The latest release from Philip Glass’s archival label Orange Mountain Music is his world music epic Orion which combines the sound of his own Philip Glass Ensemble with important traditional music innovators from around the world including some he has worked with in the past—Chicago-based Gambian kora master Foday Musa Suso, the experimental Brazilian ensemble Uakti, and legendary Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar who has composed music performed here by Gaurav Mazumdar—as well as a few new faces—Australian Mark Atkins on didjerido, Chinese-American pipa virtuosa Wu Man, Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac, and Greek vocalist Eleftheria Arvanitaki. Premiered a year ago today at the commencement the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, the work will receive its American premiere at the Ravinia Festival, outside Chicago, on June 21, 2005.
In lesser hands an over-the-top travelogue project such as this, especially one created for the Olympics, might come across as something akin to the music Yanni performed on a PBS broadcast a few years back. But Glass delivers music that absorbs all of these traditions while still retaining his now trademark cyclical repetition of arpeggiated melodic motives and oscillating minor-thirds. The result is a welcome and often surprising expansion his harmonic vocabulary.