Conductor: Dennis Russell Davies
Glass: Days and Nights in Rocinha
Glass: Ifé: Three Yoruba Songs – Angélique Kidjo
Glass: Symphony No. 11
So what does a highly regarded, world-famous composer do for a landmark birthday? Well, if you're Minimalist master Philip Glass, your long-time partner-in-music Dennis Russell Davies brings his well-regarded Austrian Bruckner Orchestra Linz as well as adventurous Beninese-born vocalist Angélique Kidjo to Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium for an evening dedicated to your work. And since the man himself is apparently downright indefatigable, he generously threw in the world premiere of his 11th symphony, just because he can.
So last Tuesday night was a very special night for me not only because it was pretty cool to be part of Philip Glass’ 80th birthday bash, but also because it brought me back all the way to Madrid's Teatro Real, where four years and four days before my friend Nicole and I were lucky enough to attend the final dress rehearsal of the opera The Perfect American, which had been composed by Philip Glass and was conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. It is a small world after all.
Written about two decades ago, directly inspired by the Rocinha neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, remotely commissioned and positively premiered by Dennis Russell Davies, Days and Nights in Rocinha is a prime example of the numerous and exciting possibilities of the Minimalist style. As performed on Tuesday night, the seemingly simple and repetitive score turned out to be anything but as it unfolded with a hypnotic melody, intricate harmonies and steady dance rhythms.
The colorful appearance of Angélique Kidjo on the stage for Ifé splendidly embodied her assertive musical presence and the Yoruba legends that inspired the three poems before they became songs. "Olodumare" was a nice introduction that allowed us to slowly become acclimated to the interactive flow of the language and the music, "Yemanda" stood out as more subdued while "Oshumare" concluded the series on a fervently upbeat note. Kidjo's voice was slightly amplified, but the sound balance was mostly good, if not always ideal, and the result definitely exotic and overall satisfying.
And then, after the intermission, we finally became acquainted with the much anticipated Symphony No. 11, which quickly got going with an unstoppable pulse that would power the extraordinarily force and inexhaustible vitality of the entire work while spontaneously embarking us all in what felt like an exhilarating road movie. Consisting of three movements, the 40-minute composition burst with countless original ideas that made it all the more unique and engaging.
The first movement surged with plenty of irrepressible energy, the second one slowed the pace down but without really losing the momentum, and the third one distinguished itself with, among other things, a clever and electrifying use of percussion. It was all meticulously organized, and yet the journey felt happily free-wheeling and irresistibly life-affirming. Maestro Davies, who conducted the first American performance of a Glass symphony 25 years ago, was solidly in command and consistently brought the best out of the totally devoted orchestra.
Philip Glass, who had received a thunderous round of applause at the beginning of the concert was even more enthusiastically acclaimed when he showed up on stage after all had been played and done. Happy Birthday, Mr. Glass!