ClassicsOnline Home » GLASS, P.: Concerto Fantasy for 2 Timpanists and Orchestra (arr. M. Lortz) / FAIROUZ, M.: Symphony No. 4 (University of Kansas Wind Ensemble, Popiel)
Philip Glass’ Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra, composed in 2000 and transcribed for wind ensemble by Mark Lortz in 2004, is a significant addition to the repertoire of large-scale works for timpani. The work is rhythmically galvanizing, sonically alluring, and features virtuoso cadenzas for both soloists. Symphony No 4 ‘In the Shadow of No Towers’ is Mohammed Fairouz’s first major work for wind ensemble, and its inspiration is the provocative comic book by Art Spiegelman, written shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Spiegelman himself has commented: “I’m moved by [this] scary, somber, and seriously silly symphony…I’m honored that the composer found an echo in my work that allowed him to strike a responsive chord and express his own complex responses to post 9/11 America. He emerges from the rubble with a very tony piece of high-brow cartoon music.”
Sure to generate some discussion
The Philip Glass Concerto for Two Tympanists is a very engaging and interesting work that most would find "typical" Glass. His signature repeated rhythmic cells and small groups of melody with harmonies that switch just enough is what you get here. I always enjoy listening to Glass's music; having followed it for four decades now. I find it infectious and enjoyable. This particular piece may not be Glass's strongest composition even in his concerto category (I deeply love the Violin Concerto and the second Piano Concerto). None the less, this is very fun to listen to and the performance, in this case, is a wind ensemble transcription of the orchestral original by Mark Lortz. Duo tympanists Ji Hye Jung and Gwendolyn Burgett are very fine players and are supported with distinction by the members of the University of Kansas wind ensemble. I have heard this piece live once and on two other recordings and I think this version fares very well indeed; I think a case could be made that the "symphonic band" scoring works even better with the prominent tymp parts than does a string section.
Now.... THE reason to get this recording is the sprawling, attention getting, dramatic and - occasionally - shocking Symphony No.4 'In the Shadow of No Towers' by Mohammed Fairouz. Fairouz is a young New Yorker and one of the country's greatest up and coming compositional voices. He is known for writing superbly scored and relevant music; sometimes with a latent social message. I have heard many of his works and am quite impressed. In this case, this four movement work takes its inspiration not directly from the composer's own experiences with the events of "9-11-01" as the title not too subtly implies. Rather, this is Fairouz channeling his own thoughts on the fateful day but specifically as expressed in the comic art/social art of graphic artist Art Spiegelman. The four movements bear the subtitles "The New Normal", "Notes of a Heartbroken Narcissist", "One Nation Under Two Flags" and "Anniversaries". The music is ominous in places, jolting in others and, also, intermittently sarcastic and as Spiegelman himself has commented, "seriously silly... high-brow cartoon music". To add to my impression of the piece, I looked up the Spiegelman comic book of the same title. The style and tone of Spiegelman's art is indeed, an alternative view of what the event did to the country and to the world. It is controversial to be sure with its exaggerated characters and stereotyped figures. Stripped of both the overt patriotism that one might expect but also of the emotion-inducing angst of, say, John Adams' "On the Transmigration of Souls", as one example.more....
Philip Glass (b 1937): Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra
Mohammed Fairouz (b 1985): Symphony No 4 ‘In the Shadow of No Towers’
Philip Glass (b 1937): Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra (arranged by Mark Lortz) (2000/2004)
Philip Glass is one of America’s more distinctive musical voices. His studies included flute, piano, and composition, the latter with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti at The Juilliard School of Music. From 1964 to 1966 he worked in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and collaborated with artists in avant-garde theater and film. He transcribed for Western musicians a film score by Indian sitar-player Ravi Shankar, a task that caused Glass to consider seriously the additive rhythmic procedures and dominance of smaller note values in Hindi music. A trip to India followed, and in the late 1960s Glass was back in New York City participating in a musical scene that became known as Minimalism, an aesthetic based upon concentrated repetition of melodic and rhythmic motives within an accessible harmonic framework, making it possible for everyone to detect musical changes. Minimalists avoided the extreme complexity associated with the musical avant-garde. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Glass wrote many works for varied ensembles, including his own group that tended to include wind instruments and electronic keyboards. His first opera was Einstein on the Beach (1976), beginning a lifelong association with the genre.
