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August 2, 2011

On the Record: Round-up of discs devoted to music of Philip Glass

I loved the music of Philip Glass long before moving to his native city, but I get an extra kick out of it living here, knowing that this is where he grew up.

If the world thinks of him as a downtown New York composer, Baltimore will always claim him. I have absolutely no reason for mentioning any of this. I just felt like it.

So now I'll get to what is important -- recent recordings of Glass works.

Orange Mountain Music, a label dedicated to the composer's music, keeps up a steady stream of well-produced discs that are invariably worth a listen. A case in point is a recording devoted to the Concerto for Cellos and Orchestra No. 1.

The 2001 score opens with darkly churning material for the cello that gradually moves in more lyrical directions, while the orchestra provides increasingly colorful reactions. Familiar Glass trademarks pop up in the rhythmic and harmonic patterns, as well in some of the orchestration (no surprise there), but there is abundant freshness of invention in this almost neo-romantic concerto (I said almost).

GlassCelloConcerto (mp3)

The absorbing, atmospheric concerto gets a winning performance from soloist Wendy Sutter and the Orchestra of the Americas, conducted by Dante Anzolini.

As a rule, I find steel drum bands fascinating for about 20 seconds, but ...

I couldn't tear myself away from the recording of NYU Steel playing a version of Glass' Etudes for Piano (Nos. 1-10) on another Orange Mountain Music release.

The 18-member steel drum ensemble from New York University has a field day with these faithful, virtuosic arrangements done by the group's director, Josh Quillen. It's an infectiously vibrant disc.

Organist and pianist Steffen Schleiermacher tackles three daunting pieces from the late 1960s on a release from the MDG Scene label.

This is the sort of music that drove the music establishment nuts back in the day and may still challenge some listeners. Here, Glass is at his most minimalistic, where the action takes place within a relatively narrow range of notes and chords and where the subtly shifting rhythms create a hypnotic tension.

Schleiermacher has the material well in hand. He has the organ works "Music in Similar Motion" and "Music in Fifths" spinning and pulsing mightily. "How Now" for piano is likewise delivered with impressive skill.

MusicInSimilarMotion (mp3)

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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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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