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Glass's 'Four Seasons' a pleasant alternative to Vivaldi's

by Olin Chism 6 Jan 2012 12:40 PM

Vivaldi’s popular “Four Seasons” has a new companion by Philip Glass. “The American Four Seasons” was introduced to Dallas on Thursday night by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. It proved to be an appealing alternative.


Most people with even a casual interest in classical music know about The Four Seasons. It’s hard to escape the four-concerto set. Of course there have been other musical seasons (Haydn, Frankie Valli), but it’s the one by Vivaldi that rings in our ears.

Since 2009 there has been another musical salute to spring, summer, fall and winter. It’s called specifically The American Four Seasons and it’s by Philip Glass. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra introduced it to Dallas Thursday night in the Meyerson Symphony Center.

The American Four Seasons doesn’t follow exactly the pattern of Vivaldi (click here for Glass’s comments about his work). Instead of four complete concertos there are four movements preceded by a prologue and divided by three of what Glass calls “songs.” Each divider is really a kind of cadenza. What Glass and Vivaldi agree on is the performing force: a solo violinist backed by a small orchestra (though Glass’s synthesizer would amaze Vivaldi).

I found the new Seasons to be a pleasant work. True, the ostinatos became monotonous at times, especially in the lower strings, but the solo part had music of real interest and the whole created an atmosphere that seemed, well, seasony.

Glass doesn’t specify which movement represents which season, leaving that determination as a kind of guessing game for the audience. To me the benevolent opening movement seemed summery, the lovely, somewhat melancholy second movement was autumnal, the brisk third movement was wintry, but the problem was that the rather gritty final movement didn’t seem springlike. I’ve already been told that I was wrong; those going to tonight’s and Saturday night’s repetitions can have a try at it.

The soloist Thursday night was Robert McDuffie, who commissioned the work as a companion piece to Vivaldi’s set. He wasn’t always spot-on in intonation but his playing was lovely and energetic and he undoubtedly was part of the reason the performance made a positive impression.

The audience response was distinctly favorable and the loud cheers were a good sign that there were Philip Glass fans in the hall.

The impressive leader of Thursday night’s performance was guest conductor Peter Oundjian. His superenergetic interpretation of Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture promised an exciting evening and the promise was amply fulfilled with the concluding Symphony No. 2 of Tchaikovsky. The DSO was in great form.