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Glass Premiere Powerfully Moving

Music Hall
03/30/2012 -  & March 31*, 2012
Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 6 in A Major
Philip Glass: Cello Concerto No. 2, “Naqoyqatsi” (world premiere)

Matt Haimovitz (cello)
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Dennis Russell Davies (guest conductor)

P. Glass (Courtesy of CSO)

Composer Philip Glass is one of three creative directors guiding the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra during the 2011-12 season, its first without a music director since former music director Paavo Järvi stepped down in May, 2011. As such, Glass programmed the CSO’s five-concert “Boundless Series” and has spent two residencies in the city. His second residency, the last week in March, also marked the world premiere of his Cello Concerto No. 2, “Naqoyqatsi,” so-called because Glass derived it from the score he wrote for the 2002 film of the same name, third in his “Qatsi” trilogy with experimental filmmaker Godfrey Reggio (the others are “Koyaanisqatsi” and “Powaqqatsi”). A CSO commission, the Concerto shared the program with Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6, a thoughtful pairing since Bruckner’s use of repetitive structures influenced Glass’ own.

Soloist was cellist Matt Haimovitz, with long-time Glass collaborator Dennis Russell Davies on the podium. (The concerts were recorded for release on the Orange Mountain Music label.) The Hopi word naqoyqatsi translates as “a life of killing each other,” or “life as war,” and anyone who has seen the film knows how powerful it is, combining archival footage with stock and computer-generated images to produce a fast-moving essay on self-destruction through conflict of all kinds, for fame, money, winning at all costs and ultimately, war. The cello serves as the voice of humanity, attempting to maintain stability and reason amid the chaos.

Glass has re-worked the score into five movements and two interludes. The movement titles recall the film: “Naqoyqatsi,” “Massman,” “Intensive Time” and Epilogue. The interludes, “New World” and “Old World,” for solo cello softly accompanied by percussion and harp, follow “Massman” and “Intensive Time,” respectively. Scored for large orchestra, with a raft of percussion, the 25-minute work conveys the devastation of the film in purely musical terms. It is even more deeply moving, however, with the focus on the cello and its voice, minus the shock value of the film’s disturbing images.

Haimovitz conveyed that voice with acute sensitivity. Not only was he an eloquent commentator on the orchestral strife surrounding him, but he poured unspeakable feeling into his solo interludes. The first interlude, “New World,” was a sad soliloquy high on the A-string, broken by faint touches of cymbal and tam-tam. He scaled the heights of grief in “Old World” with random high harmonics against vacant open fifths in the harp. The CSO played its role handsomely, spinning Glass’ signature arpeggios and syncopations with clarity and definition. Film buffs recognized the dark intonations of “Naqoyqatsi” in the opening bars (low brass, cellos and basses), the sharp snaps of whip and whoops of brass in “Intensive Time,” with its plaintive trumpet solo (a wordless soprano on the film soundtrack). Haimovitz maintained the cello’s “separateness” against the relentless, brassy furor of “Point Blank,” which came to an abrupt halt before the Epilogue, where the solo cello became almost Bach-like, with classic lines against arpeggios in the strings and winds. As if exhausted, the music broke into fragments of violin, tam-tam, horn and piccolo at the end.

Davies, who has a complete cycle of Bruckner’s symphonies on disc with the Bruckner Orchester Linz, did the composer’s hour-long Sixth Symphony proud with the CSO. Transitions (or lack thereof, with Bruckner’s often block-like structures) were impeccably clean and precise, and he drew a lustrous sound from the strings. The orchestral blend was organ-like in big moments, and he gave the Scherzo an exhilarating cosmic spin. In the finale, which began softly and mysteriously as if in medias res (“in the middle of things”), the brass’ opening statement led the way for a glorious summation, bringing the audience to its feet.

Mary Ellyn Hutton



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