Philip Glass Is Too Busy to Care About Legacy – The New York Times

If that’s true, it won’t be until nearly 2100 when a full measure of Mr. Glass’s footprint be possible. But some weighing can start . The most instantly recognizable voice in contemporary , he opened a chapter in operatic , pushing the bounds of duration and abstraction. At a when the most lauded composers disdained overproduction, Mr. Glass wrote unashamedly for everyone and everything — and stubbornly in the distinctive he created, establishing a for from the to the concert hall to the studio, garnering both Met commissions and Academy Award nominations.

MR. GLASS WAS BORN, almost literally, into music: His father owned a record store in , where the -to-be absorbed Beethoven, Schubert, Bartok, Shostakovich and Stravinsky — and, perhaps, an intrinsic connection between and commerce. Over a few years in , Nadia Boulanger was his as he was exposed to the jittery-fly modernism of Boulez and Stockhausen. He didn’t them, but he didn’t want to compose like them, either.

Those pieces culminated in “Einstein on the Beach,” a dreamlike on scientific , relations and apocalypse that progressed in enigmatic , austerely designed and directed by Robert Wilson and with swirling choreography by Lucinda Childs, the dancers representing atomic particles in ceaseless motion.

“When ‘Einstein’ opened,” Mr. Glass said, “we had never performed it straight through without stopping. We didn’t know how it was. It turned out to be five and a half hours.”

Mr. Glass became a maestro of excruciatingly delayed gratification. “I have no idea what Philip was when he wrote ‘Satyagraha,’” Mr. Guérin said of that 1980 opera, a highly stylized but (compared with “Einstein”) more traditionally plotted about Gandhi’s ventures into nonviolent in South . “The third is 45 minutes long, and has just two harmonies. But when it explodes into pure Phrygian scale in the final aria, it’s, like, oh, this totally makes sense.”

When it came to “Satyagraha” and “Akhnaten” (1983), Mr. Glass said, “many were waiting for the son of ‘Einstein.’ They liked that experience of that throbbing, relentless ensemble playing that we did. Of course I wasn’t going to do that. Why would I do that? I had just done it. So I did something completely different, and it was much too lyrical for some .”

The bronzed character of the “Akhnaten” score emerged through necessity. The in Stuttgart, , that commissioned the was renovating its theater, so the performances took place in a with a much smaller pit.

With the violas now taking the place of the violins, the shifted down an octave, its burnished sheen given body with brasses and punctuated by sometimes raucous percussion. As for the title character, the Egyptian who is said to have pioneered monotheism — and to have had all traces of him erased for that blasphemy — Mr. Glass put him onstage from almost the beginning, but tantalizingly delayed his entrance.

“How do I introduce him to the audience so that the first time they hear him, they understand he is a completely radical, unforgivable event in the Egyptians’ history, and they have to destroy him?” Mr. Glass recalled asking himself. “I’ll make him a countertenor, to sound not unnatural, but radical. Radical can be natural. He just was who he was.”

“The had up with his music,” Mr. Guérin said. “The Philip Glass sound became digestible to audiences. If had told the people in that the composer of ‘Music in Twelve Parts’ would be able to maintain his musical and score pictures, they wouldn’t have believed you. But he got to be himself.”



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