By Caleb Easterly
The Philip Glass Ensemble gave a rare marathon performance of Glass’s Music in Twelve Parts as part of the Tune-In Music Festival Saturday night at the Park Avenue Armory. The 1974 piece, rarely performed in its entirety, lasted longer than five hours, including two short intermissions and a one-hour dinner break.
The piece, considered to be Glass' breakout work, is a smorgasbord of musical techniques, demonstrating his skill as a composer and the development of his personal musical voice: his trademark arpeggios, the instrumentation, slow change in rhythm and harmony. Even the most discerning listener can barely notice the changes until they've already happened. Yet other moments both within and between the parts give a the audience a welcome jolt out of their reverie.
The sold out crowd was huge and enthusiastic. A large screen was erected behind the stage, and I hoped for some interesting visuals, knowing how well film and Glass’s music can meld (Koyaanisqatsi anyone?). The screen, however, was only used to display simple colors and patterns; while well matched to the mood of the music, it seemed more an afterthought than an integral part of the performance.
As any lover of minimalist music will tell you, the best way to experience longer pieces is in one sitting without interruptions. The 3 intermissions, especially the hour long dinner break, turned out to be too much of a distraction, compared with to listening to a recording. However, a recording can never match the energy and immediacy of a live performance. The musicans were fantastic, tearing through the 12 parts with surety and style. The mesmerizing sound filled the massive space, and all of the performers seemed completely absorbed. Although most of them were hampered by mics, Glass made up for their stiffness, bobbing, dancing, and cueing with his entire body.
Glass’ detractors have accused him of creating cold and inaccessible music, but seeing how deeply he feels its' expressiveness has forever erased that thought from my mind.