Skip to main content

Music Review Philip Glass: The Bowie Symphonies, Royal Festival Hall, London

David Bowie’s music is brought hauntingly to life by the master of minimalism

IN SPITE of their strikingly different styles in music as well as life, Philip Glass and David Bowie were nevertheless well acquainted creatively.

Glass began to turn his prodigious talents in the direction of Bowie’s work back in 1992, when he composed Symphony No. 1 (Low), drawing on Bowie’s album 1977 album of the same name, which the US composer described as a “work of genius.”

It was the first of Bowie’s so-called Berlin triptych, when the Thin White Duke — subsisting on a diet of coffee, red peppers and cocaine in the then divided city — worked with Brian Eno and went on to produce the albums Heroes in 1977 and Lodger in 1979.

Glass, at a distance of some 20-odd years, continued to work his way through the trilogy, producing Symphony No. 4 (Heroes) in 1996 and, after a considerable hiatus, Symphony No. 12 (Lodger), which received its European premiere at this concert.

With Hugh Brunt and Robert Ames conducting the London Contemporary Orchestra and organist James McVinnie, all three were performed, giving both the satisfaction of experiencing the completion of the musical set and allowing us to witness the musical journey Glass makes through Bowie’s prolific and restless time in Berlin.

It reaches its climax in Lodger, when Bowie’s lyrics, intoned by Beninese singer Angelique Kiddo, are given a new and haunting existence.

Glass’s symphony, complete with his distinctive chromatics and arpeggios, evoke Bowie’s troubled mind at a time when he struggled with addiction, depression and even a brief flirtation with fascism.

It’s remarkable to experience, across the gulfs of genre, time and death itself, how Glass responds to a man who has achieved a kind of immortality.

But, in so doing, the composer reminds us that his own work may speak to eternity.


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 7,833
We need:£ 10,167
11 Days remaining
Donate today