'Monsters' melds inventive music with visual magic
Minimalist music stirs debate as vigorously today as in the swinging '60s when it was new. It remains alive and well in theaters, concert halls, and music stores everywhere. More evidence comes from the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), where two of minimalism's greatest pioneers have unveiled new works.
"Monsters of Grace" pairs a score by composer Philip Glass with visual magic by Robert Wilson, reuniting the team that created the hugely influential "Einstein on the Beach" almost 25 years ago. Their new music-theater production takes them in fresh directions, with Glass basing his score on 13th-century poems by a Turkish mystic and Wilson conveying his painterly ideas through 3-D computer animation splashed across a movie screen in 70-mm splendor.
This may sound like a Hollywood hallucination run wild, but it turns out to be an extraordinarily imaginative and unabashedly beautiful evening in which delicate, occasionally unsettling images play in rich counterpoint against a pulsing, unpredictable score. While the music is often less insinuating than Glass's best work, its rhythmic variety and Middle Eastern texture show that minimalism still has innovative terrain to explore. Wilson's images are utterly original and transfixing, showing this towering artist at his towering best.
The festival's first bloom of minimalism was provided by another giant, Steve Reich, who teamed with video artist Beryl Korot to create "Hindenburg," the first portion of a planned video-opera trilogy ("Three Tales") centering on the intersection of moral and technological issues. Reich's 23-minute score brings rhythm and harmony into propulsive balance with each other and with Korot's collage of imagery linked with the Hindenburg's tragic crash in 1937. Although this work sweeps and soars less ambitiously than "The Cave," the earlier collaboration of this husband-and-wife team, it still presents a fascinating blend of ethical and aesthetic insights.
Reich and Glass have both been busy in the recording studio, too. Reich has issued a newly recorded version of the haunting "Music for 18 Musicians," which opened his BAM evening, and Glass has rerecorded his score for "Koyaanisqatsi," the popular Godfrey Reggio film. Also new from Glass is his Second Symphony, sharing a CD with his sprightly Saxophone Concerto and an excerpt from his engaging "Orphe" opera. All are rich, rewarding, and available on the Nonesuch label.
* 'Monsters of Grace' runs through Sunday at the BAM. An upcoming 'Koyaanisqatsi' tour by the Philip Glass Ensemble will play at the BAM on Jan. 16 after engagements in Los Angeles (Jan. 12), Northampton, Mass. (Jan. 14), and Boston (Jan. 15).