Philip Glass Curates a Deliciously Eclectic Benefit Concert at the Town Hall
Thursday night at the Town Hall featured a global cast of talent assembled by Philip Glass for a benefit concert for the Garrison Institute, a Westchester County nonprofit think tank. As befits an organization housed in a former monastery space, the music had a mystical quality, no surprise considering Glass’ involvement. Early music choir Pomerium opened the evening with a garden of unearthly delights, conductor Alexander Blachly immediately setting the tone with Gesualdo’s haunting, strikingly ominous O Vox Omnes (whose Biblical lyrics, from the Book of Lamentations, have Jesus asking passersby how their pain might compare with his). From there the ensemble lightened somewhat and went deeper into hypnotically meticulous polyphony from Talls, Desprez and Lassus. This expertly lush, velvet-toned group is at Corpus Christi Church, 529 W 121st St., at 4 PM on Oct 27 if Renaissance choral treasures are your thing.
The most tantalizing piece of the night was a brand-new Glass composition which the composer played as a duet with pipa innovator Wu Man, his murky resonance contrasting with her Chinese lute’s airy, acerbic, ghostly overtones. She also played a suspenseful, slowly rising improvisation on a Chinese folk song as well as Glass’ 2004 chamber work, Orion, teaming with the Scorchio Quartet (violinists Amy Kimball and Rachel Golub, violist Martha Mooke and cellist Leah Coloff) for an eclectic and biting journey through its alternately Indian and Middle Eastern passages. The quartet also joined with pianist Nelson Padgett and baritone Gregory Purnhagen for another New York premiere, Glass’ Songs of Milarepa, whose exquisitely meta-Glass music – nuevo baroque mingled with hauntingly minimalist, Dracula-esque arpeggiation and echoes of a couple of Glass string quartet themes – far surpassed the prosaic translations of doctrinaire Buddhist lyrics written by an eleventh-century Tibetan monk.
Longtime Glass collaborator Foday Musa Suso, the Gambian-born griot, opened the second half of the show solo on kora harp, maintaining a balance between hypnotic and spikily insistent, a one-man orchestra of circular rhythmic riffage and intricate ornamentation. Turkish virtuoso multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek followed and was arguably the high point of the show, with a slinky, crescendoing, all-too-brief set with his son Murat on frame drum. The father began with a long, enigmatically searching taqsim (improvisation) on flute while hitting the occasional rhythmic chord on baglama lute. Then he picked up the lute and delivered a slowly crescendoing, impassioned, microtonally-charged setting of a rather epic Rumi poem. Austin, Texas-based Riyaaz Qawwali brought the energy level up to redline, ending the night with a joyously undulating, percussive homage to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
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