Though not among the bespoke events that guest artistic director Brian Eno has endorsed at this year’s Brighton festival, the appearances by the Philip Glass Ensemble chimed nicely with Eno’s own career and musical preoccupations. Glass and his group gave two performances: his score for Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi, to accompany a screening of the film; and a complete performance of Music in 12 Parts.
Along with Terry Riley’s In C and Steve Reich’s Drumming, Music in 12 Parts is one of the defining statements of what might be called the “pure” minimalism of the 1960s and early 70s. Glass intended it as a compendium of all the musical techniques he had devised for building large-scale rhythmic structures, assembling it movement-by-movement over four years until it acquired epic proportions. Complete performances are rare – the Brighton one, with three intervals, lasted well over four hours.
The problem with the work is that a sense of didacticism runs through it. As one part follows another, it’s difficult to suppress the feeling that the audience is being taken by the hand through some treatise on minimalism, with every point rather too painstakingly explained. The amplified sound – three electric keyboards (one played by Glass), three winds (doubling flutes and saxophones) and a hard-worked female vocalist – is unremitting and congested, so that teasing out individual lines or doublings quickly becomes wearying.