Philip Glass – ‘Low’ Symphony (1993)

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Composed in the spring of 1992, and based on the classic David Bowie collaboration with Brian Eno from 1977, Philip Glass’ orchestral interpretation is that oddity that makes sense.

Originally an experimental recording of startling depth and complexity, it follows that “Low” would transfer well into the next iteration. Glass — a three-time Academy Award-nominated classical-music composer — took three of the album’s instrumentals and combined them with compositional elements of his own, beginning with “Subterraneans,” then “Some Are” and finally “Warswaza.”

The Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Dennis Russell Davies — he once notably recorded with pianist Keith Jarrett as a soloist on Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ “Etruscan Concerto” for the MusicMasters label — powers a session that simultaneously referred to the original piece then transcended it.

This isn’t a note-for-note redo, in the style of those cloying takes on, say, Pink Floyd by the likes of the London Philharmonic (skip 1995’s so-so “Us and Them” on Philips), but a borrowing of themes for inspiration.

“In practice,” Glass wrote in liner notes for the now-defunct Point Music, “Bowie and Eno’s music certainly influenced how I worked, leading me to sometimes surprising musical conclusions. In the end, I think I arrived at something of a real collaboration between my music and theirs.”

For fans of the original, Glass presents an intriguing take on Bowie and Eno. For others, it’s an entirely new synthesis of pop music and the orchestral — serious, but not overly; a variation in the truest, classical sense of the word … but with a very modern twist.

Glass’ work is often insistent, even hypnotic, and rock music — specifically the oddly ambient sort occasionally produced back in the day by Bowie and Eno — turned out to be a terrific creative launching pad: Three years later, Glass remade Bowie’s “Heroes,” then in 1997, he issued “Music for Airports,” a live, instrumental version of Eno’s memorable long-player of the same name.

 

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