Philip Glass at LACMA and Akhnaten at the LBO (made sticky on February
Open are the double doors of the horizon
Unlocked are its bolts
Clouds darken the sky
The stars rain down
The constellations stagger
The bones of the hell hounds tremble
The porters are silent
When they see this king
Dawning as a soul
Their name is not
Seize thou this king by his arm
Take this king to the sky
That he not die on earth
He flies who flies
This king flies away from you
He is not of the earth
He is of the sky
He flaps his wings like a zeret bird
He goes to the sky
He goes to the sky
On the wind
On the wind
Philip Glass spoke to a pretty full house in the Bing Theater at LACMA on Saturday, March 12. Exciting was the afternoon! To be clear, Glass was engaged in conversation with the Long Beach Opera’s Music Director Andreas Mitisek but I think Mitisek will understand that Glass took most of my vision and attention.
Glass told his by now familiar to most of us story of growing up in Baltimore, studying music, moving to NY, taxi driving, etc. Then he spoke of his studies with Nadia Boulanger. And what does one learn from Boulanger? “She taught nothing of composition. Boulanger taught me (Glass) to unlearn what I had worked so hard to gain in school. Then she taught me to listen, to hear and to visualize music. This has been most important to me – an ability to visualize music.” (I am sad to report that Glass did not describe what he meant by this cryptic direction. And when it came to question time I didn’t get the chance to pipe up with, “Mr. Glass – what do you see when you visualize music?)
Moving back to NY, Glass was part of an alternative art, theater and music scene. It interested me to discover that for eighteen years before Einstein on the Beach Glass wrote music for the theater and for movies. (Another question please Mr. Glass! “What movies? Which plays? Are there tapes of the movies available? Who were these playwrights?”) He stressed that this experience with theater and movies has been invaluable to him in writing operas. Understanding that each part – players/singers and scenery and music and dance must be accounted for and included in generating the opera as a work. Hence, the difficulty some composers may have writing an opera. Glass also made the point that an opera takes longer to sing than to speak, so he thinks of them as existing in shorthand – quick flashes to tell the story with scenery, music and acting to deepen it and make a richer experience for an audience.
Exciting discoveries were made during this part of the conversation!
Philip Glass, Descent into the Maelstrom – a piece of music based on Edgar Allan Poe’s story of the same name. (have you read this story?! so fantastic!!)
Philip Glass, The Fall of the House of Usher – an opera based on you-know-which story (hmm, all the Youtube clips I can find are a minute or less. Sad. There is this eleven minute trailer for the Polish National Opera production in 2009. Much of it is spoken and all of that is in Polish.)
Philip Glass, Company – music for Samuel Beckett’s prose poem.
Just because I am able:
Einstein on the Beach, Knee Play 1
Einstein on the Beach, Knee Play 2
Einstein on the Beach, Knee Play 3
Enstein on the Beach, Knee Play 4
Einstein on the Beach, Knee Play 5
(enough with the Youtube clips)
We now come upon Akhnaten in the thicket of loquacious Mr. Glass’s fascinating conversation and digressions. (Yes my friends, Philip Glass is one of those talkers who make you happy to listen: one is able to see the ideas spark and these ideas lead him along a new trail – there is no telling where he may go with a question, nor how far he will take us. Charming, brilliant and deeply generous as a speaker.)
This opera is the final of Glass’s operas about “people of ideas.” Individuals who, through the force of thought, have changed the world. Robert Wilson and he made Einstein on the Beach in the late 1970s – Wilson first suggested using Hitler as the main character, which idea Glass rejected, then Glass suggested somebody who I missed. They settled on the rich yet neutral territory of Einstein. Yay. Next came Gandhi in Satyagraha, also from modern times. So we have science and politics. Hmm, whatever can be next?
But first a word about listening to art music. I think we here re all fairly aspirational culturally. We wouldn’t spend so much time looking at art if we didn’t somehow desire to ‘better’ ourselves in that old fashioned way of seeing, reading and listening to the best that has been written and made. Music is tough though. Concert halls and opera houses are… stuffy, off-putting and intimidating. But gee, the fun to be had.
