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Philip Glass Ensemble-‘Like We’re Hit with a Bang’
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Friday, February 10, 2023
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Michael Riesman is often asked what kind of music Philip Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble perform.

“I like to say it’s like rock and roll, but there’s no drums and no guitars and no lyrics,” said Riesman, the PGE’s music director. “It’s amplified music so it’s pretty loud and really exciting. But it’s also romantic in a way with quiet numbers, as well.”

Sun Valley music fans will get a chance to experience the Philip Glass Ensemble for themselves when the PGE performs at 7:30 Saturday, Feb. 11—at The Argyros in Ketchum. Tickets start at $30, available at https://theargyros.org/calendar/philip-glass-ensemble/.

The Ensemble will perform Glass’s “Music in Eight Parts,” a 1970 piece once thought to be lost, for one of the first times in 50 years. They also will perform selections from Glass’s major works “Koyaanisqatsi,” “Glassworks,” “The Photographer” and his opera “Einstein on the Beach.”

“We’re doing a varied repertoire from the last 20 years or so,” said Riesman. “There’s a favorite review of mine written many years ago in which the reviewer wrote: ‘They walk on stage and you don’t know what to expect. They sit down quietly then a 10-ton block of granite falls through the roof. It’s like we’re hit with a bang.’ ”

Glass temporarily jettisoned harmony, melody and other traditional Western music concepts to create ensemble pieces in a monotonous repetitive style after meeting Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar.

He reintroduced classic Western harmonic elements into his work as he began writing such pieces as the opera “Einstein on the Beach.” He has collaborated with such musicians as Paul Simon and written symphonies and soundtracks for films.

Glass founded the PGE in 1968 in New York City as a laboratory for his music. Its purpose was to develop a group to practice performing his works, which required unprecedented technical and artistic demands. Today the group is a tight ensemble of woodwinds, keyboards and voice, said Riesman.

There has been very little turnover in the group over the years.

“I just turned 79 myself,” said Riesman, who joined the group in 1974.  “Philip is a great guy to work with. he doesn’t try to micromanage things. He’s very pleasant to work with, which is why I’ve been with him so many years.

At 86, Glass is no longer undertaking any major works, such as his opera “Akhnaten,” which was one of the biggest hits of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2019-20 season operas and was the last of Glass’s trilogy of portrait operas in which he looked at Einstein, Gandhi and the Egyptian Pharoah Akhenaten.

He is no longer writing symphonies today, but he is still composing shorter piano pieces.

“He last played with us in the fall of 2019,” said Riesman. “He very much wanted the group to go forward and continue to use his name to play his music.”

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