“Practically from the moment [that I first learned about Akhnaten] … I knew I had found the subject for my third opera,” Glass recalls in his 1987 autobiography. After the genre-busting success of Einstein on the Beach (1976) and Satyagraha (1980), Akhnaten rounded out what would come to be known as the composer’s Portrait Trilogy, a triptych of operas focused on innovators from across disciplines. “Akhnaten completed the trilogy in many satisfying ways.”. “If Einstein epitomized the man of Science and Gandhi the man of Politics, then Akhnaten would be the man of Religion.”
– Philip Glass
After Einstein on the Beach, Glass’ epic five-hour masterpiece and the best excuse for a trip to Amsterdam back in 2013, it was such a privilege to watch the third part of the trilogy, at the Metropolitan Opera no less.
Now, if only we could catch Satyagraha sometime, someplace…
We were there too, with a couple of hundred more admirers, sharing the same space with one of the most important musical minds of the century – and the century before, enjoying a casual conversation about his life, friends, lineage [”covers a lot of things… but the important thing about lineage is the connectiveness”], lessons learned from his father, Ben, like mental chess or, the most important of them all, how to listen…
[”Father had a record store…”][”…After a whole day in a music store he went home and listened to music. If he had records in the store and couldn’t sell them, he wanted to see what’s wrong with them. So he brought them home and listened to them. His idea was, if he could find out what’s wrong with them he could buy the right records… Pieces he brought home were mostly modern pieces; it could be Shostakovich… Bartók, and he would listen to them over and over… he became kind of expert on modern music… and his little store in Baltimore became the place to go when you were looking for modern music…”]Paul: ”I love the story of John Cage saying to you: ”It’s good… But there are too many notes!”
Philip: ”No, he never said it was good…! Don’t make it better than it was!” ”He said: ”Philip…. Too many notes!” And I said: ”John, I’m one of your children whether you like it or not…”Thoughts, pauses, reflections, life fragments, anecdotes, friends; his epic Einstein on the Beach; the inspiration he took from Rothko’s vision; his creative combination of live performance with film in La Belle et la Bête; his memories of Moondog, the mighty Viking of 6th Avenue… the fact that he worked as a plumber and, more adventurously, as a taxi driver to fund his music. [”At some point, I began to ask myself where did the music come from; then, I decided to write music because it would be a way to learn where it came from. But it turned out not to be true… I spent the rest of my life trying to answer that question… and I still can’t…”]
Paul Holdengräber, founder and director of Live from the NYPL talk series, was the host.
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