Philip Glass: The Études at the Barbican
The Études is a culmination of a project stretching from 1994 to 2013, presented by Pomegranate Arts and composed by Philip Glass. Comprising 20 pieces of music performed by Glass himself, Maki Namekawa, Timo Andres, Clare Hammond and Vikingur Ólafsson, this is an exploration of tempo and structure expressed by the piano masters. Glass has experienced a long and fruitful career, including operas, theatre productions, film scores for the likes of Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, and collaborations with Allen Ginsberg. Now aged 78, he notes that part of his aim in composing The Études was to “become a better player”, proving him a truly inspirational figure for any who aspire to walk a similar path.
Glass is renowned for using contrapuntal structures – the use of two or more independent melodies played together – in much of his music, and The Études for the most part is no exception. This style can initially feel a little jarring when the brain attempts to make sense of the sound. However, once it draws you in, the result is mesmerising. It is a rare thing to listen to a single piece of music and feel both uplifted and melancholic, particularly during the same bar, so to hear 20 achieve this effect and more during one evening was extremely remarkable.
The pianists selected to accompany Glass during the two hours of what must surely be his most challenging work are rising stars; each of them took on four études, split over two trips to the stage. Namekawa seemed so entranced that the rapturous applause ringing shortly after her final note produced a visible jolt.
In all senses, this was a very well-received performance for a captivated, sell-out crowd in The Barbican’s impressive main hall. While musically challenging to the trained and untrained ear alike, the only disappointment came when waiting for the next pianist to arrive on stage – a great credit to one of the world’s finest modern classical composers.
For further information about Philip Glass and future events visit here.
Watch the video for Maki Namekawa: Étude No. 6 here: