Philip Glass and the Hollywood Bowl would have been a breakthrough match in the 1980s when the composer was at the peak of his influence.
But the Bowl management was caught between its yearning for new young audiences, which flocked to Glass’s high-volume concerts, and its traditional catering to conservative classical tastes. So Glass had to wait until he was 72 to finally set foot on the Bowl’s stage Thursday night, and he did so with a program of his greatest hits and one unnervingly prophetic film.
The film was “Koyaanisqatsi,” the first of director Godfrey Reggio’s “Qatsi” trilogy of documentaries on the clash between the natural world and the technology that is shredding it to pieces. In hindsight, one has to admit that Reggio often stacks the deck in the famous speeded-up depictions of the American rat race; urban life isn’t that frantic. But allowing for certain anachronisms — a trip on San Francisco’s Embarcadero freeway (since destroyed by nature’s revenge, an earthquake), displays of quaint, now-obsolete consumer products — this frightening film still jars and provokes, for nothing in our way of life has substantially changed since its premiere in 1983.
“Koyaanisqatsi” was also Glass’s first major film score, one that has just been released this month at its full 76-minute length on Glass’s in-house Orange Mountain Music label (joining two other versions, the original heavily-cut soundtrack on Antilles and a full-length 1998 remake on Nonesuch). Here, in the world premiere of a new Glass orchestration for lower strings, brass, timpani and full choir, as well as his own trusty ensemble, the score makes an even deeper impression, adding a somber grandeur and majesty to the images of nature and scenes of New York City.
Perhaps it is just as well that this mesmerizing combination of film and live Glass music had to wait until 2009 to be performed in the Bowl. The venue’s sound system of the ’80s couldn’t have handled the subterranean bass and glassy intensity of the keyboards, but it does now — stunningly — with Glass’s resident sound guy, Dan Dryden, mixing on the fly. And the film looked wonderful on five giant video screens.
Yes, modern technology does have its place.
As a brief appetizer for “Koyaanisqatsi,” Glass served up “Opening” and “Facades” from his popular 1982 CBS album “Glassworks” — performing the former himself on a grand piano and the latter with his ensemble.
Then came the shortened concert version of “Spaceship” from “Einstein On The Beach,” still a joyously shocking, careening, hard-core minimalist adventure 33 years after its premiere. And in a cheeky nod to Bowl tradition, the group presented a stark electronic Michael Riesman arrangement of the National Anthem that might have been booed in the bad old days, but not now.