Collegiate Chorale at Carnegie Hall, February 27, 2013
The New York Times, March 2, 2013
Here we are at Night After Night post No. 1,000. Feels auspicious, even if it's just a link to the latest of my New York Times reviews. If this particular report comes off as a bit dismissive toward a pair of today's most prominent composers, it's only because I know a lot of music by Philip Glass and Osvaldo Golijov, and compared the two works at hand strictly to their own stronger pieces.
Curious, given the accusations of plagiarism – or at least inopportune borrowing, inappropriately explained – on Golijov's part in recent years, that more wasn't made of it when Glass responded to a major commission with a symphony one-third recycled from his own film score to Powaqqatsi – and really, in my view, recycled to no great effect. Tim Page's Washington Post advance feature contained no mention of the self-borrowing, nor did Jens F. Laurson's customarily keen Ionarts review. Only the Washington Times reviewer noted the reused music with bewilderment.
(An aside: The Washington Times review has no byline on the paper's website. The online journalism archive HighBeam Research credits the article, rightly or not, to Julia Duin, a veteran religion reporter fired in 2010, purportedly for speaking ill of Times management.)
Presumably reporters and reviewers ignored Glass's recycling because the program note provided, written by Richard Freed, didn't acknowledge it. Neither does the liner note included with the CD recording of the symphony issued by Glass's Orange Mountain Music record label. But Richard Guérin, who edits the Glass Note blog, cited Glass's reuse of the film music openly in a 2011 post, and the point was also noted in the Collegiate Chorale's program notes at Carnegie Hall.
To be perfectly clear, "The Unutterable" is very good Glass music. And I don't personally take any issue with a composer reusing his own music; where would Copland's Symphony No. 3 (1946) be without its incorporation of his Fanfare for the Common Man (1942)? But the lack of transparency about it feels shifty.
More important, in the context of the symphony's two previous, very effective movements, a sudden shift to an earlier, starker style seems jarring. And the music, meant as a film cue, ends without any sense of concluding – saddling a heretofore dramatic symphony with a wan, anticlimactic ending that left the Carnegie Hall audience confused and hesitant to respond.
At the Kennedy Center premiere, the symphony's final movement featured more extensive choral parts and a brief, contrasting coda – which included the work's only instance of the archetypal Glass arpeggio. I've heard the complete original version of the symphony in an uncirculated reference recording. I wonder now if the removal of these elements wasn't a mistake, given my impressions of the revised version in this Carnegie Hall performance. (You can hear the original coda in the Richard Guérin blog post I mentioned above.)
Golijov's Oceana, on the other hand, is a fine piece on its own merits, with some positively thrilling choral writing and exciting episodes for its featured jazz singer. (One of the best moments found the Carnegie Hall soloist, Biella Da Costa, with harp, three flutes and percussion.) It's really only in comparison to Golijov's later, extraordinary Pasión según San Marcos, that Oceana falls short.