No other composer, no public figure has ever played consequential roles in my life like Phillip Glass. It all began with a physical, mental, perhaps even spiritual shock in 1982, when I sat in Carnegie Hall and experienced his music for the first time. That year I moved to Boston, where, not long after that, we stood face to face on Harvard Square. In 1986 I moved to Germany, and two years later I learned that his opera “One thousand airplanes on the roof” would be staged in Berlin. My decision to spend the night in Berlin, before embarking on the 10 hour trip back, was the first step towards my divorce.
The 1980s were fire crackers, tsunamis, and dozens of galactic trips for me, especially acoustically. I found King Crimson, Peter Gabriel’s Genesis, Test Dept., Einstürzende Neubauten, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Harry Partch, Henry Cowell, Benjamin Britten, John Cage, Laurie Anderson, Conlon Nancarow, Steve Reich, Meredith Monk, and Philip Glass. Is that normal? Was I to maintain my usual mortal state after having known only some pop music, Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Friedrich Händel, and hymns until them?
It can not be any wonder that I find substantial reason for celebration, when I am reminded of this period, and the visionary individuals that touched me all at once. Glass introduced me to the idea of penetrating through repetition, and gave me the first window into the world of modern opera with the historical Robert Wilson productions of Einstein on the Beach.
Like for many other creative thinkers which we recognize as great, his body of work has hundreds of layers, leading to its ephemeral existence, as it may produce hundreds of repercussive waves for the attentive listener. Whatever is driving this soul, at least on his face, it is still fresh. Forty years after hearing and observing him in a live concert, I see an old man in conversation with Peter Gelb, the director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The face is clearly older, the liveliness and dedication to what he has been doing since the 1970s is not.
Taste is one thing — a phenomenal one, but one thing nevertheless. Edmund Burke spent time trying to dissect the wonder of its qualities. But once one puts the taste factor aside, being touched is more important, more meaningful, more existential. One may dislike or like the worlds of rap, bebop, jazz, opera, heavy metal, rockabilly, Gregorian chants, Indian ragas, the singing of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, etc. but liking and disliking are merely matters of taste, and once the experience becomes a touch, doors open, new layers replace what might have encrusted the intellect and the spirit. Thereafter, to recall a memory, brings celebration; and being in a present that throws one back into memory, is itself a celebration.
Thank you, dear Mr. Glass!
The composer Philip Glass was born on January 31 1937, in Baltimore, Maryland.