Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Philip Glass' Life

R- and I attended the East Coast premier by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra of Philip Glass' latest, Life, a collaboration with nature photographer Franz Lanting (who was sort of unfriendly when we asked him to sign the $50 book of his that we bought) that sets to music Lanting's photo essay that tries to capture the history of life on earth through photographs taken today. A neat concept, just as William Blake sought:
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Like Blake, Lanting sought to see the entire history of life (eternity), through photographs of the world around us (an hour).

I and many of my classical music dabbling friends have often remarked that watching ballet is particularly nice because though classical music is nice, with nothing visual, the stimulation of just one sense is not sufficiently engaging for the dilettante. I think the BSO and others have caught on, the last performance we saw paired a slide-show of the development of a particular Matisse painting with Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor.

Not quite sold out, (much to our benefit. I am on the e-mail list that sells discounted tickets for under-subscribed shows), we enjoyed the performance. Though at times, it could be accused of being cheesy. The photographs belie Lanting's background as a National Geographic commercial photographer rather than as an art photographer, and the themes while sweeping are simplistic: Elements (earth, wind, fire, water), Life (single-celled, multi-celled; invertebrates, vertebrates; fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals) etc. The presentation, on 3 large screens over the orchestra was nice, but the succession of animated static images verged on looking like a glorified PowerPoint. Also, the music while well executed and perfectly matched to the subject, ran the risk of coming too close to the John Williams movie music trifles, the genre with which Glass is more and more associated these days.

But in the end, while maybe more commercial than art, it still was thoroughly satisfying, with Glass' signature layering of intricately diverse repeated motifs and stunning photos of the splendors of Nature, under direction of the new first ever female conductor of a major symphony orchestra, Marin Alsop. Good stuff.
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