Notes (2002/02/03)

Sunday, February 3, 2002 at 3pm
Philip Glass 65th Birthday Concert


Philip GlassPassages was a collaboration composed with Ravi Shankar in 1989. We had met years before in Paris in 1965, when as a young composer, I had been hired to be his assistant on the film score Chappaqua. This encounter had a tremendous impact on my own music leading to many visits to India, profound changes in my music, and a lifelong friendship with Ravi.

In 1989 Private Music’s Peter Baumann invited Ravi and I to do a record project together. We met in Los Angeles in the spring of 1989 to try out a few ideas. I arrived with my long time music producer Kurt Munkacsi and met with Ravi and a small group of Indian musicians including his son Shubhandra Shankar. We spent the next several weeks together conceptualizing and partly composing a six-part work that we later named Passages.

Our plan was to compose music themes for each other which would then be completed in new compositions. I gave Ravi two themes for his compositions “Ragas in Minor Scale” and “Sadhanipa.” Ravi gave me two themes for my compositions “Offering” and “Meetings Along the Edge.” In addition we each contributed compositions entirely our own, mine being “Channels and Winds” and Ravi’s “Prashanti.”

The music in today’s concert-“Offering,” “Meetings Along the Edge,” and “Channels and Winds”-represents about half of the music recorded the following year. The music for this premiere was arranged for the American Composers Orchestra and the Raschèr Quartet by Dennis Russell Davies.

-Philip Glass

Symphony 6, “Plutonian Ode”
Text by Allen Ginsberg

During the last ten years of Allen’s life we had performed frequently together in poetry/music collaborations. Allen was a superb reader of his own work and I was often inspired to compose new piano music for these occasional collaborations. In the case of Hydrogen Jukebox, we developed an evening length “opera” which was designed by Jerome Sirlin and directed by Ann Carlson. We presented that work in over 30 cities as part of an international tour.

It had been our plan to make a new, major collaboration based on his epic poem Plutonium Ode (1978). Before he died in 1997, Allen had made several recordings for me of the poem in preparation for the new work. At that time I had in mind simply an extended piano work to accompany Allen in live performance. I put aside the project in 1997, feeling that I wouldn’t want to go ahead without Allen. A few years past and the commission of a new symphony from Carnegie Hall and the Brucknerhaus Linz reawakened my interest in the project. I felt, then, that Plutonium Ode was unfinished business between Allen and myself and this would be the opportunity to complete it. By then, the piano music I had originally imagined had grown to a full orchestra and Allen’s resonant speaking voice to a lyric soprano.

The three movements of the symphony follow the three parts of the poem, and follow, also, the passage of the poem-the first movement a passionate outcry against nuclear contamination and pollution, the second a turn towards healing, and the final movement an epiphany arrived at through personal transformation.

-Philip Glass