Philip Glass Debuts Immersive Tribute to David Bowie With Symphonic Interpretation of “Lodger”
LOS ANGELES, CA- On the third anniversary of David Bowie’s January 10, 2016 passing, Phillip Glass and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by John Adams, came together at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and paid a rousing tribute to the Thin White Duke with the debut performance of the third and final of Glass’ symphonies based on David Bowie’s “Berlin trilogy.” Symphony No 12 is based on the 1979 Bowie album “LODGER” created in Berlin by Bowie and Brian Eno and produced by Tony Visconti.
Co-commissioned by Southbank Centre, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra, Symphony No 12 was preceded by Glass’ first two symphonies of the trilogy based on Bowie’s 1977 albums “Low” (first symphony) and “Heroes” (fourth symphony). Glass expressed a profound interest in David Bowie’s original music, finding the Bowie compositions musically ripe for an orchestral interpretation, and he made relatively quick work of both “Low” and “Heroes”, with each premiering in 1992 and 1996 respectively. For “Lodger”, however, Glass delayed in composing the third installment of the trilogy due, in part, to his skepticism that the music in “Lodger” was original enough to warrant his attention. Glass finally determined that the strength of “Lodger” was within its lyrics which he found to be remarkable; as if someone had created a “political language” for themselves. Glass proceeded to “strip out” the music and build Symphony No 12 using the inspiring lyrics as its foundation.
Using the lyrics of 7 of the 10 songs from “Lodger” as the bedrock of his musical interpretation, Glass took parts of the original lyrics and divined from them musical themes that he arranged with mesmerizing effect. Glass’ arrangements were made that much more intriguing by employing the deep, earthy and engagingly exotic voice of Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo who not only imbued the music with a strong personality but also the power of female interpretation. Her attire was strikingly African in color and design. Her presence immediately grabbed the audience’s attention, drawing everyone into the moment. The Los Angeles Philharmonic was also accompanied by James McVinnie on organ which provided a robust and satisfying foundation for Kidjo’s unique interpretation of the “Lodger” lyrics.
A notable highlight from the performance was the musical interpretation of “Move On”. For that song, the audience was treated to a haunting, gothic, and even fairground, calipso sound with heavy flutes in the background. The arrangement gave you the surreal sense that you were traveling in a spiritual sense as the sobering and pensive beats guided you along. All breaths were held when Kidjo’s vocals pierced the instrumentation with, “When I move on … somewhere there’s a morning sky, bluer than her eyes, somewhere there’s an ocean, innocent and wild.” Kidjo’s musical mastery was simply mesmerizing.
The seven movements ended with the powerful “Red Sails.” As the orchestra thundered in perfect melodic unison pushing Kidjo’s lyrical passion as she sang, “Action boy seen living under neon, struggle with a foreign tongue, red sails make him strong, action makes him sail along. Life stands still and stares, the hinterland, the hinterland” and pierced through the the crescendo of intensity that the instrumentation swelled at the song’s climax was otherworldly. The genius of Glass lies in the convergence of instrumentation and the seemingly ever-changing fabric of sounds he plays with. When paired together with Kidjo’s incomparable melodic interpretations, it left the audience stunned and clamoring for more.