Itaipu (1989) is something of a cantata-cum-symphony-cum-oratorio with no clear text. Its topic is the world's largest hydroelectric dam, built on the Rarana River between Paraguay and Brazil, and the piece–in Glass's trademark punctuating minimalism–is filled with distinct South American instrumentation, particularly in the percussion. The music itself is noble, conjuring the human endeavor to build the five-mile-wide dam near the town of Itaipu. The Canyon (1988) is about no canyon in particular but tonally suggests the mystery of canyons in general. Both these compositions are among Glass's better works.
Orange Mountain Music presents this album of choral music by Philip Glass. The first work on the record is a re-issue of the Los Angeles Master Chorale's performance of Glass' large-scale orchestra and choral oratorio Itaipu. The piece was inspired by the giant hydro-electric dam in Brazil. It was part of a series of pieces Glass has done involving depictions of nature, man's relationship to nature, and also more generally fell into a recurrent theme in Glass' catalog involving the country of Brazil. Itaipu is conducted by Los Angeles Master Chorale Music Director Grant Gershon. The second work on the album is Philip Glass' only work for chorus a cappella. Three Songs are set to poems by three prominent writers, Leonard Cohen, Octavio Paz, and Raymond Levesque. Three Songs is performed by the Crouch End Festival Chorus conducted by David Temple and is a re-issue of the Silva Screen recording of the work from 2000.
Itaipu was commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and first performed on November 2, 1989, in Atlanta under the baton of Robert Shaw. The Canyon, subtitled "a dramatic episode for orchestra," was first performed by conductor Robert Longo and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra on October 21, 1988. Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony gave the American premiere in May 1990.
The Essential Philip Glass is a three-disc 2012 compilation not to be confused with the single-disc 1993 album, The Essential Philip Glass. The tracks from both are taken from previous Sony releases. Two of the discs of the 2012 set are made up of single tracks from a number of albums, including Songs from Liquid Days, Glassworks, the film score Naqoyqatsi, the ballet In the Upper Room, and the choral-orchestral piece Itaipu. Stylistically the music represents a fairly narrow range in Glass' career; all the music except for Naqoyqatsi is from the 1980s. There is variety in the musical forces used; the Philip Glass Ensemble led by Michael Riesman figures prominently, but there are also pieces that use chorus, vocalists, and piano. Linda Ronstadt, Yo-Yo Ma, the Kronos Quartet, and Glass himself are among the distinguished soloists.
Philip Glass is one of the most familiar names in contemporary music today. He is also one of the most successful and widely-performed living composers and his output ranges from instrumental works and large-scale operas and theater pieces to film music and collaborations with rock musicians. Glass was born in Baltimore in 1937 to Jewish immigrant parents and his early musical education began with violin lessons at the age of six and at the age of eight he was accepted at the Peabody Institute (the youngest student ever accepted at that august institution). Studies there included his by now preferred instrument, the flute, and by the time he reached his teens he began composing.
To fully appreciate the sheer, unbridled audacity of these four early works by Philip Glass, it is helpful, for a moment, to imagine that it's 1969 and you've never heard any of the composer's music before. Indeed, in 1969, it would have been unlikely that you'd heard anything like this before.