Monday, April 12, 2010

The Five Stages of Philip Glass


Philip Glass lecture and piano recital, LSU, Baton Rouge, 4/12/2010
  1. Philip lectures. He spoke mostly about collaboration and the role of the composer in theatre vs. dance vs. opera vs. film and the amount of control one has in each. "'s better [for the composer] than film, but worse than theatre." He was also frank and congenial about his commercial work, saying it is about 10-15% of his time and pays for the rest of it.
  2. Philip sells out. Way to go, Baton Rouge! Better than the half-empty room in which I saw Kronos Quartet a number of years back and the anemic showing for Bang on a Can All-Stars in 2008.
  3. Nobei Udon at Koi. Philip regrettably did not join me for this. If he had, his stomach might have provided a similar rumbling bass accompaniment as mine did throughout the show.
  4. Philip explains. Each piece gets his self-effacing intro, like when he introduced parts 2,3, and 4 of Four Metamorphoses, he admitted "Don't feel short-changed; parts 1 and 4really are pretty much the same."
  5. Philip plays. The Metamorphoses struck me with its wistful, almost living-room-piano softness, to be the same family gathered under different circumstances, say a wedding, a tense holiday meal, and a funeral. Glass' music is a demonstration in texture and in touch, for without it, many of his pieces would simply dissolve into variations of That Philip Glass Thing. He spoke of the Etudes similarly as "a family of people that didn't really look alike" and that came across in these exercises gone romantic.

    He veered off program to play "Night on the Balcony" from Music from the Screens, his collaboration with African musician Foday Musa Suso, before going into the slowly undulating Mad Rush, joking that when commissioned for an appearance by the Dalai Lama at St. John the Divine in NYC, the organizers said they weren't sure when His Holiness was going to arrive, and could he write something of indeterminate length. "Not a problem."

    I was a little put off that Knee Play 4 from Einstein on the Beach (I really love the Knee Plays) didn't get played as stated in the program, but instead we got the "Wichita Vortex Sutra" from Hydrogen Jukebox, the chamber opera written with Allen Ginsberg. Mr. Glass played with a tape of the poet reciting his declaration of the end of war from the center of the United States. I've never been able to get into this piece on record; I think the recitation against the music is jarring, and it seemed to go the same way live until they both lit on the word "love" near the middle. The vortex blossomed as two friends across the greatest of divides found their rhythm. Ginsberg lost that distracting dated sappiness that (for me) hampers his readings and got actually funny, detailing how his declaration of peace migrated through his body the way a bill does Congress, and Mr. Glass' playing became softer, more sympathetic, comically elegiac. It was synthesis of the things he talked about in his lecture, the three parts of music (melody, harmony, and rhythm) as well as the four parts of opera (text, music, and...I forget) , everything cycling into that ebullient vortex. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous, all hinging on "love." He closed with an encore reading of "Closing" from Glassworks, natch.
I am not a musician so I don't know how difficult his music is to play, but with all that repetition and counting and place-keeping, I'm thinking Philip Glass could inventory a grocery store with a cursory glance. I tried my bootlegger best to capture a video but the alignment of people's heads would have required a degree of obnoxiousness which even I will not venture, so imagine a night of a sweet old man (that looks and plays pretty good for 70) on a beat up piano in a gorgeously refurbished Shaver theatre, offering up slight turns of the prism that makes an artist; each pivot bending the light ever just so.

1 comment:

  1. A masterful performance! I do believe he played Metamorphosis 4, also. So glad he played those.