Concerto for Saxophone Quartet (1995), Philip Glass

All Repertoire

Concerto for Saxophone Quartet (1995), Philip Glass
Year of Composition: 1995    
I. Quarter Note = 116
II. Quarter Note = 144
III. Quarter Note = 104
IV. Quarter Note = 144


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Friday, June 9, 2000
June in Buffalo performance is smooth as Glass
Mary Kunz

Philip Glass' music lives up to his name. It's translucent and seamless, with gently shifting keys and changing colors.

Wednesday in the University at Buffalo Student Union Theater, Glass himself alluded to its transparency. Discussing the Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra, the second work on the program, he said, "We call it an unforgiving piece because you can hear everything." He smiled. "Whatever goes wrong, you hear. Whatever goes right, you just enjoy."

An informal, charming man, Glass sat in a chair, with his legs crossed, as if he were talking with us on a bus.

"It's like Mozart," he said of his music, laughing at the comparison. "It's too hard for amateurs and too easy for professionals. Or is it the other way around?"

The hall was sold out. The crowd ranged from professors to hippies, and the atmosphere was one of adoration. (A couple of people I happened to speak with had driven in from Rochester.) Extra chairs had to be brought in during intermission.

Performances of Glass pieces are rare - because, as the composer himself said, they're challenging. He praised the performance of "Glassworks," a two-part piece dating from 1981. "I can't tell you how difficult this music is to play," he said.

That's for sure. Before hearing "Floe," the first part of "Glassworks," I had had the chance to peek at the score. Measures were designated to be repeated a number of times (it varied), and, at the same time, whole groups of these measures had to be repeated a number of times. You have to be cool-headed to play this music. You have to be precise, and, at the same time, relaxed.

Happily, the University at Buffalo musicians under the direction of Magnus Martensson acquitted themselves well.

"Floe" began with long, sustained horn notes, and built slowly from there, as Glass added chirps and flutters from the rest of the winds. With its shimmering bass underpinning and melodic, repetitive treble lines, it could be seen as putting a modem spin on an 18th century wind concerto.

The serenity continued during "Islands," the second half of "Glassworks." "Islands," which gave the strings in the ensemble a chance to shine, was hypnotic as a blues is hypnotic. This might be work for the orchestra, but it's not much work for the audience. We simply sink into the music.

After such long, undulating lines, Glass' abrupt endings are part of the fun. It can't be easy to end such amorphous creations in such chiseled synch, but the musicians did it, and the audience was clearly thrilled.

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet took the stage for "Concerto for Saxophones." Maybe it's the intrinsic jazziness of this group, but Glass' work seemed to have something in common with ragtime. In the joking second movement, the syncopated phrases gave the piece a saloon-like excitement. And in the last movement, a steady crescendo and one of those soap-bang endings brought the audience to its feet.

Philip Glass held an informal discussion about his work with a sold-out crowd Wednesday at the University at Buffalo.


Concerto for Saxophone Quartet (1995), Philip Glass
June in Buffalo performance is smooth as Glass

Composer Biography

1937 —

Born in Baltimore on January 31, 1937, PHILIP GLASS discovered music in his father's radio repair shop. Glass began the violin at six and became serious about music when he took up the flute at eight. During his second year in high school, he applied for admission to the University of Chicago, passed and moved to Chicago. He majored in mathematics and philosophy, and in off-hours practiced piano and concentrated on such composers as Ives and Webern. At 19, Glass graduated from the University of Chicago, and, determined to become a composer, he moved to New York and began his studies at the Juilliard School. By the time he was 23, Glass had studied with Vincent Persichetti, Darius Milhaud, and William Bergsma. He moved to Paris for two years of intensive study under Nadia Boulanger. In Paris, he was hired by a filmmaker to transcribe the Indian music of Ravi Shankar in notation readable to French musicians. In the process, he discovered the techniques of Indian music. Glass promptly renounced his previous music. After researching music in North Africa, India, and the Himalayas, he returned to New York and began applying Eastern techniques to his own work. By 1974, he had composed a large collection of new music, not only for use by the theater company Mabou Mines (Glass was one of the co-founders of the company), but mainly for his own performing group, the Philip Glass Ensemble. This period culminated in Music in 12 Parts, a three-hour summation of Glass' new music, and reached its apogee in 1976 with the Philip Glass/Robert Wilson opera Einstein on the Beach.

Composition Notes

Glass' Concerto for saxophone quartet, dedicated to the Rascher Saxophone Quartet, can be performed in two versions, one with orchestra and the other for quartet alone.