Saturday 2 November 2013

Lavinia Meijer plays Philip Glass in The Hague

When I asked for a ticket for the Philip Glass concert the sales assistant said there was no  Philip Glass concert listed. I said the one on 27 October and she said Oh, you mean the Lavinia Meijer concert, as if referring to Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift. One of the things that takes time when you move to another country is to get to know the cultural icons and Lavinia Meijer is certainly one of those in the Netherlands.

Her concert at the beautiful   Nieuwe Kerk  in The Hague brought together a different audience from other concerts I have heard there. Apart from the smattering of children, aspiring young harpists brought along by indulgent parents, there was a majority of chic or cool or fashion, whatever you will, which underlined the pop status harpist Lavinia Meijer has earned herself since graduating from Amsterdam Conservatoire.

Then there were people like me who were drawn by the programme: the music of Philip Glass. For most of us, the chances of hearing operas like Akhnaten and Einstein on the beach are pretty slim, so this concert was a special treat, as it included the   Attacca Ensemble   a chamber choir who specialize in contemporary music, conducted by the excellent Fokko Oldenhuis, a conductor who, as they used to say, has the score in his head not his head in the score, and who  brings a superb standard of ensemble, intonation and expression from his singers. The group was completed by pianist/ artistic director Feico Deutekom and percussionist Christian Saris.
Of the instrumental pieces, the high point for me was the moto perpetuo Music in similar motion, from 1969, arranged here for piano and harp. The simplicity of the melodic figures is gradually transformed by progressively increased rhythmic complexity, and this was a virtuoso performance. A short piece from the soundtrack for the film The Hours left me cold: here are the Glass hallmarks of unprepared changes from major to minor and endless hemiolas that just become irritating after a while. To be fair, the music was written for film rather than stage and the enthusiastic applause showed that my reaction was not shared by most of the audience.

The choral pieces were in every way satisfying and effective. This choir has a superb tone quality and tonal and dynamic range and this was heard to great effect in The Funeral and The Temple from Akhnaten .  Chilling in every sense was the 1986 Freezing on a text by Suzanne Vega, and Knee Play III gave us a hint of the humour and subtlety to be found in the mammoth, difficult to produce Einstein on the beach. Hydrogen Jukebox is a theatre piece from 1990 on texts by Allan Ginsberg. Here´s a fragment of The Green Automobile:

Childhood youth time age and eternity
Would open like sweet trees
In the nights of another spring
And dumbfound us with love
For we can see together
The beauty of souls hidden like diamonds
In the clock of the world
In contrast there is the icy satire on American politics from CIA Dope Calypso:worth finding for yourself to read the whole text, too long to quote here.
Philip Glass  is often catalogued as a minimalist composer.  In his own bio, we read, Glass himself never liked the term and preferred to speak of himself as a composer of “music with repetitive structures.”    This is a much better description of his music. It was a great privilege to hear his music played by these musicians who have the necessary skills to perform this style and who have worked with the composer on several occasions in the Netherlands.
In his 2010 biography of John Cage, Kenneth Silverman writes that Cage knew Philip Glass and liked some of his music, but criticized both Glass and Steve Reich for “arousing in their listeners a convivial feeling that turned them into a group, like a pop music following “.  There was a sense of a pop music following at Lavinia Meijer´s concert and who is complaining? As far as I can see, any musician who can get 500 people like myself to spend their cash on listening to music by a living composer played at the highest standard  deserves only admiration.