Philip Glass is often referred to as a minimalist. He prefers to describe himself as a composer of "music with repetitive structures." His compositions irritate some, and are embraced by others.
Canadian violinist Angele Dubeau falls in to the latter category. She and Glass have been friends for years. That friendship has blossomed into a new recording featuring Dubeau with her all-female ensemble, La Pieta.
When Philip Glass turned 70 last January, the musical world barely marked the anniversary. Angele Dubeau and La Pieta remedy that oversight with a broad musical "Portrait" of the composer.
Glass started his artistic training in the 1950s in Paris. Among his influences were John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and most importantly, the French avant-garde artist Jean Cocteau, whose work extended to the cinema, theater and painting.
The work that opens this new recording, "La Belle et la Bete," pays homage to Cocteau, and his 1946 movie of the same title. Most of us know this tale as Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."
Glass is fascinated with the love story, and the final transformation of the beast. That transformation is something Glass believes we all have to face. Just how do we become who we are?
After completing the opera, Glass decided to take all the tunes and roll them into a kind of Rossini-type overture, which gives us an overview of the entire opera in just over three minutes.
The heart of the piece is in the harmonic language, and in the rhythmic combinations. These two elements generate a sense of mystery, and strong emotion.
"The Hours Suite" is from a film based on the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham. It's the story of three women -- a book editor, a young mother, and the author Virginia Woolf, who are in search of more meaningful lives.
Cunningham has been a longtime fan of Philip Glass's music. He embraces what Glass can create with just three repeated notes.
"We are creatures who repeat ourselves, and if we refuse to embrace repetition, we ignore much of what we mean by life itself," said Cunningham.
The repeated patterns of this suite come through vividly in the scoring for piano, strings, harp and celesta.
In 1982, Glass composed "Glassworks" as a way to introduce his music to a broader audience. Angele Dubeau and La Pieta conclude their new release with a piece from that collection, titled "Closing."
There's something comforting and familiar about the rhythmic patterns, the simplified harmonies and the hypnotic repetition in the music of Philip Glass.
It does deserve to be heard by a broader audience. Maybe that's why Glass allowed this group of progressive, top-notch Canadian performers to create this gorgeous portrait of his music.