Philip Glass’ Glassworks had never been performed in New York until the contemporary ensemble Signal asked Michael Riesman, long-time music director of the Philip Glass Ensemble, to arrange it for live performance. (It was originally conceived for the recording studio.) It was performed at (le) Poisson Rouge on April 10, 2010, resulting in, among other things, this recording.
Glassworks (1981) was meant by Glass to be an introduction to his music for a wider audience than it previously enjoyed. The six “movements” are a good overview of Glass’ music in what we can call his “middle period” – the fairly hard-core serial minimalist works had given way to a looser, more melodic style. For those familiar with Glass’ earlier works, these are fairly relaxed, although it may be a function of this performance: from my memory of the Glassworks included in the album Dancepiece (“Rubric” and “Façade,” noted there as from “Glasspieces”), this performance is somewhat looser, almost romantic in feel.
Music in Similar Motion (1969) is described by Glass as an “open score,” meaning that, like Terry Riley’s In C, it can be performed by just about any ensemble. (Although I don’t know whether, like In C, it has ever been performed by a mariachi band.) This is back to the early Glass, marked by prominent, repetitive rhythms that dominate the work. Changes are small, incremental, and involve progressions more than anything that can be called melody. This is one of those works that would be more engaging in performance than on a recording, I think: I remember from my days of attending concerts by the Philip Glass Ensemble that his music of the 1960s and ‘70s was much easier to watch than just to listen to. At least, the performers moved around, providing a sort of respite from the music. (I have to confess, serial minimalism has never been one of my favorite episodes in American music. I came close to breaking teeth trying to listen to my old vinyl recording of The Photographer.) The performance here is seamless and fluent – the ensemble obviously knows their stuff.
(Orange Mountain Music, 2011)