Philip Glass – The Bowie Symphonies

This year Glass finally completes a long-running trilogy, and for once I’m not talking about M. Night Shyamalan

The twist here is that Philip Glass’ third David Bowie symphony (‘Lodger’, given its European premiere last night at the Royal Festival Hall) doesn’t quite live up to the masterful quality of his previous works based on Bowie’s Berlin albums (‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’).

In a pre-concert Q&A, the composer described his 1st (1992) and 4th (1996) symphonies as collaborations not with Bowie but with the music itself – the Brian Eno and Tony Visconti (doing more than people think) infused instrumentals reinterpreted through the Glass lens. ‘Lodger’ being a different beast made up of pop songs, Glass uses the lyrics from 7 of the 10 tracks for his 12th symphony.

It’s odd then that Glass should choose to include a lyric like ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ considering its ironic, poppy swagger, whose meaning gets lost in recontextualisation. Far be it from me to critique the music of a man who’s written 12 symphonies when I’ve written nothing like as many, but the singing proves distracting more often than not and drowns out the complex instrumentation of the London Contemporary Orchestra.

Featuring an organ and no fewer than 10 percussionists, the sound is more aggressive than the subtle, evolving style of symphonies 1 and 4 and is magnificent to hear. What I’m saying is a bit of Glass is always welcome, unless it’s in your drink – or worse, an M. Night Shyamalan film.

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