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Philip Glass At 75: Listening With Heart, Not Intellect

 Composer Philip Glass, who helped change the landscape of American music, says he finally knows what he’s doing.

January 31, 2012

Composer Philip Glass changed the landscape of American music. As a founder of minimalism, Glass came up with a new way to make music and, with it, brought a new audience to the concert halls. Tuesday is Glass’ 75th birthday, and the music world is celebrating in a big way with performances and festivals around the globe — including the premiere of Glass’ latest work at Carnegie Hall.

Even on a frigid Saturday in January, the street outside Glass’ East Village home crackles with traffic and pedestrians. Inside his brick townhouse, where he composes, Glass says he has created what he calls an “oasis of tranquility.”

“Notice how quiet it is here? Those are very expensive windows. I have them all over the house,” Glass says. “And at one point I realized, look, it’s like — it’s like looking at a silent movie. You can’t hear the cars.”

He can’t hear the people passing by his windows on the street, but Glass says he has always been interested in what they’re listening to.

“The Fillmore East was only a block away from where we’re sitting right now,” Glass says. “The East Village was the hub for that. I could hear that music. And I could go there. I could see a wall of speakers. When I went to see the Jefferson Airplane — a wall of speakers. I could hear amplified sound. And everybody could listen to it. And they did listen to it. And I’m thinking, ‘Wait a second. How come when I go up to the Columbia Princeton concerts of modern music, there’s just composers or their friends?’ And these were very accomplished composers.”

Bringing It All Back

Glass was one of another group of accomplished composers in the 1960s — including Steve Reich and Terry Riley — who made a conscious effort to reach the popular audience. Up to that point, much of 20th-century music had been focused on increasing harmonic and rhythmic complexity.

“What Glass did was go back to the most basic tonality you could have — major keys, minor keys — and to take small segments of music and repeat them over and over, changing them slowly along the way in his early music,” New York Times music critic Allan Kozinn says. “He called it ‘additive process.’

“So you might have a four-note theme that would become a five-note theme, a six-note theme, and then maybe one of the original notes would disappear. And these things would keep unfolding in a very sort of organic way. And that was a style that he created. And it was — even by comparison with the other so-called ‘minimalists’ at the time, you could listen to a piece by Philip Glass and know it was Philip Glass.”

Glass worked out his ideas over the course of a decade, playing keyboards with his own ensemble, which included strings, reeds, voice, electric pianos and organ. He says that period ended in 1976 with an opera called Einstein on the Beach, an abstract contemplation of the life of Albert Einstein. Kozinn says it marked a turning point in Glass’ career.

“It really was kind of a shot across the bow,” Kozinn says. “It was done at the Metropolitan Opera. It was getting a lot of attention. And I think that piece is so big because it woke so many people up and told them that something new is happening in New Music. And it’s not just more angular melodies and atonality. It’s something completely else, and a lot of people are going to hear this.”

A new production of Einstein on the Beach begins a world tour this spring, as part of the composer’s 75th-birthday celebration. Glass says he hasn’t changed a note, but it’s going to sound better.

“When we were playing Einstein in 1976, we were just beginning to learn how to play it,” Glass says. “Now, young players can come and play with us now, and they know how to play it because they’ve been playing the music in schools. They’ve heard it for years. This, as a style of music, is current.”

‘An Unerring Sense For The Drama’

After Einstein, Glass expanded his palette. His second opera, Satyagraha, told the story of Gandhi, but this time with a full orchestra, a conventional libretto in Sanskrit and a more expressive, even Romantic approach.

Conductor Dennis Russell Davies has been collaborating with Glass on operas and symphonies for 30 years.

“Philip has an unerring sense for the drama in music,” Davies says. “There are parts in the pieces where people’s breath is taken away. And it’s this experience in music that so many listeners want to have — when you listen with your heart and not with your intellect.”

Tuesday night, Davies will lead the American Composer’s Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in the North American premiere of Glass’ Ninth Symphony.

“You know, we’ve heard this from Philip for the last 40 years,” Davies says. “But what he does with this material, what he does with the instrumentation, what he does with the framework of the piece, with the dramaturgy of the piece — Philip is a master at building expectations and delivering them.”

How Writers Learn To Write

Over the past 40 years, Glass has composed more than 20 operas along with symphonies, film scores, chamber music and works for solo piano. He says he doesn’t know how many of his compositions will survive the test of time, and that he doesn’t care now that he finally knows what he’s doing.