Like most composers associated with Minimalism, Glass dislikes the label. He admits that his music includes repetition, but the composer has manipulated his materials differently as his career has progressed. His pieces throughout the 1980s included considerably more repetition than a listener would usually encounter in Western music. In the last few decades, however, Glass’s music has exhibited more localized variety, maintaining repetition, but more strictly limiting how many times individual ideas occur and allowing a greater feeling of forward motion. Combined with his inherent lyricism, diatonic harmonic sense and the great rhythmic interest of his music, Glass continues to create memorable works in his seventies. Since the late 1980s he has written a number of concertos for a variety of solo instruments.
Glass composed the Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra in 2000, in response to a commission from timpanist Jonathan Haas and five different ensembles. Mark Lortz, a percussionist, composer, arranger, and band director at Stevenson University in Maryland, did this fine arrangement for wind ensemble in 2004. The transcription’s commission came from five conservatory and university wind ensembles. The work is in three movements and includes fascinating, varied writing for solo timpanists and other percussionists. The exciting first movement demonstrates Glass’ controlled use of repetition and the possibilities of timpani as a solo instrument playing fast rhythms, sometimes under lyrical lines in the winds. The second movement builds gradually from activity in the timpani and other low instruments to melodic material in the high winds, and finally the faster notes one often associates with the composer, returning to the depths at the close. The finale opens with a lengthy improvised cadenza for each timpani soloist, both concluding with composed material in other percussion instruments, especially xylophone and tomtoms. The material that follows the second timpanist’s cadenza proceeds directly into the last, festive segment for full ensemble, a rhythmic tour-de-force with frequent interplay between 3+3+2 rumba rhythms and 7/8 measures, and memorable shifts of timbre between soloists and various voices in the wind ensemble.
Mohammed Fairouz (b 1985): Symphony No 4 ‘In the Shadow of No Towers’ (2012)
Born in 1985, Mohammed Fairouz is a prolific young composer who has made numerous contributions to several genres. His education took place at the New England Conservatory of Music and Curtis Institute, working with Gunther Schuller and Richard Danielpour, and György Ligeti in Austria. Describing himself as “obsessed with text,”¹ Fairouz has great interest in vocal music and has composed an opera, fourteen song cycles, and many other songs. Some of his instrumental music, such as his symphonies, has also been inspired by literary sources. Symphony No 1 ‘Symphonic Aphorisms’ (2007), was influenced by various authors and images, and Symphony No 3 ‘Poems and Prayers’ (2010) includes Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew texts and explores the Middle East conflict. His first three symphonies are for orchestra—the third also includes vocal soloists and chorus—but Symphony No 4 ‘In the Shadow of No Towers’ (2012) is Fairouz’s first major piece for wind ensemble. In fulfillment of a commission from Reach Out Kansas, Inc. for the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble, this new work premièred on 26 March, 2013, at Carnegie Hall. Steve Smith, writing for The New York Times, described the symphony as “…technically impressive, consistently imaginative and in its finest stretches deeply moving.”² He predicted that the work might move beyond the usual college circuit where wind ensemble music is most often performed. Smith called the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble “…one of America’s most esteemed concert bands,” which performed at Carnegie Hall “…with polish, assurance and copious spirit…”
Fairouz’s inspiration for his Fourth Symphony was a comic book by Art Spiegelman that bears the same title. Spiegelman began it shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, capturing our horror and varied reactions to the tragedy with provocative images and statements. The artist has found himself “moved by the scary, somber and seriously silly symphony” that Fairouz composed, noting that they are different types of artists but “equally obsessed with structure.”³ Fairouz had been interested in writing a piece based on Spiegelman’s book for several years, but hesitated to approach it because of the work’s inevitably divisive nature. Each movement is a faithful rendering of excerpts from Spiegelman and, as will be shown, Fairouz does not shrink from controversy. (Spiegelman’s panels that inspired the symphony may be viewed at Fairouz’s website: mohammedfairouz.com/in-the- shadow-of-no-towers/)
The first movement, The New Normal, draws its inspiration from three Spiegelman panels that show a family asleep in front of the television on 10 September, in the same place but horrified on 11 September, and then asleep again but with the calendar replaced with an American flag and their hair still frazzled. Fairouz admits that he depicted these frames “literally,” composing in ternary form. The opening A section is based upon layered, dissonant ostinati that seem to shift repeatedly from one possibility to another. As the horror of 9/11 strikes in the B section, constant rising scalewise passages in the woodwinds clash with great chords in the brass as one hears both towers fall, followed by many loud, dissonant chords. The opening material returns but is momentarily interrupted by a cataclysmic segment from the B section and what the composer calls “a cold and quick funeral march.” As the full return of A ensues, there are additional ideas that do not quite fit, because after 9/11 much is similar, but everything is also different.
