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January 13, 2011

Mobtown Modern demonstrates enduring appeal of Philip Glass

Think about this for a moment -- a 30-year-old work by a composer currently in his 70s is still popular enough to draw a standing-room-only crowd heavily populated with 20-somethings.

Such was the case on a bitterly cold Wednesday night at Baltimore's Windup Space, where the Contemporary Museum's Mobtown Modern Music Series presented a complete performance of "Glassworks" by Baltimore's own Philip Glass.

I imagine the first audiences to hear this piece back in 1981 looked a lot like this one (right down to some of the hairstyles) and were just as enthusiastic. This is Glass at his most instantly likable, I think -- assuming you can tolerate at all the fundamental minimalist concepts of repetition, rhythmic pulsation and narrow harmonic and melodic range.

In "Glassworks," the composer takes those components and gives them

an extra dash of expressive character, along with a beguiling instrumental shimmer. The music is alive not just with motion, but emotion.

Those qualities came through effectively in the Mobtown Modern performance, despite occasional roughness around the edges. The 11-member ensemble, conducted by Julien Benichou, reached a peak of kinetic power in the "Rubric" movement. Guy Werner's accompanying video projections (rising or setting suns, urban traffic, home movies, etc.) didn't add much to the experience, but I may have well been in a minority.

This concert marked the beginning of "Synchronicity," a collaborative venture between Mobtown and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. A couple of BSO members were in the ensemble for "Glassworks, and BSO music director Marin Alsop, a sterling champion of contemporary music, was on hand for a pre-concert discussion with Mobtown curator and top-drawer sax man Brian Sacawa. Some BSO staffers were in the packed house, mingling with the kind of folks they don't typically see at Meyerhoff Hall.

It's a great idea, this mixing of what, in New York, would be considered uptown and downtown musical camps. In Baltimore, we're only talking a few blocks, but the coming together means a lot.

The BSO continues the focus on Glass works this weekend with performances of  "Icarus at the Edge of Time."


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:59 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes


Great to see Glass getting more performance-exposure in "these here parts."

'Bout DARNED time. ;^)

For such a so-called "minimalist" (choke-cough-GASP!!!), he certainly has a very unique, distinctive voice that has expanded and deepened over the years. (His discography surely isn't "minimal" in the LEAST. ;^)

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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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