Mon August 19, 2013
Philip Glass, Searching South Of The Border
Among my fellow classical music fans, I’ve been a big defender of Philip Glass’s music over the years. I enjoy the way the composer plays with time and space in his music, the way each harmonic shift signifies a sea change in the structure of the piece. After a period of heavy experimentation in the 1970s, pushing the boundaries of concert music with “Music with Changing Parts” and his opera “Einstein on the Beach,” Glass refined his radical style, adding linear melodic lines to the musical building blocks that formed the basis of his minimalist language. His “Violin Concerto” is one of my favorite works of the past 30 years.
Glass has also benefitted from his collaborations with other composers and cultures, such as Gambian musician Foday Musa Suso (“The Screens”) and Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar (“Passages”). When I learned that his latest album would feature indigenous Mexican musicians, I was intrigued and excited. “Concert of the Sixth Sun” finds Glass at the piano, accompanied by Wixáritari musicians Roberto Carillo Cocio, guitar, and Daniel Medina de la Rosa on violin. I expected folkloric melodies, perhaps with Glass’s trademark arpeggiated lines or polyrhythmic structure.
But “Concert of the Sixth Sun” is everything that detractors of Glass say he is. Static, simplistic, and, well, boring. Cocio’s native guitar seems to know only two chords, and Rosa’s violin saws away, so high in the mix it overpowers all other musicians. Glass noodles with major chords or what sound like simple warm-up exercises in the background. Only one of the tracks, “Hikuri,” stood out as having something rhythmically or texturally interesting going on in the background.
I listened to all 40 minutes of this record, and there were few moments when I felt the music to be genuinely hypnotic, the way the best Glass music can penetrate your soul. The Mexican researcher and author Victor Sánchez, who organized the concert, says in the liner notes that Glass has been traveling to Mexico for a decade in search of food for the soul. “Concert of the Sixth Sun” left me still hungry.