PHILIP GLASS: How Now; Strung Out – Philip Glass, organ/Dorothy Pixley-Rothschild, violin – Orange Mountain OMM0093, 49:51 (3/4/14) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***:

PHILIP GLASS: Voices for Didgeridoo and Organ; Organ Suite: Four Movements arr. for Organ – Michael Riesman, organ/Mark Atkins, didgeridoo – Orange Mountain OMM0094, 56:06 (3/11/14) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***:

Orange Mountain Music, Dunvagen Music, the Philip Glass Ensemble and Michael Riesman are all the same group, headed by Glass, which serves very well to market, promote and distribute Philip Glass’s music. It is actually the intent of Orange Mountain Music to eventually record and release all of Glass’s compositions. I support this endeavor with enthusiasm while recognizing that Mr. Glass is an amazingly prolific composer to this day and that actually releasing everything he’s done may take awhile.

I have been an admirer of Glass’s music since I first heard it (admittedly, initially, confused) some forty years ago. Like it or not, I – and many others – believe that minimalism will stand the test of time as a style or trend that influenced the later third of the twentieth century and beyond, much as serialism or impressionism jarred the first third of the twentieth century. It is equally important to realize that Philip Glass will be remembered as one of the movement’s chief architects and – perhaps – its most famous purveyor. So, getting to know the earliest of Glass’s pieces is truly essential to understand what follows.

Between these two important discs we have two of Glass’s earlier works and two of more recent vintage. Both How Now for solo organ and Strung Out for solo violin were recorded in 1968 at the Filmmaker’s Cinematheque in New York City. These are vintage Glass; built on small motives and harmonic rhythms that change very slowly, just enough to provide an element of forward movement. As Glass says about the works, they require “… stamina, sustained concentration and an ability to play continuously in a relaxed and easy manner.” In truth, the music places some of the same requirements on the listener, who might think the needle was stuck, if there was a needle.

The second disc, featuring Voices for didgeridoo and organ and the Organ Suite (Four Movements) are a bit more what casual Philip Glass listeners are used to and for good reason.  Voices stems from 2001 after Glass had come in contact with Australian didgeridoo artist Mark Atkins and the flow and structure of the work is more propulsive than early Glass. Interestingly, Atkins recorded the didgeridoo tracks in Sydney [there’s a photo of the soloist and he looks exactly like what you would expect an Aussie didgeridoo player to look like…Ed.] and Michael Riesman recorded the organ portion in New York on a vintage concert organ owned by a private collector and friend of Riesman’s who wishes to remain anonymous and unaccredited. From a listening perspective, the Four Movements for solo organ is a similar experience. The four “movements” are actually transcriptions by Riesman of familiar Glass scores, including Naqoyqatsi, Powaqatsi and Glassworks. This set holds up well as an interesting solo work.

Like all composers, Philip Glass’s music has evolved; in my mind, a lot since its earliest iterations from the late ‘60s. Had it not; an interesting question: would there be be the concertos, the symphonies, the operas and the numerous film scores? Would he have become as well known and ‘popular’?  I don’t know.

As I mentioned, I have been a fan both live and on recordings since “back in the day.” These discs would appeal most to the ‘hard core’ Glass fan, especially the How Now disc. If you are not at all familiar with Philip Glass’s music, I’m not sure this is where to start but – then again – this is how it started.

—Daniel Coombs