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June 18, 2012

Next-day thoughts on Philip Glass' 'Overture for 2012'

If you blinked (metaphorically speaking), you might have missed "Overture for 2012," the new work by Philip Glass unveiled Sunday night in Baltimore and Toronto as part of events commemorating the War of 1812.

It seems the composer took the term "overture" at its most literal, fashioning a brief curtain-raiser of about five minutes.

The Baltimore and Toronto symphonies were expecting something closer to 12 (can they get a partial refund of the commission?).

I've heard from folks disappointed at how quickly the Glass piece flashed by. I, too, was surprised by the brevity, but, mostly, in ...

a good way. As soon as it was over, I thought: At last, a substitute for John Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" when orchestras want to spice programs with a dash of minimalism.

Based on a single hearing (requests for an advance look at the score or admission to rehearsal were denied), I wouldn't put "Overture for 2012" on a par with that bravura Adams work. But the two items do have in common a persistent rhythmic drive and vivid orchestration, with similarities especially in the percussion batteries employed.

The trademark harmonic motion between a limited number of chords defines the overture as Glass-y; same for the way those chords are outlined. As for structure, the composer relies on one of the oldest tricks in the book -- a long, gradual crescendo -- to create tension in the last half or so of the score, when a cool, brassy scale-like theme emerges amid increasingly prismatic, kinetic swirls.

There's an effective uplift to the music, which the BSO delivered with considerable flourish Sunday night, expertly guided by Marin Alsop. 

I wouldn't mind a few more thematic ideas or changes of mood in the score, but the richness of sound and the spirit of the pulse certainly fit the festive nature of the occasion.

While the premiere provided a good opportunity for folks in Baltimore to remember one of the city's most illustrious sons, the concert also reminded me that the BSO has yet to perform something really big and weighty by Glass. I hope Alsop will program a symphony or concerto before long.

Even better, how about a concert version of one of the operas? I fear folks will be ice-skating on the Inner Harbor in July before we see "Satyagraha" staged at the Lyric.


Posted by Tim Smith at 9:50 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Clef Notes


After "Satyagraha," can we have "Akhnaten"?

By all means. TIM

I enjoyed the Glass a lot too. Here's my review:

Also, does this not count in terms of the Baltimoreans programming a substantial Glass work?,1,1,3&PerfNo=9311 Maybe not if it's based on David Bowie?

That 2010 performance would count more if the BSO had played the whole score; they left out a couple movements. (It was also a one-off summer thing, not a regular season program, where a full-length, non-multimedia Glass piece could earn even more points.) TS

I did enjoy the Glass piece and I'm glad I was there to hear it, but am definitely disappointed by its length. I wanted more. I also thought it sounded a little muted.

Next time the BSO should commission John Adams. His recent commissioned piece for the Los Angeles Philharmonic was supposed to be 90 minutes - it came out to 135 minutes when finally completed.

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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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