass’s collaborative score (with Foday Musa Suso) to Jean Genet’s play “The Screens.”

The partita is part of an upcoming recording of Glass’s cello compositions, available soon on Orange Mountain music label, which is led by Salem resident Richard Guérin. Glass will perform on piano at the concert, and with Guérin and Haimovitz, will participate in a pre-concert discussion about his work and the new recording.

Guérin has contributed deeply personal and informative booklet notes to the upcoming recording. In them Glass discusses his early love of the music of Bach, specifically the six cello suites, which he first heard as a young boy in his father’s record store in Baltimore.

“When I was a very young boy working at my father’s store,” Glass says, “I developed a taste for these solo cello pieces by Bach. I knew them all. The solo pieces that I’m writing now are absolutely born from that moment.

“My pieces don’t sound like Bach, but in a way they couldn’t have been written without having heard those pieces.”

The new partita sat for years, unplayed. It took a 2015 visit from Haimovitz to Glass’s studio to unearth it. Haimovitz says it “was a crime against music” that the piece would sit for so long, and worked through the piece with the composer.

Haimovitz says the partita has a similar series of movements like the Bach suites, but rather than dance titles (Bourée, Gigue), Glass has simply numbered the movements.

“There is nothing descriptive in the score,” Haimovitz says. “Glass is a kindred spirit with Baroque composers, who give very little interpretive direction to the performer.”

Glass will forever be linked to the minimalist style, but Haimovitz points out “Philip has moved into a neo-Romantic mode with his late chamber works. Audiences may be surprised.

“Philip treats the cello in a lyrical way,” he says. “He is inspired by Bach’s sense of mock-polyphony with one instrument. I have all kinds of pictorial and narrative associations with the music, but Philip would never admit to any. He is more concerned with form and melody.

“Perhaps the biggest challenge is not unlike playing Bach — finding a balance between the beauty of the movement, while never losing sight of the larger form.”

Philip Glass and Matt Haimovitz perform Glass’s music on Thursday, June 22 at 8 p.m. at the Peabody Essex Museum. For tickets and information visit www.pem.org or call 866-745-1876.

By: Keith Powers

Read at: Maynard Wicked Local

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