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The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the acclaimed Marin Alsop, gives compelling performances of [these] works. © 2016 Read complete review

Penguin Guide, January 2009

With a long way Philip Glass has come between composing The Light in 1987 and the Heroes Symphony in 1996. The former is inspired by Einstein’s discovery of the ‘uniform speed of light’ and is an undulating, minimalist piece, with changing orchestration eventually leading to a ‘transformation’ of the initial motive and a final cessation of the pulsing. It lasts for 24 minutes and some listeners may find it difficult to stay the course. The Heroes Symphony, however, has six movements (chosen from ten) to make a varied but fairly cohesive structural whole with attractive and changing invention and imaginative scoring and percussive detail to match the character of the six named sections. Glass moves from Arabic exoticism to the plangent brass darkness of the Sense of Doubt, wistful woodwind writing for Sons of the Silent Age and an animated close for the enigmatically named V2 Schneider. The result is hardly a masterpiece, but is undoubtedly entertaining in Marin Alsop’s persuasive performance, excellently played by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and very well recorded.

Peter McCallum
Sydney Morning Herald, August 2007

Philip glass once referred to the modernist avant-garde style, against which his minimalist approach reacted so strongly, as “cold war music”. In Heroes Symphony, the second of his symphonies to draw on the ambient compositions of David Bowie and Brian Eno, he gives us his own cold war music. The symphony draws on Bowie and Eno’s 1977 album “Heroes”, created in Berlin and evoking the individual’s isolation in that divided city. The Bowie-Eno style is a natural for Glass: both place the musical experience as something that happens in the background, a context for meditation or personal thought rather than as the focus. But their influence also strikes a new, more personal, melody-oriented tone in Glass. The Light, symbolically representing the Michelson-Morley experiment on the speed of light, uses Glass’s more familiar style of triadic, repetitive figuration. Which of Boulez, Bowie, Glass or Stockhausen best represents the cold war? Posterity may well say all of them, each in his own way.

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, July 2007

…an enjoyable work and another feather in the cap of Alsop and her Bournemouth band, who are doing great service for American composers on this bargain label. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

American Record Guide, June 2007

Recordings of Glass's symphonies have all been supervised by the composer and his associates; they are done through extensive overdubbing and other studio wizardry. But the Glass symphony recordings by Alsop are done in the traditional way; and that will help to stimulate more performances of these symphonies. The Bournemouth is a good but not amazing orchestra with a long history of good will and enthusiasm for new music. At their most memorable, under Simon Rattle, they achieved a kind of outré, hooty brilliance, notably in an Adams release on EMI (Sept/Oct 1994). Alsop has tamed their sound somewhat but also smoothed out some of their personality.

Because recordings of Glass's symphonies are usually supervised by his long-term collaborators Kurt Munkacsi and Michael Riesman, the orchestral musicians are multi-tracked section by section as in popular music, so the tracks sound more like aural photographs or idealized sound images that could never be reproduced in a concert hall. And this, in turn, has given the erroneous notions that Glass can't orchestrate, that his music suffers in concert performance on this account, and countless others. It's true that the works require careful balancing to get the best possible sound from them, but then so do a great many other symphonies. And musically, Glass's orchestral music contains such a wide variety of musical gestures and moods that I count them among his most satisfying works. <

I also think it's possible to sense the communal excitement of the orchestral players as they perform-such excitement is largely missing from the multi-tracked premiere recordings of these compositions on Nonesuch (Sept/Oct 2000, Jan/Feb 2004). So although Bournemouth's performances don't sound quite as clean as the orchestras for Nonesuch, they continue to indicate the important possibility that other orchestras will tackle recordings of Glass's symphonies.

New Zealand Listener, May 2007

Philip Glass is a minimalist in a rut. His style has changed little in the past 25 years. As the most financially successful classical composer alive, Glass is often criticised as facile and, at best, insidiously effective as in his Heroes Symphony (1996), which has its ups in the two outer movements and downs in some of the inner ones. Rather than a symphony, the 46-minute Heroes is more a suite of six independent pieces recycled from the David Bowie/Brian Eno rock album collaboration. His 24-minute The Light is a fine tone poem depicting the Michelson/Morley experiment confirming the uniform speed of light. This is Glass in full flight, with an aural illusion of the work speeding up yet retaining a constant pulse throughout the work’s lively changes of texture and melodic figuration.

Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, May 2007

Marin Alsop is all over the Naxos catalogue, with around 50 CD releases to her name. It might seem mildly perverse for her to be recording Philip Glass’s orchestral and symphonic repertoire with Brits when she is currently also principal conductor with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, but one of the things which struck me about this particular recording is the convincingly American sound she gets from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. It might just be my imagination, and a good orchestra should be able to react like a chameleon to different repertoire anyway, but the light, bouncy touch in The Light has all of the optimistic drive one could hope for in Glass.

The Light derives its title and inspiration from the Michelson-Morley experiment which confirmed the uniform speed of light. It would also explain the choice of cover image, which, by Juan Hitters, looks to me like a very beautiful exploding toenail. The Light draws maximum material from a limited number of chords and tonal relationships, and includes a few of the percussion and harmonic fingerprints which reminded me a little of ‘Songs for Liquid Days’. The alternation of basic harmonies overstay their welcome for me at a number of points in this work, and the tambourine becomes more than a little irritating by the end, but in all it’s a nice enough romp – a kind of ‘Slightly-too-long ride on a not-too-fast machine.’

I agree with Rob Barnett in his review that the music on this disc is attractive enough, but a great deal of this can be accounted for by the sympathetic performing of the orchestra, and the pleasant resonance of the acoustic. The typical shifting harmonies of Philip Glass mesh nicely in this setting, and often renders the sometimes mundane into something more eloquent. You have to believe in this music to make it work, and Alsop has clearly convinced her musicians.

Ah, 1977. While the Heroes Symphony has its origins with David Bowie, fans of the latter may find it hard to find many direct traces of the original. Glass’ score arguably is not a symphony at all, but a series of dance pieces for choreographer Twyla Tharp. Bowie himself has said of the work that it “has characteristics that I immediately recognize, but it has its own life. It has nothing to do with me.” This is not in a negative sense, but taps into the extraction of the essence of the music as Glass heard it at the time: “It was though Philip had fed into my voice... but somehow had arrived, I feel, a lot nearer to the gut feeling of what I was trying to do.” The melancholy of the music and its themes of love separated by the Berlin Wall is certainly preserved, and in some ways enhanced by Glass. I sometimes wonder if everyone would make such a fuss if this kind of work didn’t have the Glass logo stamped on it, but if you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em at bargain price!

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, April 2007

Neither of these attractive scores will do any damage to your knowledge of Glass. Each is in character, deploying the DNA identifiers by which you will have come to love or loathe him. In fairness the second movement of the symphony represents a centripetal departure before centrifugal forces draw the style back to True North. It does not drift far from home, even then.

The Light is part of an ambitious Sibelian symphonic triptych (1987-89) alongside the later The Canyon and Itaipu. This is a storming piece in which his insistent ostinato cells ripple, flow, fall and return. I thought several times of the gripping troika-figure in Sibelius's Nightride and Sunrise. This however has grander intentions having been inspired by the Michelson-Morley experiment confirming the uniform speed of light. Memorable are its lapping-sighing-flaming woodwind and string figure so much akin to Bernard Herrmann chase music as in North by North-West. There is a typically visceral pounding and thudding tempest of a climax before the music falls away into something more contemplative.

Glass the writer of symphonies is clearly one of the Naxos preoccupations. Two years ago I reviewed the same forces' recording of the Symphonies 2 and 3. Now we can hear the Fourth Symphony.

Glass has been remarkably productive when it comes to symphonies - witness the following:-

Symphony No. 1 Low (1992)
Symphony No. 2 (1994)
Symphony No. 3 (1995)
Symphony No. 4 Heroes Symphony (1996)
Symphony No. 5 Choral (1999)
Symphony No. 6 Plutonian Ode (2001)
Symphony No. 7 A Toltec Symphony (2004)
Symphony No. 8 (2005)

The Heroes Symphony traces its origins to two albums on which the composer collaborated with David Bowie in Berlin: Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979). The six movements of the symphony are: Heroes; Abdulmajid; Sense of Doubt; Sons of the Silent Age; Neuk”ln; V2 Schneider. I wish I knew what these titles meant. The second movement is a fragile and enchanting with its North African repetitive understatement recalling Holst’s In the Street of Ouled Nails movement from Beni Mora. At times I also heard intimations from de Falla (the ostinatos El Amor Brujo) and Copland (the 1940s pastoral scores).One can also catch the ‘look and feel’ of Handel and Purcell – the latter two also emulated in scores by Glass’s fellow minimalist, Michael Nyman in Where the Bee Dances and Prospero’s Books.

