Philip Glass *I 31 1937 — The Life You Give

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?

Opera, Blood, and Tears
celebrates the life in music of
Philip Glass
January 31 at 1pm EST
on Clubhouse

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.

Sila Blume

My very first introduction to Philip Glass

Britannica on Philip Glass

Philip Glass, born January 31, 1937, in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A., is composer of innovative instrumental, vocal, and operatic music.

Glass studied flute as a boy and enrolled at age 15 at the University of Chicago, where he studied mathematics and philosophy and graduated in 1956. His interest in atonal music drew him on to study composition at the Juilliard School of Music (M.S., 1962) in New York City and then to Paris to study under Nadia Boulanger. His acquaintance there with the Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar decisively affected Glass’s compositional style, and he temporarily jettisoned such traditional formal qualities as harmony, tempo, and melody in his music. Instead he began creating ensemble pieces in a monotonous and repetitive style; these works consisted of a series of syncopated rhythms ingeniously contracted or extended within a stable diatonic structure. Such minimalist music, played by a small ensemble using electronically amplified keyboard and wind instruments, earned Glass a small but enthusiastic following in New York City by the late 1960s.

Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach (1976; revived 2012), composed in collaboration with American playwright and artist Robert Wilson, earned him broader acclaim; this work showed a renewed interest in classical Western harmonic elements, though his interest in startling rhythmic and melodic changes remained the work’s most dramatic feature. Glass’s opera Satyagraha (1980) was a more authentically “operatic” portrayal of incidents from the early life of Mohandas K. Gandhi. In this work, the dronelike repetition of symmetrical sequences of chords attained a haunting and hypnotic power well attuned to the religio-spiritual themes of the libretto, adapted from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavadgita. The opera The Voyage (1992) had mixed reviews, but the fact that it had been commissioned by the New York Metropolitan Opera (to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas) confirmed Glass’s growing acceptance by the classical music establishment.

Throughout his career, Glass collaborated with a broad array of international musicians representing diverse traditions. With Gambian kora player Foday Musa Suso he composed music for Jean Genet’s play The Screens; the work was scored for piano, kora, flute, cello, keyboards, and percussion. Glass composed Orion (2004) for sitar, pipa, didjeridu, kora, violin, and vocalists (alto and soprano); for the recording, Glass recruited the help of Suso, Shankar, and pipa player Wu Man, as well as other friends from the global music scene. He worked on numerous occasions with world music artists David Byrne and Paul Simon. A vital figure in the wider artistic milieu, Glass cultivated relationships with artists who worked in other mediums as well, notably painter Chuck Close, who created his portrait in numerous media and for whom he composed A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close (2005). Meanwhile, Glass continued to compose in the classical music vein, completing among other works his 12th symphony, which premiered in 2019. It was the last of a trio of symphonies that were inspired by albums David Bowie had made with Brian Eno in Berlin.

Film music was also a particular focus of Glass’s corpus. By the early 21st century he had produced scores for some four dozen films, notably the dramas The Hours (2002) and Notes on a Scandal (2006) and the Errol Morris documentaries A Brief History of Time (1991) and The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003).

Glass was awarded the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale in 2012 and was named a Kennedy Center honoree in 2018. He was the subject of the 2007 documentary Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts. His 2015 memoir Words Without Music chronicles his colourful life in piquant detail.

Source: Britannica

The recording of the original production of Philip Glass’ and Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach has iconic significance both in the development of the musical style unfortunately known as minimalism, as well as in the history of music in the late twentieth century. It was a watershed moment when Glass and his ensemble brought the nearly five-hour opera to the Metropolitan Opera House in 1976; his unique aesthetic convictions moved from the rarefied atmosphere of loft concerts into the face of the classical music establishment in a way that could not be ignored.

One of the strengths of the work is the diversity of musical worlds it encompasses, from moments of a cappella choral singing, to relentless electro-techno tracks, to ensembles of sonically overwhelming grandeur. The most striking characteristic of Einstein is its use of repetitions, which are rarely exact — a large part of the music’s allure lies in Glass’ subtle varying of the repeated patterns. The length of the patterned sections demands an extraordinary level of concentration from the performers, and listeners, regardless of their feelings about the music itself, cannot help being amazed at the virtuosity of the singers, speakers, and instrumentalists who could pull off such a remarkable feat of memory and endurance. For the listener willing to give him- or herself over to the music’s spell, it can have a visceral, mesmerizing effect.

The recording features a number of memorable performances, not the least by the Philip Glass Ensemble, which plays with remarkable focus, precision, and energy, and the same can be said for the disciplined vocal ensemble. Violinist Paul Zukofsky negotiates the composer’s patterns with deeply felt musicality and nuance, never with a sense of meaningless repetition. The actors, Lucinda Childs, Samuel M. Johnson, Paul Mann, and Sheryl Sutton, perform with a comparable verbal and dramatic virtuosity. The sound is clear, bright, and present. Einstein belongs in the collection of anyone concerned with the most significant developments in music of the twentieth century, and of opera in particular.

Source: all music

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.