On January 2 and 3, renowned American violinist cum conductor Robert McDuffie will lead the Israel Chamber Orchestra in the local premiere of Philip Glass’s American Four Seasons. Vivaldi’s classic Four Seasons will be played in the first part of the concert. This is a program that McDuffie performs worldwide.
“I’ve already performed this program more than 70 times all over the world,” says McDuffie in a phone interview from New York.
“In the 1990s I made a recording of Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto No. 1. That was when I first really encountered his music,” he says. “I realized that while orchestra members could have been tired of playing Philip Glass, something special happens with the audience – you can see it on people’s faces. So the idea of the American Four Seasons belongs to me. It came from my desire to perform Vivaldi’s Four Seasons more; but since everybody plays it, it was difficult to get in.”
So that is how the idea was born. “I thought the program with these two pieces played in one evening could be popular,” says McDuffie, adding, “It took me five seconds to realize that Philip Glass was the perfect choice because in many ways, he was an American Vivaldi. They were both criticized for the same things; they both wrote melodies that were seductive and manipulative – in a very complimentary sense of the word.”
The violinist says Glass was flattered when he was compared to the Venetian composer. In the new piece, it was decided to substitute the harpsichord for a synthesizer. “I wanted a rock feel about it, that inherent Glass sound that made him famous.”
It took Glass seven years to complete the piece, “and in a way it was good because during those years, we were discussing it with our managers and presenters and building up the excitement, so when the piece was completed, the ground for performing it was ready.”
McDuffie admits that the question was if it really was a great piece. “But it is magical. It is seductive, it is manipulative and it is achingly beautiful, and it does rock out at the end. The original ending was soft, sort of nostalgic – I asked him for that, and he cheerfully agreed.”
The violinist says this is the most exciting project he has ever been involved in. He explains that while Vivaldi’s piece is programmatic, Glass’s is not.
“With Vivaldi, you read the text, listen to the music, and you can hear a dog barking and imagine the rain falling on the roof. So at the very beginning of the project, we spoke with Glass about including poetry, about lighting, about a more theatrical presentation, until we realized that we wanted the music to stand on its own,” says McDuffie.
“I went through a lot of poetry and suggested to Glass poems by Allen Ginsberg – they were quite close. But the music was so powerful and is not programmatic at all, so that we couldn’t even agree on what was Winter. And that is great. Glass has left it up to the audience to decide about the seasons. That’s beautiful because it brings the public even more into the equation, as we didn’t want a separation between the audience and the performer. So we have the music without reference, and that is how it should be because that’s what makes the music so powerful. You don’t need to be told what to listen to; this music respects the audience’s intelligence,” he says.
The program will be performed on January 2 & 3 in Recanati Hall of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. For reservations: (03) 518-8845.