This is a generous disc and although Glass stays firmly in accustomed tracks the musical experience engages and draws you in. His potent way with hypno-rhythmic tonal writing continues visceral and in full spate.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2007

Philip Glass will find a place in history as the first dedicated Minimalist composer, his music creating a whole new era of repetitive music that he more aptly described as 'motoric Romanticism'. His educational background was one that embraced mathematics, philosophy and music, the latter both in the States and in France. His exposure to the metric rhythm patterns of Indian music was the catalyst that eventually manifested itself in the minimalism regime. Initially using a small group of musicians with amplified instruments, he later moved to works for large symphony orchestras. His massive output has been questioned, but he remains a cult figure in an uncertain musical world. The Light is a work of pure minimalism inspired by the scientific affirmation of the uniform speed of light. It is a modern exercise in dynamic growth, the long unbroken work - lasting well over twenty minutes - slowing swelling with the number of instruments involved. It was completed in 1987, nine years before the Heroes Symphony, a reworking of material taken from David Bowie and Brian Eno's rock music album, Heroes. Though the repetitive quality remains, this is a much more diversified score that inhabits the 'crossover' market, the elements of the original songs being spread across the orchestral instruments. I feel at a disadvantage by never having heard the rock music, but I am sure there will be music here to intrigue Glass's fan club. Though at times the orchestra has to spend considerable time repeating the same pattern, it is from subtle inflections that the music lives or dies, and the Bournemouth orchestra and Marin Alsop have my regard for producing such a wealth of minute changes. Very good sound quality.

Greg Barns
The Mercury (Tasmania, Australia), March 2007

Philip Glass is a composer who can win over an audience that might not otherwise listen to a traditional classical music concert. His Heroes Symphony is based on themes taken from the David Bowie and Brian Eno 1977 album of the same name. It is lush and colourful music, with signature Glass rhythms. Alsop controls the Bournemouth Orchestra well and is clearly at home with Glass’ minimalism. The Light is a shorter piece but equally rich in sound, as it undulates and curves.

Jed Distler, March 2007

…world-class interpretations unquestionably convey their own character and validity. © 2014 Read complete review

Bradley Bambarger
Newark Star-Ledger, February 2007

A trailblazer for women on the podium, Marin Alsop is one of the most prolific conductors on disc, regardless of gender. Along with a well-received Brahms cycle with the London Philharmonic, the 50-year-old, Manhattan-born Alsop has made discs for Naxos with orchestras from Scotland and Colorado. But most of her activity has been with England's Bournemouth Symphony (which she has led since 2002), yielding discs of Ba rtуk, Orff, Bernstein, Takemitsu, Philip Glass and John Adams.

Alsop's second Glass disc showcases his "Heroes" Symphony, the score based on the titular art-rock album by David Bowie (produced in 1977 with Brian Eno). Glass's take on "Heroes" is marginally less compelling than his "Low" Symphony (based on another Bowie/Eno album), and neither comes close to the landmark originals in import. Still, Glass's orchestral makeovers have an atmospheric allure, and Alsop's ideally recorded performance is more potent than the work's first take on disc, led by Dennis Russell Davies. Having to rely on his own material for 24 minutes, Glass's 1987 tone poem "The Light" reverberates with his usual clichés. Again, though, the music is attractive, the performance organic.

Robert Levine, January 2007

Heroes was composed in 1996 as a set of ballet pieces for Twyla Tharp; each of the six movements was based on tunes by David Bowie and Brian Eno. Even outside of their obvious dance purposes, listeners will have plenty to keep them interested, since Glass's scoring for these pieces is colorful and ear-catching. Horns play a big part in the opening section; "Abdulmajid," has an Arabic tinge, featuring castanets and celesta; the heavy brass that opens "Sense of Doubt" gives way to some fine woodwind play, and so forth. Much of the work is in the familiar Glass style of repeated arpeggiated phrases, but the textures change constantly. The Light, from 1987, is supposedly a depiction of a scientific experiment confirming the speed of light, but the listener need not be concerned. It starts with a lovely if downhearted theme but picks up steam in a manner that may remind you of the composer's The Photographer, eventually reaching an almost tipsy level of frenzy. The performances by Marin Alsop and The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are ideal.

