Monday, January 26, 2009

Oh, Mr. Glass?

(Reflection, written yesterday, on a performance of AKHNATEN, music by Philip Glass, production by the Atlanta Opera.)

Guess who I ran into this evening? I was at Emory University's Shwartz Center to see the Atlanta Opera's "staged concert" version of Philip Glass's 1984 opera Akhnaten, and I ended up in a seat across the aisle from the composer. During intermission, as everyone milled about, I touched his arm to get his attention, and he smiled but kept moving on to meet an acquaintance.

If he had stopped, I would have said something like this: "I caught your show up at the Met last spring. Loved it.

"Your music has brought me great joy these past 23 years since I first heard 'Glassworks.'

"I'm enjoying this one, too. The very first CD I bought was the recording of Akhnaten, so I've known the music a long time. It's great to see that it works as a drama, too, not just as a piece of music. For the story of the Pharoah who topples the old regime and devotes his life, and his kingdom's vast resources, to worship one true God, you courageously took time to unfold it with the stately pace of religious ritual.

"I'll admit that I'm still not sure what you intend for us to see in the figure of Akhnaten. Are we to see him as a visionary leader perhaps too wise and too good for the brutal and entrenched Egyptian elite, or as the self-indulgent playboy so wrapped up with Nefertiti and his sensuous sun-worship that he thoughtlessly puts his kingdom at risk?

"But what I really mean to tell you applies to this show, and Satyagraha, and to many of your other scores for concert halls and movies.

"You helped me see music -- clear as glass, ahem. When melody is only four notes ascending a scale, the shifting of harmony by a downward step in the bass line stands out, and we understand how harmony works. When the beat is steady, we appreciate how you use counterpoint to fill gaps in the pattern. You add elements to the texture one at a time.

"Until I heard your music, I was daunted by the complexity of composers I loved. You show us how the music works, and that's a great pleasure. More, it made me feel that this was something I could do, and something I wanted to do, and that has been a joy.

"Hope you enjoy your stay in Atlanta! Oh, and have you heard the latest?"

Knock, knock. Who's there?
Knock, knock. Who's there?
Knock, knock. Who's there?
Knock, knock. Who's there?
Knock, knock. Who's there?
Philip Glass.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I was at the Sunday concert with my mom (having flown out from SF specifically for the performance). We lucked into seats in the first row. At intermission, I too, caught Mr Glass as he went back to his seat. Like a giddy fool, I told him how much I enjoyed all his work and shook his hand. He clearly wanted to get back to his seat. Nonetheless, the event was incredible, especially seeing it after the discussion he had before hand giving some insights into the creation of the work.