Bang On A Can All-Stars, Philip Glass: Music in Fifths

Gavin Borchert

By Gavin Borchert

on 01.18.11 in Reviews
The premiere new music ensemble proves it once again: Glass is more

In the 20th century, music entered a Mannerist period, a peak of sonic complexity and constructivist intricacy. Dissatisfied by this "crazy creepy music," as he described it, Philip Glass pared down to basic elements: single-line melodies or simple triads spun out to majestic length through slow shifts in the micro-level rhythmic patterns over a steady (or relentless, if you prefer) underlying pulse. In so doing he — and other composers drawn to radical simplicity, like Steve Reich and Terry Riley — launched a revolution, challenging the idea that musical "progress" consists only of making each musical work more complicated than the last. The term "minimalism" came into use, by analogy with innovations in visual art like Robert Rauschenberg's white-on-white paintings. Music in Fifths and Two Pages, both from 1969, are among Glass's most hypnotically severe works. Bang on a Can's performances are marvelously committed and focused.