Glass & Shankar
Through a highly prized invitation, Pacific Symphony makes its Carnegie Hall debut with this award-winning program during Carnegie’s yearlong celebration of Philip Glass’ 80th birthday. Originally commissioned, premiered and recorded by Pacific Symphony, “The Passion of Ramakrishna” is a work of quiet intensity and unforgettable power—scored for vocal soloists, chorus and large orchestra. Joining Pacific Symphony for this historic concert is sitar soloist Anoushka Shankar, daughter of Ravi Shankar.
Hear this landmark concert before Pacific Symphony presents it during its Carnegie Hall debut! Come early to enjoy live music and dance of India on the Julianne and George Argyros Plaza from 6 - 7:45 p.m.
Box Office: (714) 755-5799
Preview Talk with Alan Chapman included.
To learn more about tonight's Artists, please click here.
To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, click here.
To learn more about the Pacific Chorale, please click here.
LISTEN TO THIS:
“Meetings Along the Edge” is a section from “Passages,” a collaborative record album of Philip Glass and the great Indian musician Ravi Shankar. Bringing together themes by both composers, “Meetings” has the racing rhythm, snazzy syncopation and ebullient pace that exemplified early Minimalism and made it so hard to resist.
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CARL ST.CLAIR • CONDUCTOR
ANOUSHKA SHANKAR • SITAR
ELISSA JOHNSTON • SOPRANO
I-CHIN LEE • ALTO
NICHOLAS PRESTON • TENOR
CHRISTÒPHEREN NOMURA • BARITONE
DONOVAN SINGLETARY • BASS BARITONE
PACIFIC CHORALE — ROBERT ISTAD • ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
Philip Glass (b. 1937)
Meetings Along the Edge (based on a theme by Ravi Shankar), from Passages
Ravi Shankar (1920–2012)
Sitar Concerto No. 3
Overture and Three Movements
I N T E R M I S S I O N
The Passion of Ramakrishna
Part One: The Master’s Visions
Part Two: Sarada Devi
Part Three: The Master’s Illness
Part Four: The Mahasamadhi of the Master Epilogue
Christòpheren Nomura as“M.”
Elissa Johnston as SaradaDevi
Donovan Singletary as Dr. Sarkar
I-Chin Lee as First Devotee
Nicholas Preston as Second Devotee
Pacific Chorale as Sri Ramakrishna
The Thursday night concert is generously sponsored by The Tarsadia Foundation.
Meetings Along the Edge, from Passages
PHILIP GLASS ( B. 1937)
Instrumentation: 1 flute, 2 soprano saxophones, 1 percussionist, strings Performance time: 8 minutes
"Meetings Along the Edge” is the fifth movement of a six-movement chamber suite, Passages, co-composed by Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass specifically for studio recording. Together, the six movements comprise about 56 minutes of music; a performance of “Meetings Along the Edge” spans about eight minutes.
The suite’s distinctively international instrumentation mixes traditional and untraditional orchestral instruments, including alto and soprano saxophones, bamboo flute, horns and trombones; varied percussion, including bass and side drums, cymbals, tambourine, wood blocks and glockenspiel; and strings.
A conventionalized description of Passages like this one can miss or even mask what’s extraordinary about it, which is more accurately captured in the movement title “Meetings Along the Edge”: It is a work in which old meets new and East meets West, in which old and new meet never-before. And it takes us to the edge of our listening experience.
The deeply shared musical sympathies between Glass and Shankar proved highly successful on record, and later in the concert hall.
Released by Atlantic Records in 1990, Passages received critical acclaim and sold well, rising to the number-three spot on the Top World Music Albums chart of Billboard Magazine.
It has since been performed live, in whole or part, in venues including the Royal Albert Hall, the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, and soon, Carnegie Hall.
As the fifth of the suite’s six movements, “Meetings Along the Edge” has an almost valedictory quality of harmonious resolution, albeit with some electric energy along the way. It looks ahead to a peaceful, loving serenity depicted at the work’s close. Glass begins the movement with two themes by Shankar, introduces a third melody of his own, and blends them in the movement’s finale.
That Passages was conceived to be introduced as an album is more startling for classical music fans than for rock enthusiasts, who since the 1960s have snapped up themed, structured song albums and, later, musical forms tailored to CD-lengths. Originally framed for CD, Passages suggests pre-symphonic forms of Western classical music while incorporating Eastern classical genres.
Though at home in the digital age, the array of movements harks back to the era of the concerto grosso and earlier, when suites alternated dance movements of contrasting rhythm, tempo and mood. Passages raises this bouquet-style arrangement of elements to the symphony’s level of intention. Symphonic architecture is absent, but the progression of ideas is central to its musical appeal.
Pasquale Salerno, CC BY-SA, via Wikimedia
Most important in the genesis of Passages was the unusual template for collaboration between Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar, in which each composer arranged themes written by the other. It sounds simple—or, for two musicians born on opposite sides of the world, simply impossible.