Scott Paulin
Barnes & Noble, January 2007

Philip Glass celebrates his 70th birthday in January 2007 -- yet another incongruous case of the young rebel becoming an elder statesman -- and this album's release kicks off the festivities. If Glass's music is typically associated with the hypnotic repetition of minimal material, listeners will find one work here that conforms to that stereotype alongside one that doesn't. The former is an orchestral tone poem called The Light from 1987; after a slow introduction, it builds to a pulsating groove that carries a handful of melodic motifs out nearly to infinity, the soothing harmonies quelling any restlessness that might arise. Far more varied is the Heroes Symphony (1996), the second (after 1993's Low Symphony) of Glass's reworkings of material from David Bowie and Brian Eno's "Berlin era" albums of the late 1970s. Repetition has a strong role here, too, as does rhythmic pulsation, but the Bowie/Eno themes add a new diversity to the sound and mood of the music; the enhanced expressiveness of this music seems, in retrospect, to point toward Glass's film scores of the following decade. Glass also uses the orchestra in a much more varied way in this six-movement work, foregrounding castanets and piccolo on "Abdulmajid," or alternating brass and woodwind solos of "Sons of the Silent Age." "Sense of Doubt" is striking for the moments of stillness amid the pulsation, while the final part, "V2 Schneider," is the most classically Glass-like in its rhythmic insistence. Minimalism has long been one forte of conductor Marin Alsop, who understands how to shape the repetitions into a satisfying structure, maintaining a rigorous tempo all the time, and the Bournemouth Symphony plays with a collective purity of tone that perfectly suits the streamlined efficiency of Glass's well-oiled musical machines.

James Manheim, January 2007

The Heroes Symphony of Philip Glass is one of two symphonies he wrote based on albums by David Bowie (the other is the "Low Symphony"). This recording by Marin Alsop, one of Britain's (and now America's) most talked-about conductors, suggests that the idea has been successful enough to move beyond the usual Glass orbit and into conventional symphonic repertory. Glass has always had a strong following among pop listeners, and part of the interest of these compositions lies in the unique crossover terrain they explore -- ironically, with Glass (whose versions are all instrumental) coming out as slightly more conventional than his pop counterparts. The Bowie album was recorded in the late 1970s in Berlin with pop synthesizer experimenter Brian Eno. Glass fills out the songs with repeated musical figures, mostly assigned to the strings, replacing and expanding the guitar and keyboard riffs of the original songs. One can see why Bowie liked this music, which remains close to the harmonies of his original songs without seeming at all like an arrangement in the conventional sense. One can also see why the canny Marin Alsop might have wanted to record the work; she has been associated with several unusual crossover projects (including the Too Hot to Handel Messiah), and this one is unlike any other classical composition modeled on pop material. The Bournemouth Symphony achieves the hypnotic smoothness necessary for Glass throughout. The opening orchestral piece called "The Light" is a less distinctive Glass work, although rendered equally well. It refers to a famous scientific experiment having to do with light, but it would be surprising if any listener uncoached by notes succeeded in identifying which one.

Tim Smith
The Baltimore Sun, January 2007

Alsop has conducted at least a dozen entries in the valuable American Classics series on Naxos, including collections of Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein, Michael Daugherty and Michale Torke. Just two months ago, she and the Bournemouth Symphony added works by exceptional Peabody alum and faculty member Michael Hersch to the catalog.

Now comes a splendid Philip Glass disc, a follow-up to a 2004 Alsop/Bournemouth release devoted to his second and third symphonies. The players seem to have no trouble getting themselves comfortably and deeply into the minimalist groove, which they do here in two strongly appealing works, both delivered with consistent rhythmic tightness and clarity of articulation.

The Heroes Symphony, a 1996 score inspired by six tracks on the 1977 Heroes album by David Bowie and Brian Eno, is melodically active and colorfully orchestrated, traits that Alsop seizes on to great effect. The dark beauty in Sons of Silent Age is one example; the thrust of V2 Schneider is another (too bad Glass stuck such an oddly tacky ending on that movement).

The Light, from 1987, was inspired by the Michelson-Morley experiment in the 1880s to determine the speed of light. The result is one of the composer's most beguiling scores, so eventful and even joyous that to label it minimalist would be simplistic.

Alsop gauges the music's gradual increase and decrease deftly, all the while assuring that the orchestra makes something expressive out of the glimmers of melody and undulating chords.

If you've always been resistant to - or dismissive of - Philip Glass, this vital performance just might help you see The Light.

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