Monumental Glass at 80 experience draws to a close
Composer and pianist Philip Glass is a perfect choice to headline a series for Carolina Performing Arts. Not only is he a world-renowned composer and performer, he and his work also embody many of the signature qualities associated with CPA under the leadership of Executive and Artistic Director Emil Kang: iconic, international, eclectic, creative, educational, collaborative, original, relatable.
“In a nutshell, Philip is wildly creative and brave; humble, yet provocative; and perhaps above all else, intensely curious and inclined toward collaboration with artists from diverse backgrounds,” wrote Kang and Amy Russell, director of programming, in a note in the festival program. “With this festival, we have attempted to bring to UNC something from every corner of his astounding creative output: symphonic music, collaborations with rock and electronic musicians, solo piano music, chamber music, music for modern dance, music for film, and opera.”
The 10-day Glass at 80 festival is drawing to a close, but so far it has included:
- the second-ever performance of his Symphony No. 11 (a day after its debut in Carnegie Hall);
- 10 pianists playing his 20 Piano Etudes in one performance, in a format never before performed outside of New York City; and
- a revival of the 1979 masterpiece Dance, a music-dance-film collaboration with Lucinda Childs and her dance company and visual artist Sol LeWitt.
The campus closing on Feb. 3 caused by a water emergency forced the cancellation of the Glass symphony tribute to his friend David Bowie’s Heroes album with a Merge Records super group performance of Heroes songs. [Note: The Heroes tribute has been rescheduled for 7:30 p.m. March 5.]
Still to come are the Kronos Quartet and Glass performing his score live during a screening of Dracula, the 1931 classic starring Bela Lugosi, and a rare musical collaboration with fellow avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson that includes Glass’s Monsters of Grace song cycle, poetry readings and his songs with lyrics by 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi.
The festival also offers the community the opportunity to hear the stories behind his music from the composer himself. In Parts of My World, Part 1 (7 p.m. Feb. 8 at Gerrard Hall), Glass will talk about the collaborations that have fueled his work, especially the ones at the Juilliard scene in the 1950s and downtown New York City in the 1960s and 1970s. In Parts of My World, Part 2 (4:30 p.m. Feb. 9 in Ackland Art Museum), he will be joined by singer-songwriter Anderson as they discuss how their work intersected so well in the avant-garde art world of 1970s New York, among other topics, the day before their joint concert, which closes the festival.
Among the 10 pianists performing his Piano Etudes 1-20 were assistant professor of music Clara Yang and undergraduate Margaret Lynch. Interviewed before the Feb. 6 performance, Yang eagerly anticipated performing Glass’s work with the composer. “It is definitely a great honor to participate in this,” Yang said. “He is an icon. Everyone has heard of Philip Glass. Most non-musicians know who he is.”
Those who have never listened to Glass’s symphonies, operas or etudes have probably heard his work. In latter decades, he has become a prolific, and acclaimed, composer of film scores. Glass has earned Oscar nominations for scoring the films Kundun, The Hours and Notes on a Scandal and a Golden Globe for The Truman Story.
Yang had listened to Glass’s music before, but this performance was her first time playing it. She performed Piano Etudes 11 and 12. “When I first read [Piano Etude 11], I was immediately struck by how romantic it is. It’s very romantic and beautiful,” she said. Piano Etude 12 struck her as similar to the works of classical composer Franz Schubert, a composer Glass has cited as a major influence on his work.
A globetrotting performer herself, Yang enjoys working with living composers and has found them to be very encouraging of her putting her own stamp on the music. “Great composers allow freedom,” said Yang, who worked with Chinese composer Chen Yi last year. She performed the world premiere of his Four Spirits with the China Philharmonic Orchestra in the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing and the U.S. premiere in Chapel Hill. The piece was commissioned by CPA specifically for Yang.
She hadn’t met Glass yet, but heard from composer and pianist Timo Andres, who has worked with him many times, that Glass has a similar view.
Glass at 80 is an event that not many communities of Chapel Hill’s size get to experience. “The impact is enormous,” Yang said. “What CPA is doing is really incredible. I envy the undergraduate students here.”
–Susan Hudson, Gazette