Music in the Shape of a Square on Stradivarius
600 Lines / How Now
Music by Philip Glass
Performed by Alter Ego
Stradivarius STR 33649
While a few of Philip Glass's classic early scores such as Music in Similar Motion (1969) and Music in Twelve Parts (1974) have remained relatively well-known and have earned something of a cult status, a number of works he wrote beforehand are hardly known, or known about. The two above-mentioned scores, as anyone who has heard them will undoubtedly agree, demand a phenomenal degree of virtuosity from the players. Such virtuosity —a term which in the present case in particular covers stamina, structural sensitivity and a relaxed quality recalling certain kinds of jazz— was something that, as the composer readily points out, had to be worked towards in the interests of developing his new musical language.
Both 600 Lines and How Now fall into the category of works written to assist this development. In that in, for example. Music in Twelve Parts and Another Look at Harmony (written one year later, in 1975), Glass explores ways of reinventing harmony (Glass referred specifically to modulation and cadence in the case of the latter), these two works from the 1960s are even more radical in that they reinvent monody. And this was clearly perceived as being radical at the time. As the composer has observed, "I was beginning to work in a highly reductive, repetitive style that made most of the musicians who encountered it very angry. They wanted nothing to do with it." It is characteristic of Glass that he cheerfully admits this and, more importantly, that he courageously continued along this path in spite of such negative reactions. These two pieces were, in fact, the very first composed for the Philip Glass Ensemble, in 1968. The Ensemble has been a fundamental part of Glass's work ever since, fully vindicating his vision.
The uncompromising, punchy opening of 600 Lines lets us know that we are in for a concentrated experience. The scoring is the antithesis of a classical formation such as the string quartet. Originally for winds and synthesizer, in this recording the works is scored for violin, cello, flute, clarinet, electric guitar, organ and marimba. This is, however, real chamber music. Not only is Glass stretching the limits of chamber music making, but he is also relating obliquely to tradition by writing what are very much melodies, little though they may coincide with traditional expectations of melody. Their highly complicated rhythmic structure emphasizes, paradoxically, the velvety smoothness with which the composer requires the musicians to play. In listening to Alter Ego's performance, one is struck not only by the way in which the players so successfully bring out the work's melodic quality while maintaining an astonishing rhythmic tension, but also by the tremendous subtlety of the phrasing, which accompanies every unexpected twist and turn of the music.
How Now, while equally rigorous (and equally taxing on the players, though it is half the length of 600 Lines), is a gentler work. It makes more obvious play with dynamic contrast, and at times hints at those worlds of Gamelan and Indian music with which Glass was and is familiar but has never quoted verbatim. Scoring this time is violin, cello, flute, clarinet, electric guitar, organ and vibraphone, and this contributes in no uncertain terms to the more meditative quality of the music and, in some respects, a certain inner sonic richness absent from the other work. The contrast between the ethereal sounds of vibraphone and organ are, for example, complemented and to some extent contradicted by the pulsing of the electric guitar, and the brasher interventions of the clarinet and flute provide initially unexpected temporal as well as sonic contrast.
Robert Maycock, in his recent book on the composer, devoted an entire chapter to listening to Glass's music, during the course of which he gave the same answer several times, couched each time in different terms. At its clearest, it reads "Accept what you are hearing and let it lead you in its own way." Further on, he puts his finger on another and very important aspect of Glass's work: "However fast its moves, it develops a massive calm and certainty. And however abrasive and in-your-face the sound, it seems to have a character of quiet inner joyousness." These observations are as valid for 600 Lines and How Now as they are for Music in Twelve Parts, Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha or The Hours.
One more, related, point is worth making in this context: Glass's present lyrical style did not materialize from nowhere. Without the "deconstruction" at work in the pieces of the 1960s and 1970s, the subsequent reconstruction of a musical grammar in Einstein on the Beach (1976) and the refinement of that grammar through his large output of both concert and stage works written later, it would simply have been impossible.
— Ivan Moody
Estoril, April, 2003
NOTES ABOUT Alter Ego
2001 marks the tenth anniversary of the foundation of the ensemble Alter Ego which has earned a reputation as one of the major European chamber groups performing twentieth-century classical compositions and works at the cutting edge of new directions in music. Alter Ego has given concerts at principal venues in Italy, Europe and elsewhere, such as the Scala in Milan, the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Beethovenhalle in Bonn, De Yjsbreker in Amsterdam, Musica in Strasburg, Nybrokaien 11 in Stocklholm, the Akademie der Kunste in Berlin and the lllkom in Tashken, Takefu Japan. Nonthetess, the ensemble has never felt that its sole purpose was to perform music in a traditional manner or setting, its prime objective being the development of creativity in contemporary art. This has constantly meant new, stimulating experiences as the ensembte works with artists from various disciplines, such as Italian rapper Frankie HI-NRG, DJ Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner), visual artists Michelangelo Pistoletto and D-Fuse and performers synonymous with the musical avantgarde such as violinist Irvine Arditti or the Accroche Note ensemble. Such wide-ranging collaborations are also the result of Alter Ego's conviction that the language of contemporary music will make greater sense if perceived as part of a total performance and a cultural event and will thus be understood by a broader audience than normally associated with the genre.
The Alter Ego ensemble also works closely with many of the major composers of our time, including Alvin Curran, Philip Glass (gramophone 2001), Giya Kancheli, Louis Andriessen, David Lang, Frederic Rzewski and Kaija Saariaho. And Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino has declared that Alter Ego's performances of his works are the benchmark by which all others are to be judged. It is thus wholly fitting that Alter Ego's recording of various compositions by Sciarrino, "Esplorazione Del Bianco" on the Stradivarius label, should win the unanimous approval of both critics and record buyers.
Music composed by Philip Glass.
Music performed by Alter Ego: Manuel Zurria, flute; Paolo Ravaglia, clarinet; Francesco Peverini, violin; Francesco Dillon, cello; Oscar Pizzo, electric keyboard; Giuseppe Pistone, electric guitar; Fulvia RicevutO, vibraphone, marimba.
First world recordings of 600 Lines (1968) for ensemble and How Now (1968) for ensemble.
Piccolo Regio (TO) 16 September 2002. Recording engineer: Andrea Chenna.
Producer: Andrea Dandolo. Digital editing: Paolo Ravaglia.
Special thanks: Marco Delogu, Festival Settembre Musica, Giovanni Pizzo, Enzo Restagno, Piccolo Regio di Torino.
Philip Glass's music is published and managed by Dunvagen Music Publishers, Inc. (ASCAP), New York.
© 2003 Stradivarius. All rights reserved worldwide.