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December 22, 2008

Bach film wraps up shooting

Last Friday, Mike Lawrence, the Baltimore filmmaker putting together an unusual documentary with a wide assortment of musicians and non-musicians talking about the lasting power of Bach, finished the last of the scheduled shoots. He and his crew headed to New York City to interview Philip Glass, the composer most closely associated with minimalism. "Philip talked about the great one better than anyone in the film," Lawrence told me in an email over the weekend.

That reminded me of way back when Glass and fellow minimalists were first stirring up the musical world a few decades ago, and how some listeners seemed to think that the genre had no relationship to the sanctified past, no legitimate roots in the classical tradition. But the first time I heard the Opening of Glass' piano score Glassworks, I remember thinking of the famous C major Prelude that opens Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier Book I -- a piece with minimal melodic activity, just a sequence of chords propelled by a reiterative rhythmic pattern.

It seemed crazy to me the way the anti-minimalist crowd would complain that there was nothing remotely meaningful going on in music of this style. They just weren't really listening. One of the reasons I love this stuff is that it does have a connection to the past, all the while charting its own distinctive path. (See below for a comparison of Bach's C major Prelude and the Opening of Glassworks.) Anyway, it will be interesting to hear what Glass has to say about Bach in the DVD, which should be on the market next summer.

Bach's C major Prelude from Book I of Well-Tempered Clavier:


Opening of Glassworks by Philip Glass:

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:10 PM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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