Days and Nights in Rocinha
Ifé: Three Yorùbá Songs [New York premiere]
Symphony No.11 [world premiere]
Angelique Kidjo (vocals)
Bruckner Orchestra Linz
Dennis Russell Davies
Reviewed by: Christopher Browner
Reviewed: 31 January, 2017
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
On the birthday itself, the evening opened with Days and Nights in Rocinha (1997), dedicated to Dennis Russell Davies, a long-time champion of Philip Glass’s music. Like Ravel’s Boléro, it focuses on a single motif that expands and develops. The slinking samba-inspired theme first emerges in high strings over a continuous 14/8 figure in cellos and double basses. From there, Glass circulates the melody around the orchestra, adding texture and variation. Davies excelled at keeping the large forces of Bruckner Orchestra Linz coordinated, skillfully guiding to a surging climax.
After this rousing introduction, Angelique Kidjo joined the ensemble for Ifé: Three Yorùbá Songs, a setting of three poems from her native Benin. The first, ‘Olodumare’, relies heavily on a fast-paced syllabic setting and churning accompaniment to depict the creation of the world. In contrast, the more meditative ‘Yemandja’ focuses on the Mother of the River, while the joyously frenzied ‘Oshumare’ offers praise to the Rainbow Serpent. With her spirited physicality and brassy voice, Kidjo enjoyed throwing herself fully into such exuberant music.
As for Symphony No.11, the opening movement includes many hallmarks of Glass’s minimalist style; repeated rising and falling arpeggios in the strings supporting melodic fragments from brass and percussion. A haunting, cyclical motif opens the second movement but soon overtaken by an alternating series of jaunty melodies that do not entirely sit well together. The Symphony concludes with a raucous Finale that increases in rhythmic and melodic complexity. Beginning with a single rhythm on a drum, it grows into punishing percussiveness before incorporating the rest of the orchestra with intensifying frenzy. The effect was exhilarating, keeping the listener simultaneously attentive and awed through to a turbulent coda bordering on cacophony.