But Glass’ interest in the music of Shankar, who was 17 years Glass’ senior, began long before they collaborated on Passages, when Glass was in his mid-20s and he was hired to transcribe Shankar’s score for Conrad Rook’s film Chappaqua.
This experience was not only a de facto seminar on Glass’ compositional style, but also helped Glass develop a foundational idea for his own music: that rhythm could be the basis of a composition’s development. In Glass’ music, we have learned to listen for rhythmic figures and how they repeat, mutate and develop in fascinating and expressive ways.
Glass would have to wait until the next decade before finally meeting Shankar in the swinging Paris of 1965, where Glass was hired as conductor for a recording of the Chappaqua score, with Shankar present as composer. According to accounts of their work together, they felt a close professional affinity that augured well for further projects.
Then again, both men had busy schedules. They would wait 25 more years before collaborating on Passages. In that interval, as Glass’ prominence steadily rose, Shankar collaborated on recordings with other Western musicians, including John Coltrane and Yehudi Menuhin.
Reviewing contemporary critical assessments of Passages, we see an odd dichotomy: everyone favorable, but some critics praising the work for its light-filled accessibility while others wrote of its technical brilliance in dealing with the complexities of east- meets-west.
Conductor Karen Kamensek, who conducted the full score for the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, described the challenge of “deciphering” it and her shock upon fully realizing that “Indian musicians count, notate and learn [music] differently from Western musicians;” at times, the suite’s notational styles switch from one movement to the next. But performance confirmed it as a “mesmerising masterpiece” for the players as well as the audience. It is music with the power to change how we listen.
Without Indian instrumentation, the movement titled “Meetings Along the Edge” skirts notation problems (though we now see why transcribing the original Chappaqua score was akin to translating Klingon into Romulan). In this section we hear characteristically Glassian pulsating strings that could suggest the edge of water. If these textures are traditional, they are balanced by the aggressive, more modern sounds that sound equally at home within the movement.
Sitar Concerto No. 3
RAVI SHANKAR ( 1920–2012 )
Instrumentation: Flute, piccolo, oboe, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 2 French horns, 2 trumpets; timpani, percussion; strings
Performance time: 29 minutes
Ravi Shankar, the Indian composer and sitar virtuoso who was beloved around the world, composed this Sitar Concerto in 2009, three years before his death at age 92. Early in his life, it was recognized that a sitar soloist of his abilities and depth came along perhaps only once in a century.
But even this could not hint at the eventual scope of his career, which encompassed composing and serving as a kind of ambassador of Indian music to the rest of the world. Charismatic and inspiring, he opened the centuries-old complexities of Indian classical music to musicians and listeners while learning Western compositional techniques.
In the fullness of his musical maturity, he sought—like the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu (1930–1996) and the Chinese-American composer Huang Ruo (b. 1976)—to combine Western and Eastern forms in music and philosophy in a way that deepens both.
We might have hoped for more than three sitar concertos from the prolific Pandit Shankar, but we are lucky to have that many. The concerto is, after all, a musical form that developed in the West as a showcase for virtuosity. It is typically grand in its drama, providing a star turn for the soloist. This kind of display is antithetical to the tradition of sitar composition, which goes back to medieval times.
Listening to this concerto is an inward experience that draws soloist, orchestra and audience into closely shared, contemplative listening.
Commissioned by the conductor less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Shankar’s Sitar Concerto No. 3 was composed expressively for Shankar’s daughter and student Anoushka Ravi-Shankar. Like her father, she is celebrated for her skill on an instrument that has all the complexity of a multi-registered pipe organ. A bit reminiscent of a Western guitar or banjo, the sitar has a long, arched neck emerging from a pear-shaped soundbox, and as many as 21 strings that the player must pluck—some as resonant drones and others to articulate melodic figures—all while controlling microtonal slurs between notes. The instrument is as versatile and expressive as it is demanding.
Preparing for the concerto’s premiere, Anoushka Shankar told the New York NPR-affiliate WNYC that playing her father’s music is always especially meaningful for her. In this concerto, she noted, much of her enjoyment comes from exploring the styles of Indian classical music that her father taught her from childhood, enabling her to develop her own creative voice to its full potential. “My father writes music that is so intertwined with our ancient Indian classical music style that I really feel connected with our culture when I perform it,” she said.
Though the concerto is now fully scored, Pandit Shankar did not compose it on an instrument; rather, he sang ragas to his daughter which she would then repeat for him on the sitar. In this fashion, composition and memorization proceeded as they had for centuries: by ear.
Even in annotated form, the concerto poses orchestral challenges that are unusual in concertos: The players must have the alertness and flexibility to accompany a solo part that is often spontaneous, incorporating improvised inflections Anoushka learned from her father. These subtleties cannot be captured in Western musical notation, but we can hear and enjoy them wherever this concerto is performed.
Sri Ramakrishna, Dec 10 1881.
