Friday, November 30, 2007

Glass works

I have a confession to make to Philip Glass: I’ve been taking him for granted. Never mind that some of my most thrilling musical moments have been at live Glass performances, I simply have not kept up and never think of playing his music while I’m working. That changed when I suddenly decided to more thoroughly investigate the contents of my iTunes by going through it alphabetically, which meant that I was just as likely to be listening to a College Art Association lecture or French poetry as Gorillaz. One of things that surfaced in my experiment was the piano opening of Glassworks (1982) and I was surprised at how beautiful it was after not hearing it all these years. That rediscovery coincided with an article by Alex Ross in the November 5th issue of The New Yorker on new works by Glass. Ross points out that the hullabaloo over Steve Reich’s 70th birthday was substantially greater than that over Glass’s, and notes that much of the problem with Glass’s credibility among intellectuals is that he writes faster than most of us can listen (“I just got sick of him,” my friend Maria said when I told her what I was writing about). Well on Ross’s advice I bought (from Amazon, it’s not down-loadable) Glass’s Eighth Symphony (2005), and have found it very listenable and not at all predictable and repetitious as I expected (“It’s a dirty job,” a rock musician friend once said when I played him Music with Changing Parts, “but somebody has to do it”). Much of the Eighth Symphony sounds like a Wagner/Glass mash-up or Wagner if he wasn’t always portending something, and had listened to a lot of Philip Glass. Glass also portends, but it’s a slow build and more about the journey than the payoff. In alphabetical order on my iTunes what comes after the Eighth Symphony is Passages (1990), Glass’s collaboration with Ravi Shankar, and rediscovering that as well has been delightful--parts that remind me of the other-worldly trill of the wood thrush, along with sections that are surprisingly Paul Winter-ish. However if I’m going to continue to play Glass I have to be careful to make a separate playlist for him because if I stay on the alphabetical track what comes after Philip is the Pixies, and that’s a tough transition.

Then there was the week my iPod got a mind of its own and refused to play anything but Oasis …but that’s another story.

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