Glass can be murky in 'Book of Longing'
By Michael Cameron
Special to the Tribune
Published June 15, 2007
The perils of composer Phillip Glass' setting poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen's "Book of Longing" to music were clear in Poem 19 of the 22 works presented Tuesday at Ravinia after a Toronto world premiere a week ago.
The poem is "You Came to Me This Morning," the second part of which is also the lyric of the Cohen standard "A Thousand Kisses Deep." Glass' extension triples the length of the original song to more than a quarter hour. The single-line refrain morphs from catchy to tiresome, and the rhymed couplets (46 in all) trade contained pithiness for verbosity.
Glass cynics might anticipate that 90-plus minutes of his music would test audience patience, but in this work, the fault is less the music itself than the composer's apparent obsession with his subject.
When the songs and poetry of Cohen resonate, they do so on an intimate level, spatially and temporally. Listeners sampled this effect during six brief poems that came via Cohen's taped voice, unadorned, in a near-whispered basso that bares some kinship to Ken Nordine of "Word Jazz" fame.
Besides Cohen's spoken voice, there were other small pleasures tucked away. Several of the instrumentalists briefly grabbed the spotlight for well-crafted solo interludes, and Cohen's modest projected sketches were mildly diverting.
Glass, turning 70 this year, has assembled a stellar roster of four singers and eight instrumentalists, with Glass himself on one of two electronic keyboards. Will Erat, Tara Hugo, Daniel Keeling and Dominique Plaisant were the superb vocalists, delivering the text in a style closer to cabaret/Broadway musical than opera or art song.
The overall performance seems to squeeze Glass marginally out of his comfort zone -- no small feat -- although his trademark arpeggios are rarely absent. ---------- mailto:email@example.com