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Music Review

Bruce Brubaker delights with shards of Glass and Cage

Bruce Brubaker performs at Shalin Liu Performance Center Saturday as part of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival.LISA POOLE FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

ROCKPORT — Amalgamating musical anniversaries, pianist Bruce Brubaker’s Saturday recital in Rockport celebrated Philip Glass’s 75th birthday and John Cage’s 100th. Was the connection more than calendrical? Brubaker pitched Cage as a proto-minimalist in between-number commentary, trying to connect the two composers’ sense of time — a sense that, in performance, remained on opposite sides of the coin. The performance, though, was excellent.

“Mad Rush” was stereotypical Glass: prodigally repetitive, harmonies, phrases, entire sections reiterated again and again, the experience coalescing around the anticipation of a pattern change. Cage followed, at, seemingly, his most minimalist: “A Room,” austere bits of melody circling in perpetual motion. But the repetition is almost never exact, any sense of pattern gradually erased, dissolved into a quiet swarm of close-wound notes. Glass’s music has you waiting until something happens; Cage has you waiting until, actively, nothing happens.


Whatever the expectancy, Brubaker’s playing was seriously beautiful, effusively expressive, with a rich, balanced, burnished touch. “Mad Rush” was downright Romantic, bold with ample flexibility of tempo.

In more outwardly avant-garde Cage, the touch turned ringing and icy clear. Brubaker’s realization of 1958’s “TV Köln” used the sight and white-noise sound of video static as accompaniment for the piano’s sonic resources: the keys, the strings, the lid. “Fontana Mix,” a 1958 find-your-own-adventure kit for electronic music, formed layered string-like clusters that waxed and waned in dissonance, a velvety backdrop for the disconnected crystals of Brubaker’s simultaneous performance of 1987’s “One.”

After Glass’s “Metamorphosis Two” closed the first half, the second half’s shift from minimalism to post-minimalism — however vague that category might be — was palpable. It started with Glass himself: his Piano Etudes Nos. 4 and 5, dense and lush, harmonies still oscillating, but between directness and ambiguity in a Sibelius-like way.

Missy Mazzoli’s “Orizzonte” combined soft, pulsing sine-wave electronics with lyrical piano arcs, melodic repetitions picking up harmonic weight as they rolled along. Alvin Curran’s “Hope Street Tunnel Blues III,” in contrast, played big. Much of the piece stays stuck on a single harmony — a pianistic drum set on which Brubaker played a long, relentless solo — so engrossing that, when the music did shift into an actual blues progression, it almost felt superfluous.


An encore brought the wandering haze of Cage’s 1948 “Dream,” the composer somehow sounding like a preemptive post-minimalist. Brubaker made it bewitching.

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at matthewguerrieri@