Great Music for a Worthy Cause

May 20th, 2013

Philip Glass, Real Estate and Friends – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 19, 2013

The Big Sur Brooklyn Bridge Festival, a weeklong series of events organized around Williamsburg by the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, Calif., brought together iconic modern composer Philip Glass along with a well-curated bevy of local musical talents at Music Hall of Williamsburg last night for the festival’s closing concert. Many of the evening’s performers cited the influence and inspiration that Glass’s music has had on their own—and this is perhaps most apparent in the music of pianist and composer Nico Muhly, who performed movements from his dynamic composition “Drones & Piano” with the help of violinist Tim Fain, violist Nadia Sirota and guitarist Bryce Dessner, of the National, who took a cue from the others and used a bow on the strings of his guitar.

Citing Glass’s ability to “do so much with so little,” Dessner also performed a solo guitar improvisation wherein he drew sound from his electric guitar without ever touching the strings. Holding his guitar upside down, Dessner masterfully manipulated the instrument utilizing distortion pedals and feedback, banging and scraping the neck of the guitar on the floor, and using his hands to tap out rhythms on the back, managing to craft an impressively cohesive piece, sans strings.

Rounding out the evening’s contributors were Real Estate, doing a melodic, mellow performance, and wry-pop songwriter Sondre Lerche, who self-deprecatingly asked, “What am I doing here?” while treating the crowd to a lively set that included “Sleep on Needles,” which the singer noted was a song Glass seemed to enjoy during sound check. With the rest of the artists having set the mood for the arrival of Philip Glass, the composer was warmly welcomed onstage, and began by collaborating with Fain for a rendition of “Pendulum.” Glass then brought out everyone else to perform “The Chase,” from his opera Orphée, announcing somewhat amazed: “We actually figured a piece that we can all play together.” Indeed, like much of Glass’s work, the up-tempo piece was hypnotic and lively, and had a unique edge due to the electric-guitar heavy band. For the encore, Glass appeared alone at his piano, closing the show with the fittingly titled “Closing.” The song was spare and beautiful, and along with the tributes from the other performers, an example of his singular talent and profound influence. —Alena Kastin