Glass program notes

Philip Glass (1937) :: Piano Concerto No. 3

“Several years ago, Simone Dinnerstein visited me at my home in New York City and played a short program of Schubert and Glass. She played with a complete mastery of technique, depth of emotion, and understanding. Right away I knew I would someday compose music for her. 

The opportunity presented itself soon after when she asked for a new piano concerto.  About a year later I heard a rehearsal of the new work - Piano Concerto #3.  I am very pleased with the result of our work and hope our audiences will enjoy our work together.” – Philip Glass

The idea for Philip Glass’s Third Piano Concerto came after that fateful meeting between pianist Dinnerstein and Philip Glass at the composer’s home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in September 2014.  The following spring, on March 27, Dinnerstein had her first interaction with
A Far Cry and immediately found a special artistic spark with the orchestra. 

Glass was aware of Dinnerstein’s interpretations of Bach on recording and had the occasion to hear Dinnerstein play privately at his home the music of Schubert as well as Glass, and he first heard her perform live at the end of 2016, when the composer was awarded the Eleventh Glenn Gould Prize in Ottawa.     
It was on that program that Glass finally heard Dinnerstein play his music in front of the public, and he instantly recognized the rapport between the pianist and her audience.  Concurrently, A Far Cry had been diving head-first into Glass’s music with performances in Boston of his Third Symphony for Strings as well as his Company for String Orchestra. (And, in addition to the new concerto this evening, A Far Cry will perform Glass’ piece Echorus later this season).  The stars had aligned, and this all led directly into the composition period for Piano Concerto No. 3 in the spring of 2017, culminating in tonight’s world premiere performance.

— Richard Guérin

Philip Glass (1937) :: Symphony No. 3

Classical and Romantic era symphonies relied on the momentum of key change—the harmonic propulsion that comes from the tension and release of dissonance to consonance. What one finds in the Symphony No. 3 of Philip Glass, a chamber work written originally for the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, is more of a reliance on variations of rhythm and pace. As with many works in the “minimalist” vein, there are many bars where specific patterns are repeated numerous times. The ear of the listener becomes accustomed to the pattern (ideally to the point of being lost within it) so that even a slight change can play a significant role.

In a brilliant gesture of tying this idea to the past, Glass employs the ancient repetitive chaconne structure in the third movement of the symphony; in the chaconne, a harmonic sequence and/or bass line is recast over and over again, creating a foundation for a series of variations built “on top.” The composer elaborates a bit on this and the surrounding three movements in a previous set of liner notes from a recording of the work:

“The opening movement, a quiet, moderately paced piece, functions as a prelude to movements two and three, which are the main body of the symphony. The second movement mode of fast-moving compound meters explores the textures from unison to multi-harmonic writing for the whole ensemble. It ends when it moves without transition to a new closing theme, mixing a melody and pizzicato [plucked strings as opposed to being bowed] writing. The third movement is in the form of a chaconne, a repeated harmony sequence. It begins with all three celli and four violas, and with each repetition new voices are added until, in the final variation, all the players have been woven into the music. The fourth movement, a short finale, returns to the closing theme of the second movement, which quickly re-integrates the compound meters from earlier in that movement. A new closing theme is introduced to bring the Symphony to its conclusion.”

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) :: Concerto for Keyboard and Strings, BWV 1058

When was the “birth” of the solo keyboard concerto? In short, no one really knows, exactly. But many point to Bach’s Brandenburg No. 5 as a key moment in the composer’s own progression toward penning the collection of seven keyboard concertos. Why? That Brandenburg not only features a harpsichord as part of the group of soloists, but contains an extended solo keyboard cadenza. Considering that the harpsichord was typically used as a supporting instrument in an ensemble context (essentially functioning as the rhythm section), keeping the bass line and tempo, it was quite a moment when the instrument moved toward the spotlight.

In 1723 Bach moved his family to Leipzig for a new job as Thomaskantor, or cantor of the St. Thomas church, which included overseeing the music for four of the churches in town. Several years after the move, Bach also took over responsibilities as director of the Collegium Musicum, a music society associated with the University. In the nascent days of public concerts (recalling that most organized concerts previously were the private affairs of royals and nobility), members of the society (many of them students) could gather at Café Zimmerman coffee house to hear new compositions—including Bach’s new solo keyboard concertos.

Bach aficionados might notice that BWV 1058 sounds familiar. The keyboard concerto in G minor is a reworking by the composer of his BWV 1041: the violin concerto in A minor.

Johann Sebastian Bach :: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048

The six Concerts avec plusieurs instruments (Concertos with several instruments), or “Brandenburg Concertos,” derive their nickname from the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg. Presumably, Bach met the Margrave in Berlin while he was in town checking on a new harpsichord for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, for whom he served as Capellmeister. It’s also assumed the Margrave commissioned some music from Bach. It would have been inappropriate for Bach to accept a commission for new music from the Margrave while serving as an employee of Prince Leopold, which suggests the concertos might have originated in earlier compositions. Also, Bach sent them three years after the initial meeting, leading to the hypothesis that the concertos were sent as a kind of résumé. During those three years devastating change swept through Bach’s household: out of town on duty with musicians and the Prince, Bach returned in July of 1720 to find his wife had died several days before and was already buried. Not only was he heartbroken, he was left to care for their children alone. Perhaps he remembered meeting the Margrave and saw him as a ticket out of town. Whatever his motivation, they were sent and met with silence. No reply. The Margrave never had them performed.

In the Brandenburg Concertos Bach riffed on a structure made popular by the Italians, the “concerto grosso,” where a smaller group (“concertino”) functions as soloist in conversation with the whole (“ripieno”). The astounding variation of form in Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 is that the concertino of nine instruments, with separate solo lines, combine in various unisons to form the typical ripieno parts throughout the piece, attesting to Bach's endless innovations that brilliantly transcended the limits of traditional structure.

- Kathryn Bacasmot