Review: Philip Glass Comes, Finally, to the New York Philharmonic

In the sublime slow movement, the pensive Adagietto, Mr. van Zweden did not allow a trace of sentimentality. The tempo was slow, but flowing; the phrasing sensitive, yet shapely. But I wanted more depth and sadness. In the performances that have most moved me, there was a sense that this music could hardly bear to expose itself. There was little of that quality here.

With these performances of the Glass concerto, featuring the splendid pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque as soloists, Mr. van Zweden has filled a gaping hole in the Philharmonic’s history. Overlooking Mr. Glass’s work had to have been a deliberate choice by a succession of music directors, because, love him or hate him, he has been an influential figure in contemporary classical music for some 40 years.

And this 27-minute concerto in three movements, which had its premiere in 2015 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is inventive and unusual. The orchestra starts off abuzz with rippling, subdued riffs. Almost immediately the pianos, backed by various instruments, play a slippery theme in chords that dip and rise almost step by step.

The music is fidgety and full of harmonic shifts, run through with two-against-three rhythms. There’s a mellow, jazzy quality at play: Imagine Gershwin as a Minimalist.

Photo

From left, Marielle Labèque, Katia Labèque, Philip Glass and Mr. van Zweden taking a bow after a performance of Mr. Glass’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, the first time the Philharmonic played a Glass concert work.

Credit
Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Most concertos have combative passages between the soloist and orchestra. Not this one. The pianists and orchestra are like allies, and that quality persists in the darker second movement, which has long stretches in which two-note motifs keep oscillating and you can’t decide whether the mood is soothing or ominous. The pianists, like trusted guides, take the orchestra (and listeners) through a pulsing thicket of music.

There are moments when what sounds like an echo of that slippery opening theme emerges: The pianos try to catch hold of the tune and pin it down. Mr. Glass ends his concerto with a wistful slow movement. Recurring figures in triplets hover in the pianos, while a sighing, spare melody floats above in bare octaves.

The piano parts, though not showy, are detailed and…

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