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Shimmers, soaring violin, and addictive brilliance

The American Four Seasons CoverPhilip Glass I know is somewhat of a ‘Marmite composer’ – even among his fans (of whom I am one) and this particular piece of work appears to be even more Marmiteish than most.

Some regretted the early Glass turning away from much more avant-garde work, following instead a combination of minimalism and extreme romanticism, finding him become too accessible perhaps, or too formulaic, as the rushes and the glittery shimmers and repetitions he is known for, plus his lyricism, has meant he has often been the background to film, TV and commercial, with snippets of works getting regular airings.

Personally, I find his trademarks work for me well, and have only once felt he was running a little on empty and plagiarising himself – his 2011 opera The Perfect American – but that is possibly because I can’t imagine anything from Glass, in operatic form, can match Satyagraha, where the subject matter (Gandhi) met the elevation of the music. The Perfect American portrayed Disney, a darker, less elevated individual than others (Einstein, Gandhi, Akhnaten) who have been a useful fit for Glass, a Buddhist, in his operas

Robert McDuffie

This particular piece was written for the American violinist Robert McDuffie in 2009 and is referred to as ‘The American Four Seasons. McDuffie had been interested in a piece which would serve as a ‘companion’ to Vivaldi’s popular work, but it was not, as far as I understand, composed as any kind of variation on Vivaldi – it was merely a work in four movements.

McDuffie did connect it more to the Vivaldi piece. Glass created a set of four solo pieces for the violin (specifically for McDuffie) to stand in place of violinist cadenzas within pieces. Each ‘solo’ now precedes one of the four orchestral movements

The order in which each movement and solo is to be played is then left to the individual soloist and conductor. That is, the interpreters decide which piece belongs to which season, and, indeed the order in which the ‘year of seasons’ should start.

Personally I found that part of Glass’s explanation – handing control to the players, or, in these days of playlists, to the listener to programme and change a playing order as they choose, a bit spurious. I chose to buy the CD for a better quality of sound than a squashed MP3. And so unless I want to be fiddling around with the remote out of some desire to play mindgames, listen from start to finish. Curiously, I’m not even particularly ‘bovvered’ to want to play guessing games over seasons. I am content with this as a wonderful piece of music. And will continue to eat spoonfulls of this musical Marmite with enormous enjoyment, again and again

Marin Alsop conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra in this recording, from the European première of the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 2010.Philip Glass

Meanwhile………apologies, it was a blogger who alerted me to this recording, and I didn’t note down who you were before rushing off to buy it, more than a month ago. I can’t find who you are from any tag search – if you read this, please leave me a comment, and I can embed a link to your original post which included this, but wasn’t specifically ABOUT the piece

Discovered! It was, of course, Victoria Addis’ fabulously absorbing, wonderfully analytical blog A Hermit’s Progress I have been happily spending time on that blog, and the link will take you to a veritable cornucopia of wonderful musical delights, in a rare musical blog post on her site – she is normally writing (and speaking) equally engagingly about literature
Philip Glass -Violin Concerto No. 2 Amazon UK
Philip Glass -Violin Concerto No. 2 Amazon USA