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The Philip Glass Ensemble - A Retrospective

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Album Review

The 2006 album, Philip Glass Ensemble Live in Monterey Mexico, is reissued here under the somewhat misleading title The Philip Glass Ensemble: A Retrospective; this is, after all, the record of a single concert, not a compilation of tracks from the group's more than 40-year history, as the new title implies. The personnel for this 2004 concert is made up of old and new members, the longest-serving being the composer himself and woodwind player Jon Gibson from the original ensemble, established in 1969, along with saxophonist Richard Peck, who joined in 1971; keyboardist, director, and all-around polymath Michael Riesman, who came onboard in 1974; and live sound mixer Dan Dryden from 1983. Vocalist Lisa Bielawa and woodwind player Andrew Sterman are relative newcomers from 1992, and percussionist and keyboardist Mick Rossi and on-stage audio engineer Stephen Erb had just joined in 2004.

The two-disc set includes a representative sample of music Glass wrote for his ensemble relatively early in his career, plus several arrangements by Riesman of works originally scored for larger forces, with two movements from Music in Twelve Parts from 1971-1974 the earliest piece represented, and the most recent the arrangement of a movement from the 1992 Low Symphony. The CD gives an excellent idea of what to expect at a concert by the Philip Glass Ensemble — a wide variety of Glass' work, played with characteristic energy and precision. Special kudos go to Bielawa, whose voice holds up beautifully, as fresh at the end of the concert as at the beginning in spite of the outrageously demanding workout she is given. The CD ends, as do many concerts by the Philip Glass Ensemble, with an exhilarating, hair-raising account of "Spaceship" from Einstein on the Beach. The sound is a little on the dense side, but not enough to be a serious problem.~Stephen Eddins, Rovi

Customer Reviews

Slivers of brilliance are just slivers

There are many wonderful Philip Glass CDs out there. This is not one of them.

Glass' work is challenging (note how some other reviewers resort to poorly-spelled insults in response to music that challenges them), glorious, sensual, and very rewarding to listen to. He is also unique. There will be those who claim that "all minimalists are the same" -- that's a bit like claiming "all Beach Boys songs sound the same" -- yes, if you don't like them, they probably do sound the same. BUT -- How many other "minimalist" composers have based two symphonies on themes from instrumental works by David Bowie? How many others have produced so many wonderful music for film? (I'm thinking of Koyaaisqatsi and Kundun here but there are several dozen more) How many others will produce an opera whose story spans 1000s of years? Glass has a creative energy which is exhilarating for the careful listener.

The issue here with this album is that it is supposed to represent some kind of sampler of the music of Philip Glass. Unfortunately, his music is not suited to sampling minute bits. There will usually be a cumulative effect of his longer pieces which is the primary emotive force in his work. Part of the power of his operas and longer works is that they ARE long. An analogy here is Mahler's Third Symphony. Were you to simply listen to the last 5 minutes without also listening to the preceding 85, your impression of Mahler's Third would be skewed. Maybe you'd like the whole thing but maybe not. There would just be no way to tell. I think there's a huge difference between becoming immersed in a sound-world and just checking out a snippet. What we have here is basically a biopsy of Glass' work -- a thin sliver of tissue meant to represent the whole. But the whole is the whole point of Glass' work.

For those interested in Glass, I'd suggest starting with the "Low" or "Heroes" symphonies, or any of his film scores. If you like that then try his opera "Satyagraha" which is partially based on the life of Ghandi.

Glass is brilliant but you need a full glass, not sips

I would never detract anyone from discovering the brilliance of Philip Glass. However, I don't see how you can appropriately listen to these various tracks away from their entire pieces of work. I would encourage anyone who is not familiar with his work, to take the time to listen to his full works, not just slivers. Its like reading a chapter from 11 different books of the same author. You will get a taste but will be lost from the entire story and genius of how the chapter fits. Having said that, every track on this collection is fantastic.


You know, most people would think that slow, classical music was boring. But Philip Glass proves them wrong. He really touches the hearts of people who really enjoy music, including me!


Born: January 31, 1937 in Baltimore, MD

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Philip Glass was unquestionably among the most innovative and influential composers of the 20th century. Postmodern music's most celebrated and high-profile proponent, his myriad orchestral works, operas, film scores, and dance pieces proved essential to the development of ambient and new age sounds, and his fusions of Western and world musics were among the earliest and most successful global experiments of their kind. Born in Baltimore, MD, on January 31, 1937, Glass took up the flute at the...
Full Bio

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