Glass: String Quartet No. 6

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String Quartet No. 6 (2013)

By Philip Glass

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Philip Glass is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the Juilliard School. In the early 1960s, Glass spent two years of intensive study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and while there, earned money by transcribing Ravi Shankar’s Indian music into Western notation. By 1974, Glass had a number of innovative projects, creating a large collection of new music for The Philip Glass Ensemble, and for the Mabou Mines Theater Company. This period culminated in Music in Twelve Parts, and the landmark opera, Einstein on the Beach for which he collaborated with Robert Wilson.

Since Einstein, Glass has expanded his repertoire to include music for opera, dance, theater, chamber ensemble, orchestra, and film. His scores have received Academy Award nominations (Kundun, The Hours, Notes on a Scandal) and a Golden Globe (The Truman Show).  Symphony No. 7 and Symphony No. 8, along with Waiting for the Barbarians, an opera based on the book by J.M. Coetzee, premiered in 2005.

In the past few years several new works were unveiled, including Book of Longing (Luminato Festival) and an opera about the end of the Civil War entitled Appomattox (San Francisco Opera). His Symphony No. 9 was completed in 2011 and was premiered by the Bruckner Orchestra in Linz, Austria on January 1, 2012 and his Symphony No. 10 received its European premiere in France in 2013. Teatro Real Madrid and the English National Opera commissioned Glass’s opera The Perfect American, about the death of Walt Disney, which premiered in January 2013 while the Landestheater Linz premiered his opera Spuren de Verirrten on April 12th, 2013.  Upcoming projects include a song cycle for Angelique Kidjo and the Brussels Philharmonic as well as an opera based on Franz Kafka’s The Trial for Music Theatre Wales.

About his Sixth String Quartet, Glass writes:

String Quartet No. 6 is the most recent result of a long and ripening friendship between myself and the Kronos Quartet. Composing for string quartet has been part of my life from my earliest years, even as a student composer at the Juilliard School. The Kronos Quartet had performed and recorded all the earlier ‘numbered’ quartets before they commissioned String Quartet No. 5 in 1991. The next work composed for them was for the soundtrack of the 1931 film Dracula, directed by Tod Browning with the famous performance by Bela Lugosi as Dracula.

“For the next 15 years, I performed Dracula with the Kronos, with Michael Riesman conducting, and with an additional piano part for myself. These ‘live’ performances were very popular and frequent events, giving the Kronos and myself ample time to get to know each other as interpreters and performers. I can now perfectly imagine, and even anticipate, the performances of David Harrington, John Sherba, and Hank Dutt. Kronos’ new cellist, Sunny Yang, is as yet unknown to me. But, such is my empathy with the other players, I expect to share their enthusiasm for her as well.

“Now about String Quartet No. 6

“In contemporary music, No. 6 quartets have taken on special significance, much as symphonies No. 5 and No. 9 have in the history of symphonic music. However, this is not confined to contemporary music alone. Mozart’s six ‘Haydn’ quartets and Beethoven’s Opus 18 quartets are such examples. In any case, the number six when applied to a quartet will usually get a composer’s attention. However, in my case I avoided the issue twice: first, with the Dracula quartet music, by not numbering the music at all; second, with the quartet music for the film Bent, by referring to that collection of quartets composed in 1997 as “The Suite from Bent”.

“With the commission from Kronos for a new string quartet, I finally had to address the No. 6 issue. At about a half hour of music, it is a work of significant length. The musical language itself remains firmly ‘post-minimalist,’ as almost everything has been since 1976. It also remains firmly ‘tonal,’ using pan-harmonic and polyharmonic sequences in a rhythmic setting which is, in turn, based on a binary system of twos and threes. This allows for a unified harmonic/rhythmic music in which the resulting melodic material, though basically ambivalent, can be easily heard as harmonic and enharmonic pitches. All this is cast into a three-movement work in which the parts, though structurally separate, flow into each other, much as the movements of my String Quartet No. 5.

“For listeners familiar with Symphonies No. 7 through No. 10 or Etudes for Piano 15 through 20, this will be heard as a continuation of music developed in the last five years or so.

“The string writing itself has taken on a denser, thicker texture, at times sounding like quintet or sextet music. This has come about through the extensive string writing I’ve done – including two violin concertos, two cello concertos, a string symphony (No. 3), as well as numerous solo and ensemble works for string instruments – and has left me familiar and comfortable with all manner of bowing and performance techniques known and practiced by the best players.

“My own string playing has remained rudimentary, and that was gained through the kindness of fellow music students when I was young and eager to learn. They coaxed and coached me through basic skills. And, at a young age, began writing music for them.

“Foremost among them was Dorothy Pixley-Rothschild, a fellow student at the Juilliard School. For her, in return for the hours of tutoring she gave me, I composed my very first (un-numbered) string quartet as well as an early violin concerto for solo violin, brass and percussion and a string (piano) trio. Understanding and cultivating an aptitude for string writing is a deep and, apparently, endless undertaking. For all of those who have helped me in this regard – and certainly including the members of the Kronos Quartet – I remain forever grateful.”

Glass’s String Quartet No. 6 was reminiscent of a more monumental landscape, perhaps some vast estuary where a great river ruminates and divides before spilling into the sea.

Alexander Varty, The Georgia Straight

Philip Glass’s String Quartet No. 6 was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in the Faculty of Arts at The University of British Columbia; Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland; Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Philharmonic Society of Orange County; The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, Las Vegas, Nevada; and David A. and Evelyne T. Lennette.  The world premiere performance took place on October 19, 2013, at The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

DateLocationVenuePresenter
5-13-14London, EnglandConcert HallBarbican
5-11-14Cork, IrelandCork Opera HouseCork Opera House
5-6-14Arras, FranceSalle des ConcertsThéâtre d’Arras
5-5-14Paris, FranceThéâtre de la VilleThéâtre de la Ville
3-29-14Brookville, New YorkHillwood Recital HallTilles Center for the Perfomring Arts at LIU Post
3-22-14Durham, North CarolinaBaldwin AuditoriumDuke Performances
3-19-14Urbana, IllinoisTryon Festival TheatreKrannert Center for the Performing Arts
3-12-14San Diego, CaliforniaMandeville AuditoriumArtPower!, University of California, San Diego
1-15-14Stanford, CaliforniaBing Concert HallStanford Live
11-14-13New Orleans, LouisianaContemporary Arts Center New OrleansContemporary Arts Center New Orleans

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