In a conversation with a co-worker the other day, it was suggested that I am a Philip Glass groupie. (It was also suggested that this was “cute”, a statement which rankles, honestly.) But the facts are these: I am currently at the Portland International Airport, drinking a mediocre Rogue Stout while I wait to board a flight to Los Angeles, where I will spend the night at a somewhat-sketch Airbnb, all in support of seeing the LA Opera’s production of Philip Glass’s opera Akhnaten.
My introduction to Glass’ music came when I was in high school. As I remember it, my family used to rent “Koyannisquatsi” on VHS tape from our local movie rental place on a semi-regular basis. It’s kind of odd now to remember my whole family gathered around the TV in rapt attention. The music of Philip Glass does tend to draw and sharpen focus, but I can’t imagine anything that would similarly enrapture my family today. Our attention spans have become withered and sapped. But I digress.
I first saw a live performance of Glass’ music in Eugene, in 1988, at the Hult Auditorium. I was in college and it was a production of “1000 Airplanes on the Roof.” I don’t quite recall how I got the tickets. I think they were being handed out free to students in the theater department (I was still a drama major at that point.) But if I *am* a Philip Glass groupie (and I think it is fair to say that I am, though I still refuse to admit that is “cute”) that performance was when it started. Because Philip Glass music experienced live is really far more wonderful and astonishing than any recording.
In 2001, I went to see Philip Glass live in Portland at a performance of “Dracula“. Philip Glass himself signed my CD box set of his Symphony #5 (which was, at the time, my favorite Glass symphony.) I ended up later giving the signed CDs to a guy with whom I had a desperate and intense fling. The guy is long gone, and now I kind of regret my impulsiveness. But really, both the gifting and the regret seem a fitting part of this story.
In 2005 I traveled to see the premiere of Symphony #7 at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. It was the day after the second inauguration of George W. Bush. It was bitterly cold, and I was as unimpressed with the symphony as I was by the President who had just been inaugurated. It sounded very rehashed and familiar (moreso than usual for Glass music, which always features a lot of “creative recycling”, to put it generously) and later I discovered that one passage which had sounded *really* familiar, but I couldn’t place, had been lifted exactly from one of his earlier movie works.
In 2012, I traveled to Berkeley to see “Einstein on the Beach.” This performance was life-changing for me, probably the most affecting piece of theater/music I have ever seen. The fact that no one was there to experience it with me is another regret … But like the regret over the CDs I gave away, it is a fitting part of this story.
Since 2012, I have dragged my sister to see “In the Penal Colony” in Boston (which neither of us much cared for, and parts of which were so ridiculous I rocked the seats of the people around us with silent laughter) as well as a brief performance of one Glass piece at Carnegie Hall this past October.
And now, Akhnaten.
The weird thing is, I know Glass is “lowbrow”. Bourgeois and pretentious. If you like Glass you’re presenting yourself as “smart” or at least “sophisticated.” I hate that part of being a Glass “groupie”. Because I do truly enjoy his music. The formality of it, the cleanliness, the control, the subtle evolutions of rhythm. I like to think I like Glass for the “right” reasons, that I’m not just cute and precious and full of myself.
But I probably am. And damn, I still wish I had those CDs back. 😁