Philip Glass, the face of Minimalism for many listeners, is an interesting case of how much we’re willing to shift and stretch our definitions of musical styles – rather than abandon them as archaic or inaccurate – when a composer’s style evolves. In his early years, in the late 1960s, Glass was labeled a Minimalist – a term borrowed from the art world, as Impressionist had been, decades earlier. That made sense, in those days, when his music was built on what he called “additive process,” a technique in which a phrase was repeated many times before added notes altered it, whereupon the extended phrase would be repeated until more notes were added. Works unfolded gradually, often over several hours. But at the end, they sounded nothing like they did at the start.

Glass began moving beyond that technique in 1976, with “Einstein on the Beach,” and he moved away from it decisively with “Satyagraha,” three years later. By the mid-1980s, works like “Koyaanisqatsi” (1983) and Glass’s third string quartet, “Mishima” (1985), were downright neo-Romantic, with comparative short, self-contained movements, with striking changes in dynamics and color, not to mention clear emotional undercurrents of a kind that were harder to identify in the additive process pieces.

But because he still used some (though far less) repetition, as well as certain moves that were identifiably Glassian (arpeggiation, major to minor chord shifts, undulating minor thirds), Glass’ music continued to be called Minimalist, with some critics prefacing the label with “post-” to indicate the move away from the original, experimental style. Most of what is called Minimalist now, including music by John Adams, Steve Reich and Michael Nyman, is not really Minimalist at all, in the way the term was originally used.

The music pianist Jenny Lin played in her all-Glass concert at Space on Friday evening was all post-Minimalist, the earliest works dating to the 1990s, the latest from 2017. An excellent, expressive pianist whose large discography includes both standard repertory and contemporary works, Lin recently recorded all 20 of Glass’s Piano Etudes (1990-2012), and she included five of them (with a sixth as an encore) on her program.

Glass composed his Piano Etudes to improve his own keyboard technique, and they are full of challenges and demands. But like the etudes of Chopin, Liszt and many others, they are sufficiently musical to work as concert pieces. Granted, they take in all the Glassian thumbprints, and if you don’t like his music, you’re likely to just tick off the list – arpeggios, check; minor thirds, check; vaguely melancholy major-minor harmonies, check – and claim it’s just simplistic twaddle.

But if you listen more closely, there’s a lot happening in this music, and more than a few sly references. The grand chordal figures that make two appearances in Etude No. 1 proceed from the opening of Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Sonata, but move in strikingly different direction, with arpeggiated figures that take in unexpected leaps, rather than simply outlining the chords. The arpeggiation in Etude No. 2 unfolds similarly, but the striking elements here are deep, loud bass punctuation and, toward the end, high range chordal bursts. The sparkling figuration in Etude No. 13 edges toward borrowing from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” but moves safely far afield.

There are other riches, too numerous to list in the available space, but in the selection Lin offered, they show Glass setting himself difficult technical goals, including melodies built of rapidly repeated notes (in No. 6) and brash, dissonant bursts (in No. 10). Mostly, though, these are pieces full of drama, energy and passion, all of which Lin kept firmly in the spotlight.

Lin opened her program with selections from two of Glass’ film scores, “The Truman Show” (1998) and “The Hours” (2002). In “Truman Sleeps,” the focus is an ascending, bittersweet melody that floats dreamily over the arpeggiated accompaniment. The “Hours” excerpts – “Morning Passage” and the title piece – balance chromatic themes against chordal accompaniments, with the focus occasionally shifting toward the latter.

The most striking work Lin played was the newest, “Distant Figure (Passacaglia for Solo Piano)” (2017). It is a good reminder that repetition as a musical engine did not begin with Glass: The passacaglia is a Baroque form in which a bass line or chord progression opens a work and is repeated throughout, with variation unfolding above it. This is a virtuosic example of the form, with surprising contrasts, dramatic passages etched in Lisztian thunder, and others rooted in layers of chromaticism – but with the repeating, underlying progression consistently in view.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

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