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Metamorphosis II

April 14, 2019: Jason Vieaux, guitar

One of the most successful and controversial composers of our time, Philip Glass developed a distinctive style as a minimalist pioneer in the 1960s and early ’70s, using additive and subtractive cycles in static harmony and motoric rhythms for amplified instruments. He created a large body of music in this style for his celebrated Philip Glass Ensemble and for the Mabou Mines Theater Company, which he cofounded. This period culminated in his Music in Twelve Parts (1971–74), eventually a four-hour work, which was the first that his ensemble played in a traditional concert hall.

Glass’s landmark opera Einstein on the Beach, created with Robert Wilson in 1976 for New York’s Metropolitan Opera, brought him instant renown. Since then he has further explored the operatic genre in more than twenty works, also branching out into dance, theater, and film music. His film scores for Martin Scorsese’s Kundun and Stephen Daldry’s The Hours received Academy-Award nominations and his score for Peter Weir’s The Truman Show won a Golden Globe. He has also produced a significant amount of chamber and orchestral music.

Among Glass’s recent compositions—premiered in 2017—are his Symphony No. 11, music for the film Jane about the life of Jane Goodall, his Piano Concerto No. 3 for Simone Dinnerstein, a new theater work for the Days and Nights Festival, Passacaglia (Distant Figure) for solo piano, and his String Quartet No. 8. His Piano Quintet, “Annunciation,” premiered in April 2018, and January 2019 saw the spectacular premiere by the Los Angeles Philharmonic of his Symphony No. 12, “Lodger,” a symphonic song cycle on texts by David Bowie and Brian Eno from Bowie’s album Lodger.

In 1988 Glass completed a set of five Metamorphoses for piano, which he released on his landmark Solo Piano album the following year. A longtime admirer of Franz Kafka’s works, Glass took his title from the author’s famous short story Die Verwandlung (The metamorphosis) about a salesman transformed into an insect. The pieces draw on two projects that Glass had recently completed—the score for Errol Morris’s 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line about a man wrongfully sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer, and his score for part of Gerald Thomas’s 1987 staging in Brazil of a Kafka Trilogy (A Process, Metamorphosis, and Praga). Said Glass, “As both projects were undertaken at the same time, the music seemed to lend itself well to a synthesis of this kind.”

Metamorphosis II has become the most frequently performed of the five pieces and received even more exposure in the 2002 film The Hours. Anne Akiko Meyers writes, “The first time I heard Philip Glass’s hauntingly beautiful Metamorphosis II, I was so struck by it that I asked Michael Riesman (who has collaborated closely with Philip Glass for decades) to arrange it for violin and piano. To my surprise, during our collaboration, Michael mentioned that Metamorphosis II, was influenced by Arvo Pärt’s Fratres.”

Riesman adds, “This arrangement is fairly straightforward, except that the middle section, which has rapid four-note arpeggios for piano, didn’t seem idiomatic enough on violin to me, so I changed the pattern to three notes with top and bottom notes repeated, as in Arvo Pärt’s Fratres.” For this series of concerts featuring the collaboration between Anne Akiko Meyers and Jason Vieux, Riesman adapted the piano part for guitar.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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