The New York Times - 24th August 2003

The Bowie Is Classic. What About the Glass?

By James R. Oestreich

An "Eroica" Symphony it is not. In fact, Philip Glass's "Heroes Symphony" was written for dance, on commission from Twyla Tharp, and there is nothing particularly heroic or, for that matter, symphonic about it (least of all its ending, which comes from deepest left field). Written in 1996, the work, like Mr. Glass's "Low Symphony," of 1992, takes its name and many of its tunes from an album by David Bowie and Brian Eno.

The symphonies have just been reissued in a two-CD package from Philips. Dennis Russell Davies, one of Mr. Glass's great advocates, conducts the Brooklyn Philharmonic in "Low" and the American Composers Orchestra in "Heroes."

"The continuing influence of these works," Mr. Glass has written of the Bowie and Eno tracks, from 1977, "has secured their stature as part of the new 'classics' of our time." The statement raises an intriguing question: to what extent something similar might be said of Mr. Glass's own works.

His greatest achievements, "Einstein on the Beach" (1976) still foremost among them, will surely survive by reputation, through their many influences and in recordings. But how active a life will they lead on concert and operatic stages when Mr. Glass and his close collaborators, with whom they are so strongly identified, are no longer putting them forward?

Even now, they are not always an easy sell with players. Mr. Davies evidently met with grumbling, to put it mildly, when he presented a Glass program last year with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. "It's awful to play," Eugene Moye, the principal cellist, said in an interview in Arts & Leisure, referring to the music's insistent (literally numbing?) repetitions. "It's actually harmful."

What a continued life will take is active interest from many more individuals, groups and institutions. So as good as it is to have these two performances in a convenient package, it would have been more encouraging to encounter new recordings of the works by major orchestras and conductors less strongly identified with the composer. Then, too, the interpretive limits of the music might finally have been tested and stretched, another element essential to survival.