After half a century in the spotlight, Philip Glass continues to intrigue. Glass & # 39; Twelfth Symphony – which received the world premiere of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (who commissioned the work) on Thursday at LA's Disney concert hall – has all the distinctive distress accordions of the composer, hacking syncopes and hieratic copper fanfares. But Symphony has always inspired Glass to transcend these minimalistic formulas and find exciting new worlds of orchestral (and, as here, vocal) colors.
With its prominent organ part – the Disney organ pipe sounding in the hands of James McVinnie – the Twelfth scoreboard suggests the organ heavy sound of the Philip Glass Ensemble from the 1970s blown up to a large-scale, French organ concert: roller fair kermis calliope, part Grand Guignol spectacle. The LA Phil, performed with dedicated warmth by John Adams, played this new work as if they had known it all their lives and made a gigantic sound in the hall.
The Twelfth is Glass's third symphony based on material from David Bowie and Brian Eno's "Berlin Trilogy" from albums. But unlike the purely orchestral & # 39; Low & # 39; and "Heroes" symphonies, based on Bowie's own melodies, re-introduces Glass's elusive stream-of-consciousness lyrics from the album & # 39; Lodger & # 39; to music of his own style, in something similar to a symphonic song cycle. Glass's lyric setting in the past has often been pervaded by attempts to wed words in its repetitive musical patterns. Glass creates a freer, more expressive vocal line here and, instead of using a normal soloist as usual, has given the vocal role to West African world music pop star Angelique Kidjo.
The increasing ease and spicy color of Kidjo's voice provided a free, almost jazzy feel to the central songs of the score. But earlier in the symphony, in which Kidjo seemed quite grim and limited, she sounded under-tested and she became horribly melancholy and more than once out of tune. As soon as Kidjo relaxes in what is certainly a strange musical idiom for her, the subsequent performance on Sunday will probably sound more alive and vocally seductive.
For the glass premiere Adams conducted a great performance of his own work from 1982, "Grand Pianola Music", glamorously cast with piano soloists Marc-André Hamelin and Orli Shaham, and a vocal trio (Zanaida Robles, Holly Sedillos and Kristen Toedtman) to vote mixed ravishingly. It was a pleasure to rehearse this almost shameless exuberant mix of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Rachmaninoff, with his blob sweet, Copland-like lyricism.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was the opener, "Tumblebird Contrails", a 2014 work by 27-year-old Gabriella Smith. Apparently a collage of beach-inspired nature sounds, the piece is less a literal evocation than a throbbing, amazingly scored soundscape. The most alluring was a harmoniously rich type of white noise created by strings scraping their bows between the bridge and the tailpiece of their instruments – a compliment to the Philharmonic strings – while other sections groaned in glacially-slow glissando's them. It gave the creepy feeling the last seconds of a grand symphonic work that extended to a slow-motion, 12-minute series. Uncompromisingly beautiful and unconventionally beautiful, it brought the audience on its feet. This is a composer to view.
This program is repeated on Sunday at 2 pm.