A story: back in 1999ish D and I went to our first classical music concert – Schubert’s Great Symphony. (Actually I think this probably doesn’t fit in the category classical but I’m sticking with the commonly understood shorthand.) This was in the loge section at the Chandler – way down in front. Our boss’s wife gave us the tix. I convinced myself that I was excited, into the hall we walked and saw our seats – right smack in the center of a row. Fifty or so people on either side. Eek. We sat briefly then I freaked and had to escape. Bad first run at an experience. A while later, Disney Hall now under construction, David persuaded me we should get a subscription at that time so when the fab new place opened we’d be in like Flint. Um, ok. Much of the first year I spend sitting in the lobby or at the bar, frightened by the crowd, distressed and a little bored by the music, unable to connect at all. I felt like I lacked the language, emotionally and aesthetically for this thing.
Then in 2002 Leila Josefowicz played John Adams’ Violin Concerto. I was completely swept into the music. I felt every single note and movement of the bow against the strings. My heart pounded and I cheered in amazement at the close. To be honest I cheered after the second movement, too. Half the audience did. (btw – next season Adams will be conducting and Josefowicz playing his Violin Concerto. Also the evening will premiere a Philip Glass symphony. Good god you won’t want to miss it! I’ll tell you far in advance when to buy tix.)
Oh good! I found the information on the LA Phil website: Thursday, April 5, Friday April 6 and Saturday, April 7 2012 John Adams conducts and Leila Josefowicz plays Adams Violin Concerto. Concert includes the premier of Philip Glass Symphony No. 9 and Arvo Part Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten. LINK HERE.
I’m cheating a bit, but here’s Youtube evidence of the coolth of this music played here by Gidon Kremer:
Adams Violin Concerto Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 and and Part 4 (parts 3 and 4 are quiet, contemplative and maybe melancholy. Adams says on his website, “The second movement takes a received form, the chaconne, and gently stretches, compresses, and transfigures its contours and modalities while the violin floats like a disembodied spirit around and about the orchestral tissue. The chaconne’s title, “Body through which the dream flows,” is a phrase from a poem by Robert Haas…” and Part 5 Part 5 is like a fat needle of adrenalin straight to the heart. So bitchen, so fast, so beautiful. Like Joan Jett at the Whiskey in 1977. Play it through to the end, please. Stuttering drums will control your heartbeat for days to follow.
So where in all this is Philip Glass?
Right here, right now.
I’m glad you stuck with me because this music (click here) kicks shit. With it Glass places Egyptian royalty smack in the center of Africa – and he makes dancing possible, even likely, in the concert hall. The Funeral of Amonhotep from Akhnaten. Enjoy – I’ll be back after listening for a while.
I leave you with the most beautiful love duet in music. Ever. Period. Cherish it, I’ll miss you at lunch but be back some time during the day with more. (Great quotes and stories from the Master!! Yes, yes, yes.) (And yes, hyperbole is a fun tool when not overused. Re my claim of “greatest” for Glass’s love duet.)
Long Beach Opera, Akhnaten – Saturday March 19 and Sunday March 27. Tickets are indeed still available, making you one of the luckiest people in the world. Go.
Philip Glass 1
Post Script on February 26, 2013
Dear Friends, Geoff Tuck is not retired. Geoff Tuck is not sleeping, nor is he on vacation.
Geoff Tuck is moving.
Life is grand, with a “new” future and all that, but life is also full of packing and giving and choosing. Eek.
For a few weeks there will be sporadic making sticky of past posts. Fun posts, and as non date specific as can be managed. I like this series on Philip Glass. I like Philip Glass. Some of the links may no longer be active, I know that a record company complained to the person who posted Adams’ Violin Concerto entire. (Damn! Find the Violin Concerto somewhere. It is awesome!)
New content will appear, too, also sporadically.
If you want space, if you have something you wish to say, send me an email.
Ah – “make sticky” indicates bringing a past something to the front of the blog, and/or locking a post in place. Yay.