“What this amount of music has done for me is taught me how to write music,” Glass says. “Oh, I had great teachers. Boulanger was one. Another was Ravi Shankar. And I went through the Juilliard process, and that was good, too. But I really learned from writing, which is how painters learn to paint, and writers learn to write, and how even dancers learn to dance. In a way, that’s true. But what was the value of being so prolific? It’s how I learned my trade.”

Philip Glass still plies that trade at 75. He has already finished his Tenth Symphony, and now he’s working on two new operas. His advice to a middle-aged reporter: “Don’t ever slow down.”



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Brunch Idea: Fresh Dosai Makes Leftovers New


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On This Day: January 31

Updated January 30, 2012, 1:28 pm

NYT Front Page

On Jan. 31, 1865, the House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery.

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On Jan. 31, 1919, Jackie Robinson, who made history in 1947 by becoming the first black baseball player in the major leagues, was born. Following his death on Oct. 24, 1972, his obituary appeared in The Times.

Go to obituary » | Other birthdays »

On This Date

By The Associated Press

1606 Guy Fawkes, convicted for his part in the Gunpowder Plot against the English Parliament and King James I, was executed.
1797 Composer Franz Schubert was born in Vienna, Austria.
1865 Robert E. Lee was named general-in-chief of the Confederate armies.
1917 Germany announced a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare.
1919 Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, who broke the sport’s color barrier in 1947, was born in Cairo, Ga.
1944 U.S. forces invaded the Japanese-held Marshall Islands during World War II.
1945 Private Eddie Slovik became the only U.S. soldier since the Civil War to be executed for desertion.
1949 The first TV daytime soap opera, “These Are My Children,” was broadcast by the NBC station in Chicago.
1950 President Harry S. Truman announced that he had ordered development of the hydrogen bomb.
1971 Astronauts Alan B. Shepard Jr., Edgar D. Mitchell and Stuart A. Roosa blasted off aboard Apollo 14 on the third successful manned mission to the moon.
1990 McDonald’s Corp. opened its first fast-food restaurant in Moscow.
2000 An Alaska Airlines jet plunged into the ocean off Southern California on a flight from Mexico to San Francisco, killing all 88 people on board.
2001 A Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands convicted one Libyan and acquitted a second in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
2006 Samuel Alito was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as a Supreme Court justice.
2006 The Senate approved Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve.
2011 Egypt’s military promised not to fire on peaceful protests and recognized “the legitimacy of the people’s demands.”
2011 Myanmar opened its first parliament in more than two decades.

Current Birthdays

By The Associated Press

Justin Timberlake, Singer, actor

Singer-actor Justin Timberlake turns 31 years old today.

AP Photo/Evan Agostini

Nolan Ryan, Baseball Hall of Famer, executive

Baseball Hall of Famer and Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan turns 65 years old today.

AP Photo/LM Otero

1921 Carol Channing, Actress, turns 91
1931 Ernie Banks, Baseball Hall of Famer, turns 81
1937 Philip Glass, Composer, turns 75
1938 Queen Beatrix, Queen of the Netherlands, turns 74
1941 Richard Gephardt, Former House minority leader, turns 71
1941 Jessica Walter, Actress (“Arrested Development”), turns 71
1951 KC, Singer, musician (KC and the Sunshine Band), turns 61
1956 Johnny Rotten, Rock singer (The Sex Pistols), turns 56
1959 Anthony LaPaglia, Actor (“Without a Trace”), turns 53
1970 Minnie Driver, Actress, turns 42
1973 Portia de Rossi, Actress (“Arrested Development,” “Ally McBeal”), turns 39
1977 Bobby Moynihan, Actor, comedian (“Saturday Night Live”), turns 35
1977 Kerry Washington, Actress, turns 35

Historic Birthdays

Jackie Robinson 1/31/1919 – 10/24/1972 African/American baseball player.Go to obituary »
72 Robert Morris 1/31/1734 – 5/8/1806
American merchant/banker
54 Andre-Jacques Garnerin 1/31/1769 – 8/18/1823
French parachutist
85 Charles Green 1/31/1785 – 3/26/1870
English balloonist
70 Sam Loyd 1/31/1841 – 4/10/1911
American puzzlemaker
58 George Perkins 1/31/1862 – 6/18/1920
American insurance executive
67 Zane Grey 1/31/1872 – 10/23/1939
American Western writer
49 Anna Pavlova 1/31/1881 (O.S.) – 1/23/1931
Russian ballerina
72 Eddie Cantor 1/31/1892 – 10/10/1964
American comedian
84 Alva Myrdal 1/31/1902 – 2/1/1986
Swedish diplomat
65 John O’Hara 1/31/1905 – 4/11/1970
American writer
53 Thomas Merton 1/31/1915 – 12/10/1968
American Catholic monk/poet


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Excelsior, Thy Name is Simplicity!

