What a Guy

I interviewed Philip Glass live in front of an enthusiastic student/faculty audience at Bard tonight. It’s the second time I’ve done such a thing; the first was about 15 years ago in NYC, and Phil and I couldn’t remember what school it was. But Phil insisted on writing my introduction for him, saying, “These students may not know who I am.” And here is the entirety of the autobiographical part he wrote: “He began, as a composer, at the age of 20, and has thus far spent 55 years in this general line of work.” I said to the audience, “If you didn’t know who Philip Glass was, you do now.” He absolutely refused to let me detail his “so-called,” as he put it, accomplishments. He was charming and insightful, as always, and the student enthusiasm was beyond my wildest expectations.

Let me add that I don’t write much about Glass, partly because I take him so much for granted. In the ’70s I was blown away by Music in Fifths, Music with Changing Parts, Music in Twelve Parts, and Einstein on the Beach, in that order, and afterward I almost quit paying attention, because his music had already had all the effect it could have. His rhythmic cycles and voice-leading became part of my compositional DNA, and into that I stirred Feldman, Nancarrow, Johnston, Young, Ashley, several other composers. At that earlier interview, I told him that I was still trying to rewrite the “Bed” scene from Einstein, and he replied, “So am I.” And a few months ago I was offered an opportunity to have a Glass-related piece performed at a Glass 75th-birthday festival which has now been postponed; but I wrote the piece anyway, titled Going to Bed, based on the chords from that “Bed” scene. The PDF is here. I find his output very uneven, as with all extremely prolific composers, but lately I’ve been enjoying Orion, the Eighth Symphony, and the Tirol Piano Concerto.



  1. Allan J. Cronin says

    I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Glass on several occasions and have always found him to be a kind and generous person. He is the only musician that brought me to near groupie status. I first saw him live in 1980 in DeKalb, Illinois and have tried to not miss any of his engagements in Chicago. I actually went to New York for the revival of Einstein in 1992 and already have my tickets for the Berkeley performance. I admit to not being as enthusiastic about his more recent music but the pieces you mention along with Satyagraha, Akhnaten, CIVIL warS and some of the film scores still stir my soul and probably always will.

  2. says

    I still loveTwo Pages and some of the string quartets. And I was recently astonished by Act 2 scene 1 of Satyagraha, which is expressionistic in a Brechtian way that I’d never have expected from Glass.

  3. Juhani Nuorvala says

    Found the untransposed Bed chords: bars 102-108!

    I interviewed Philip Glass years ago when his ensemble had a gig in Stockholm. I said that in one of the pieces form Glassworks there seems to be a quote from Sibelius’ 5th Symphony. He said: “Seems to be?! But that’s a most obvious quote! In fact, I called the piece Floe because I was imagining what Sibelius might have seen when he looked out of the window.”