One of the most profound theatrical experiences I have had in my life was seeing Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach in Melbourne back in the early 90’s. Conducting the work himself, with the original cast and production, he captured the audience with his musical/mathematical genius and the resulting ovation was justly deserved. I sat there for three hours without a break, as the opera should be performed, sick as a dog at the time with the flu but unwilling to let this experience pass me by and to this day I am glad I did.
First introduced to the music of Glass by an old friend back in 1990, it was Einstein on the Beach in its original LP pressing, and once I found out that he had composed an opera about Akhenaten I quickly sought it out and instantly became a devotee. Often described as a Minimalist, a term I find somewhat misleading when referring to Glass’ music, his music is more complex than than minimalist and based more on the melodic line favoured by the composer he cites as the most influential on his music: J.S. Bach and Mozart. Listen to the cascading violin line in much of Einstein on the Beach and you will definitely hear the influence of Bach there (example below).
Over his long and successful career Philip Glass has been very prolific, composing everything from piano etudes to movie soundtracks to major operas and has worked with some incredible musicians from all walks of musical life, most notable are the Kronos Quartet, Suzanne Vegas, Mick Jagger and Paul Simon to name a few. Satyagraha, the second opera in his 'Portrait' series is indeed now in the repertoire of the Metropolitan Opera with a spectacular production that is sure to win new devotees to Glass' music.
He is in Perth this year for the Perth International Arts Festival performing his Piano Etudes together with the pianists Maki Namekawa and Sally Whitwell.
Instead of this I’ll be attending A Conversation with Philip Glass that’s taking place at the Astor Theatre on February 15, which looks like an excellent opportunity to hear one of Modern Music’s most influential figures talk about his own work and career.
Here are the final moments from Einstein on the Beach, entitled Knee Play 5. It contains one of the most original love duets in opera, original in that the lovers do not sing, but their scene is mimed to a narration by the bus driver. It is one of the most sublimely beautiful expressions of love on disc and a brilliant way to end the opera.
Happy Birthday Philip Glass, I’m excited by my upcoming opportunity to revel in your musical brilliance once again.