GLASS Symphony No 10. Concert Overture
The background to Glass’s Tenth Symphony is unusual. It was originally performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble to accompany the closing fireworks ceremony for the 2008 Expo Zaragoza, entitled Los paisajes del Río, but Glass decided to find a new home for material that would otherwise have been consigned to the dark recesses of his extensive back catalogue. Thus Symphony No 10 was born, receiving its premiere by the Orchestre Français des Jeunes (French Youth Orchestra) under Dennis Russell Davies in August 2012.
Of course, the notion of recycling music originally designed for a one-off event is not new. Glass makes a persuasive case in the booklet-notes: ‘Composers re-use pieces not because they run out of ideas but because they have a good piece buried in another piece of music that no one is ever going to play. How can I get this piece so that people will be able to hear it? You have to put it in a new format.’
All well and good, especially if you buy into the idea that symphonies are the best medium for this recycling process, allowing the composer more time and space to fully transform and develop ideas that were only partially realised in previous musical situations. There’s a strong historical precedent here, too, of course. However, one has to ask the question: can more be lost than gained through this act of musical translation? Unsurprisingly, given the work’s original function, Glass’s symphony comprises five short movements that are ceremonial and dance-like in character. The work opens and ends effectively enough with a darkly exuberant first and flamboyant fifth. Deprived of their extra-musical clothing, some of the other movements lack variety and substance, however. The slow second’s gradually unfolding two-note melody is only enlivened by pulsing patterns in percussion and brass, while the third’s endless tonic-dominant oscillations and the fourth’s paradiddle patterns struggle to hold interest. The Bruckner Orchester Linz hardly slip out of first gear and only really come to life during the turbo-charged ending to the dynamic Concert Overture (2012), which rounds off the disc.
Glass’s music is often at its most effective in multimedia forms such as opera, film, dance or even – as in the case of Los paisajes del Río – grand ceremonial music. Sadly, the fizz, colour, crackle and sparkle of the original performance is – for the most part – missing from this symphony.