Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's "Monsters of Grace" | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's "Monsters of Grace" 

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PHILIP GLASS AND ROBERT WILSON'S "MONSTERS OF GRACE"

Nonesuch's 1996 release of Philip Glass's early-70s opus Music in Twelve Parts made me wonder what the Philip Glass who wrote it would think of the music Philip Glass is making now. His contemporary work has none of the austerity that gave his early composing its edge, and his deep structural use of change that was so incremental as to be nearly static has given way to a bloated, fluffy stylization of his basic techniques: looping arpeggios that modulate whimsically, additive rhythms that cause shifts in the melodies. Add to this a host of unabashedly lush vocal and instrumental textures and Middle Eastern instrumental samples and you've got the score for Monsters of Grace, a new 3-D computer-animated "opera" scripted by playwright Robert Wilson. In an astute 1981 reconsideration of Glass and Wilson's 1976 breakthrough Einstein on the Beach, composer and Village Voice critic Tom Johnson extricated Glass from the minimalist lineage, contrasting him with more rigorous folks like Louis Andriessen and Frederic Rzewski. "By comparison," he wrote, "Glass is not a reductionist at all but a romantic." The truth of this has never been more evident than in Monsters, which is safe as milk. The score overflows with pillowy harmonies, amorphous emotionalism, and surprisingly unchecked orientalist exotica; ethereal voices singing poems by 13th-century mystic Jalaluddin Rumi lend extra pomposity and a false sense of depth. The music does accompany a film, so one could argue that the sound was made in service to the images--if we didn't have the precedent of Einstein, in which Glass's score stood sturdily on its own two feet. Monsters ranks among the most unpleasantly cloying works I've heard in a long while, and I'd like to think the Philip Glass of yore would feel the same. Friday and Saturday, 8 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State; 312-443-1130 or 312-902-1500. JOHN CORBETT

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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