The symphony according to Bowie. Philip Glass to crown 30 years of work at Prague Spring

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One of the top performances at the next year’s edition of the Prague Spring festival will be the Czech premiere of Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 12. It crowns American composer’s thirty years of work, inspired by the late English rock musician David Bowie.

However, nobody is going to lie around at the upcoming edition of the Prague Spring. Brno Philharmonic conducted by the American chief conductor Dennis Russell Davies, who has been closely associated with the composer since the 1980s, will present the Czech premiere of Glass’s Symphony No. 12. The symphony written last year has Glass’s typical features demonstrated differently and will take place on 30 May 2021 in Rudolfinum, Prague.

One of the most famous living composers, who has stepped beyond being a minimalist, has written over 30 operas and has approached millions of listeners through his soundtracks for Koya­anisqatsi or The Hours. Thirty years later, he celebrates David Bowie for the last time.

The rock musician who was inspired by Glass’s music to perform his sound experiments became friends with him and even shared a studio. In 1992, he inspired Glass to write his first symphony: it was called Low like Bowie’s eponymous album from the Berlin trilogy. Four years later, Glass wrote Symphony No. 4, inspired by Bowie’s album Heroes.

Premieres of both of them were conducted by the current head of the Brno Philharmonic Davies and the composer rewrote songs Bowie made with Brian Eno in both pieces: the Low Symphony starts with the unfolding of electric strings from the Subterraneans piece that are followed by Glass’s typical features: arpeggios, ostinatos, modulations or delicate shifts in the seemingly endlessly repeated polyrhythms, instead of Bowie’s nostalgic saxophone and unclear singing.

Bowie liked the final version so much that he played the symphonic version of Heroes at his concerts as he was entering the stage.

Symphony No. 12 that will be performed in Prague is called Lodger, like Bowie’s final album in the 1979 trilogy, yet it carries only loose inspiration. “There was much less music information,” Glass explained why he was hesitating to remake the record for 20 years and eventually copied the lyrics only. The texts mediate Bowie’s contemplations on estrangement, men’s behavior, domestic violence, or a lavish life, and Glass composed new music.

“I had to wait for my first concert with the New York Philharmonic until I was 80”, said Glass to New York Times last year. He will be 84 when he sees the performance of his symphony at Prague Spring.

Author: Daniel Konrád