This was a post first published in my private blog almost exactly three years ago today.  I don’t recall what exactly prompted me to pen these thoughts at the time, but reading them now, I see they have a timeless quality to them, and it is therefore with a quiet smugness on a cold wintry night that I publish it yet again.  May it be that we take never fail to take pleasure in the simplest of things always!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

 So, I’ve just been thinking about the big and the small things in our lives that have the power to lift us high…

There’s the big things, of course, that raise your spirits and give you the top-of-the-mountain feeling. Things like aceing that test, or getting that job you wanted, or being told you are going to have a baby, and then having it, of course.

And then there are the smallest of things that move you and lift you so high, you wonder what gives… things like a compliment you receive for an ordinary banana-chocolatechip-walnut cake you might have made, or something small you might have said that made someone feel good, that days later they call you to tell you that it meant something to them.

So, here’s to the small and simple today. Excelsior, thy name is simplicity!


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On This Day: January 30

Updated January 29, 2012, 1:28 pm

NYT Front Page

On Jan. 30, 1948, Indian political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi was murdered by a Hindu extremist.

Go to article »

On Jan. 30, 1882, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, was born. Following his death on April 12, 1945, his obituary appeared in The Times.

Go to obituary » | Other birthdays »

On This Date

By The Associated Press

1649 England’s King Charles I was beheaded.
1882 Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, was born in Hyde Park, N.Y.
1883 James Ritty and John Birch received a U.S. patent for the first cash register.
1933 The first episode of the “Lone Ranger” was broadcast on radio station WXYZ in Detroit.
1948 Indian political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi was murdered by a Hindu extremist.
1968 The Tet offensive began as Communist forces launched surprise attacks against South Vietnamese provincial capitals.
1969 The Beatles performed in public for the last time in a 45-minute gig on the roof of their Apple Records headquarters in London.
1972 Thirteen Roman Catholic civil rights marchers were shot to death by British soldiers in Northern Ireland on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
2003 Richard Reid, a British citizen and al-Qaida follower, was sentenced to life in prison by a federal judge in Boston for trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic jetliner with explosives hidden in his shoes.
2005 Iraqis voted in their country’s first free election in a half-century.
2006 Coretta Scott King, the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., died at age 78.
2007 Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system went on sale.

Current Birthdays

By The Associated Press

Vanessa Redgrave, Actress

Actress Vanessa Redgrave turns 75 years old today.

AP Photo/Joel Ryan

Christian Bale, Actor (“The Dark Knight,” “Batman Begins”)

Actor Christian Bale (“The Dark Knight,” “Batman Begins”) turns 38 years old today.

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

1925 Dorothy Malone, Actress, turns 87
1928 Harold Prince, Producer, director, turns 84
1930 Gene Hackman, Actor, turns 82
1934 Tammy Grimes, Actress, turns 78
1941 Dick Cheney, Former vice president, turns 71
1942 Marty Balin, Rock singer (Jefferson Airplane/Starship), turns 70
1951 Phil Collins, Rock singer, musician (Genesis), turns 61
1951 Charles S. Dutton, Actor, turns 61
1958 Brett Butler, Actress, comedian (“Grace Under Fire”), turns 54
1959 Jody Watley, R&B singer, turns 53
1962 King Abdullah II, King of Jordan, turns 50
1967 Norbert Leo Butz, Actor, turns 45
1974 Carl Broemel, Rock musician (My Morning Jacket), turns 38
1980 Wilmer Valderrama, Actor (“That ’70s Show”), turns 32

Historic Birthdays

Franklin Roosevelt 1/30/1882 – 4/12/1945 America’s 32nd President.Go to obituary »
59 George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham 1/30/1628 – 4/16/1687
English politician
60 Bernardo Bellotto 1/30/1720 – 10/17/1780
Italian “Vedute” painter
70 Philip Henry Stanhope 1/30/1805 – 12/24/1875
English politician/historian
54 Samuel Armstrong 1/30/1839 – 5/11/1893
American founder of Hampton Institute
58 Felix Faure 1/30/1841 – 2/16/1899
6th President of French Republic
64 Edward Martyn 1/30/1859 – 12/5/1923
Irish dramatist
88 Walter Damrosch 1/30/1862 – 12/22/1950
Prussian-bn.American conductor
78 Roy Eldridge 1/30/1911 – 2/26/1989
American musician
77 Barbara Tuchman 1/30/1912 – 2/6/1989
American author/historian
87 Livia Drusilla 1/30/58BC – //AD 29
Political wife of Emperor Augustus


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Undecided? So Is Bert!


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