The Passion of Ramakrishna
PHILIP GLASS ( B. 1938)
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes (second doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, (second doubling Eb clarinet), bass clarinet, 2 bassoons; 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; timpani, percussion, harp, keyboard (piano and celeste); strings
Performance time: 46 minutes
It often happens with composers of the past, but rarely with those so vibrantly still with us: The listening public has taken ownership of various elements of the life of Philip Glass, distorted them at will, and invented a reality to fit them. Setting aside our appetite for gossip, another reason is clear: The Glass biography reads like myth, piquing our imagination in a way that helps us listen to his music.
His early travels in North Africa and India, his close association with Ravi Shankar, his deep commitment to Tibetan Buddhism—not all of Glass’ music touches all these themes, but The Passion of Ramakrishna does. Of course, not all composers have had to drive a New York taxicab during years of passive critical neglect, either.
Sri Ramakrishna is a central figure among India’s spiritual and historical leaders. Born in 1836, he spent his 50 years on earth almost entirely in contemplating the nature of God and the relation of human existence to the eternal. Though he can be viewed as a religious teacher who appealed to seekers of many religions, he taught largely in silence and by example, and not as the leader of a religious hierarchy; in fact, he affirmed the validity and harmony of the world’s varied religions rather than seeking authority in one of his own.
Though his leadership and his teaching have profoundly affected millions of people and have had global reach, his influence came through example rather than active persuasion.
Glass’ interest in Buddhist thought and spiritual practice preceded his friendship with Shankar, but we can be sure it was deepened by their work together and their mutual affection. The Hindustani origins of Shankar’s music gave rise to Buddhist philosophy.
The Passion of Ramakrishna—a major work that can be heard as a dramatized religious oratorio—incorporates Buddhist literature and principles not only in its text, but also in the music itself. It presents the Master in approximately 45 minutes of music marshalling full orchestra and a mixed chorus of 110 voices.
In light of Glass’ understanding of Buddhist teachings, the composer’s choice of the word “passion” in considering the Master’s life is interesting. In a Western religious context, this term is associated with suffering for the sake of faith, and particularly with the suffering of Christ.
Ramakrishna, who is often described as a universal spirit, taught not through suffering, but by demonstrating a different kind of passion: his all-encompassing devotion to the Creator. On the other hand, Glass himself can be said to have endured a religious passion through the years when, in the face of rejection, he maintained his faith in the power of his art to transform and enlighten.
In his own program note for the premiere of The Passion of Ramakrishna in 2006, Glass balances the importance of Ramakrishna in the geopolitical and religious realms:
It would be hard to overestimate the impact that the life, presence and teaching of Sri Ramakrishna had on the formation of the modern India we know today. It was as if the sleeping giant of Indian culture and spirituality—certainly one of the foremost cultures of the ancient world—had been reawakened and empowered to take its rightful place in modern times.
Gandhi in 1942, the year he launched Quit India movement
Within a generation of [Ramakrishna’s] death, Gandhi’s “quit India” movement was in full bloom. The poetry of Tagore as well as countless manifestations in theater, music, philosophy and civil discourse were becoming known to the world at large.
Over 100 years ago Swami Vivekananda (the Narendra of our text) traveled to the West to take part in the first Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893. He established the first Vedanta Centers, which have spread throughout the world, with major centers in Southern California. Even today the influence of India (and ultimately, of Ramakrishna) can be heard in the poetry of Allen Ginsburg and the Beatles, to mention only a few artists.
Clearly, Glass’ musical consideration of Ramakrishna’s life is sensitive to the prophet’s historical impact on recent history, as well as to his place in religious and philosophical thought extending back through the centuries.
One might expect so large a subject to have a larger libretto than the one Glass provides for us. But this, too, is evidence of Glass’ understanding of his subject. At times repetitive, at times attenuated, the music and the words of the libretto combine to offer us a deeply contemplative experience that becomes an act of meditation. At times they unscroll slowly; at times they repeat. With each iteration their meaning deepens and changes.
This is beauty as the illumination of thought. It is not entirely outside our experience in Western classical music, but it is certainly outside the mainstream of concert-hall fare.
The suspension of music’s temporal dimension—the quality of time standing still as we listen, or seeming to fall away entirely—is familiar to us in the music of Richard Wagner. It can hint at the infinite. The transformation of repeated, attenuated language is the essence of certain prayers in the Christian tradition, including the Jesus Prayer of the Orthodox church.
What is perhaps most surprising about The Passion of Ramakrishna is that it weaves these elements into a unified musical expression filled with joy and light rather than solemnity. In writing about this work, critics have described it as melodic and even breezy. Within the context of Ramakrishna’s teachings, it is about the joy of discovering the eternal principle of divine love.
Michael Clive is a cultural reporter living in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. He is program annotator for Pacific Symphony and Louisiana Philharmonic, and editor-in- chief for The Santa Fe Opera.
Libretto for The Passion of Ramakrishna
To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, click here.
To learn more about the Pacific Chorale, please click here.