Glass: Low Symphony

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WORKS: Low Symphony
PERFORMER: Brooklyn PO/Dennis Russell Davies
If Post-modernism’s characteristic concerns include surface and commentary, Glass’s much acclaimed Low Symphony must count amongst its prize works. The impression is of a sequence of classical allusions – including Copland, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky – which are neither quotations nor genuine influences. Rather, set in the composer’s repetitive idiom which is his original contribution to the music, these thoughts simply float past the listener’s perception like specks before the eyes, each one a self-contained message presenting itself many times before moving on to the next, contrasting section.


But the symphony’s novelty lies in its creative interaction with the David Bowie album entitled Low. Released in 1977, when Bowie, theatrical creation and stylistic chameleon in the best Post-modern tradition, had abandoned his Ziggy Stardust image for Euro-funk and a white-suited, straight persona, the album is one of his darkest creations, with Brian Eno’s backings setting off his message through stark alienation.


A different track is selected for each of the three movements, the composer working Bowie’s songs and instrumentals into his own manner by seamless transition. This is the modern equivalent of Bartók’s treatment of folk music, Glass claims. Listeners may not agree, yet still be captivated by the limpid textures and expressive coolness of the piece once they have conquered its inevitable longueurs. Nicholas Williams