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The New York Times Arts & Leisure Weekend 2012 Presents Philip Glass

- Classical and Cultural Connections

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The New York Times

Arts & Leisure Weekend 2012

Presents Philip Glass

Interviewed by Robin Pogrebin

The Times Center

The New York Times Building
242 West 41st Street
New York, NY 10018

Press: Keith Sherman & Associates

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 7, 2012

From January 5th to January 8th, 2012, The New York Times presented its annual Arts & Leisure Weekend, which began in 2001, in a sophisticated, live arts and culture series of talks and interviews. Some of the esteemed and featured guests were stars and creators of the television series “The Good Wife”, filmmakers of “50/50”, Seth Rogan and Will Reiser, actress in “Drive” and “Shame”, Carey Mulligan, actor and director, Alan Rickman, and composer and musician, Philip Glass. New York Times journalists moderated or interviewed the guests, who were allocated one hour and fifteen minutes each, including audience questions. Philip Glass was interviewed by Robin Pogrebin.

Mr. Glass sat onstage in a dark suit, as did Ms. Pogrebin, but the conversation was dynamic and filled with the musical colorations of Mr. Glass’ past and current projects. Mr. Glass’ repertoire encompasses music for his own group, the Philip Glass Ensemble, plus music for orchestra, film, opera, theater, dance, and the Olympics. His film scores include “Notes on a Scandal”, and he has composed and presented nine symphonies. On January 31, 2012, he will present, at Carnegie Hall, his Ninth Symphony, on the date of his 75th birthday, with the American Composers Orchestra. His first Symphony was presented in 1992. Mr. Glass’ dance music has been frequently featured in this magazine, especially his score for Jerome Robbins’ “Glass Pieces”, but also Christopher D’Amboise’s “Circle of Fifths”, Eliot Feld’s “Étoile Polaire”, Jorma Elo’s “Close to Chuck”, and Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room”, among others. I always find Mr. Glass’ music mesmerizing, gripping, and ever so energizing, making the dance moments magical. Looking over my own reviews of countless ballet performances to his scores, I found just as many other scores, noted as “evocative of Philip Glass”. His music is the standard by which I judge other scores of similar repetitive, hypnotic effect.

Philip Glass is a man whose mind is filled with music, and it was such a delight to listen to his tongue in cheek humor and fascinating take on the state of the arts, plus his multitudinous plans for decades to come. He said he’s happy to have reached 75 in good shape, mentally and physically, and he began the session chatting about his musical events at the Park Avenue Armory, the Met Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and Carnegie Hall. When asked about large crowds of fans, he mentioned the 1984 Olympics, when a billion people watched and heard his music. He spoke about cultivating his audiences, remembering days when 25% would walk out at some point. He brought up his love of politics and its place in music, as well. The opera oeuvres are performed in Europe before the US, and he travels extensively.

One of Mr. Glass’ passions is making music accessible to students. His audiences “stay young” as he gets older. He remembered how important school bands were, when he was young, and how the arts have been gutted from education budgets. He lamented the demise of the arts as freely accessible to youth. But he’s thrilled about the advent of the electronic age, and wants “to be part of it”. When asked about the element of repetition in his works, he argued that the notes actually change, if you look at the written scores. “In order for music to be listenable, it has to change”. He referred to his “Music in 12 Parts” (throughout the session, recorded excerpts were played), and he spoke of Part 1 as a chord, with “all the parts coming out of one chord”. He told us that “music is a place. I go there every day and every night.” He’s constantly shifting his thinking on the meaning of music itself.

When asked about his impressions of fellow musicians, who play his compositions, he had mixed feelings. Mr. Glass said that “the art of the performer is to re-create the work”, and that he prefers to play the music himself. He enters the work as a performer, not a composer. Yet, a moment later, he praised performers, generically, who use their creativity and “go places I wouldn’t have gone”. That’s why he avoids early rehearsals, so they can explore his works and enhance them uniquely. Mr. Glass wrote his first piece at 15 years old, so he’s been active in the music community for 60 years, since his teens at the University of Chicago, then Juilliard, then Europe, studying with Nadia Boulanger. In 1967, Mr. Glass formed the Philip Glass Ensemble. He cites his father’s love of records and vaudevillian music as his earliest musical inspiration. During the post-interview Q&A, Mr. Glass told us about working with Ravi Shankar, as his assistant, notating music for recordings. His love of the Eastern musical genres expanded and enhanced his compositions. Mr. Glass expressed a confidence in new composers under 30, who bring fresh ideas into the music community. At this point, I noticed the lovely hills of grass and birch trees that can be gazed upon, while attending events at The Times Center. The countless windows of the Renzo Piano New York Times building reflect upon each other, metaphorically.

Philip Glass
Courtesy of Steve Pyke

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at