Fairouz scored the first movement for the entire wind ensemble, but he enters a striking new world in Notes of a Heartbroken Narcissist, a telling evocation of the horror of 9/11 for our materialistic, self-centered society. Spiegelman produced four frames, using a limited color palette, that show a man staring in a mirror trying to figure out how he should adjust his facial hair in the post-9/11 world, finally turning into a rodent. Fairouz reacted to the grey scale by scoring for timpani, three suspended cymbals, two sets of chimes, bass drum, harp, piano, and double bass, completely eschewing the traditional wind ensemble sound. Cymbal players set the stage by scraping coins across the instruments: we are at ground zero looking for remains and contemplating the event. Sounds from the bass and low range of the piano create a disturbing rumbling while chimes and harp provide an elegiac element. Society might be narcissistic, but this is a heartfelt lament for those who died in the attack.
The next panel from Spiegelman on which Fairouz based his third movement depicts us at each other’s political throats in the years following 9/11. He titled the movement One Nation Under Two Flags: The United Red States of America/The United Blue States of America, dividing the wind ensemble into two groups and having them play their music in savage counterpoint. The Red group sounds jingoistic and the Blue group just plain angry. Spiegelman called it a “martial schizo-scherzo,” and it carries a savage, sarcastic air with tacky imitations of patriotic marches and a central section where the two groups begin to move together, but inconclusively, a feeling that carries into the finale. Fairouz states that one of his models is bombastically patriotic material that Stephen Sondheim wrote for his show Pacific Overtures (1976).
Anniversaries, the finale, maintains the symphony’s signature ambiguity. Two Spiegelman excerpts inspired it. The first is six panels with a man commenting on how the clocks restarted on 12 September, but the ticking was that of a time-bomb that occasionally explodes, reminding New Yorkers that life goes on. In the other three panels one of the World Trade Center towers fades gradually into a ghostly image, with text commenting on how they seem to grow simultaneously larger than life and fade in memory. Fairouz represents this with a ticking clock played throughout by woodblocks, conceiving the finale so that a tempo of quarter-note equal to 60 beats per minute makes it 9:11 long. Anniversaries builds constantly with ostinati coming and going and material representing the towers returning from the opening movement, but the finale, with a studied lack of rhythmic variety, never reaches a sense of fruition. The movement suggests that we endlessly remember the attacks, but have yet to achieve closure, perhaps because, as the scherzo notes, our chaotic reactions to the event have failed to draw us together as a country.
About the symphony, Art Spiegelman noted: “Mohammed Fairouz and I are both from different tribes (though we are both thoroughly rooted cosmopolitan New Yorkers). He belongs to the composer tribe (a group that devotes itself to keeping time, while we comics artists find ways to represent time spatially). Composers often don’t share Mr. Fairouz’s interest in narrative (something that’s just part of the job description for us cartoonists) but he and I seem equally obsessed with structure in our respective mediums—and clearly we both were shaken by the tumbling structures that struck Ground Zero back in 2001.
“Though my idea of a wind ensemble is something often made up of kazoos and jugs, I’m moved by the scary, somber, and seriously silly symphony he has made (especially that martial schizo-scherzo he built around One Nation Under Two Flags!). I’m honored that the composer found an echo in my work that allowed him to strike a responsive chord and express his own complex responses to post 9/11 America. He emerges from the rubble with a very tony piece of high-brow cartoon music.”
Paul R. Laird
Professor of Musicology, University of Kansas
¹ Telephone interview with Mohammed Fairouz, 19 December, 2012. All quotations from Fairouz came from this interview.
² Steve Smith, “The Harsh and Haunting Winds of Sept. 11,” The New York Times, 29 March, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/03/30/arts/music/university-of-kansas-wind-ensemble-at-carnegie-hall.html, consulted 29 August, 2013.
³ Art Spiegelman, “Note from Art Spiegelman,” mohammedfairouz.com/in-the-shadow-of-no-towers, consulted 29 August, 2013. All quotations from Spiegelman came from this source.