By Nancy T. Lu
An encounter with composer Philip Glass, then 59, in
one December day in 1996 convinced me to attend his piano recital the next day. There was a compelling reason to listen to the music interpretation as he originally intended it. Taipei
“When I compose music,” confessed Glass, “there are many things I don’t write down. Musicians will never play the way I do. This is the most perfect copyright.”
He went on: “I don’t like to hear other musicians play my music. It always sounds wrong. It’s not their fault. It’s my fault.”
Glass remarked: “Improvisation is not a technique I am familiar with. I have no talent for improvising. I have decided to leave it for my enjoyment.”
The composer made reference to his love for jazz music. In the 1950s, Glass went to school in
, then a great center for jazz. Charlie Parker, his idol of sorts then, played at the Beehive Club. But at the age of 15, Glass could not even get in. Chicago
In his youth, he managed nonetheless to go and listen to jazz often. John Coltrane he heard many, many times. There was also Miles Davis.
program that time consisted of “pieces written in the last 20 years.” The first half of the concert was devoted to music composed between 1975 and 1990. The second half featured more recent works. Taipei
Glass played an excerpt from “Witchita Vortex Sutra,” “Five Metamorphoses,” “The Fourth Knee Play” (excerpt from “Einstein on the Beach”), “Six Etudes” and an excerpt from “Satyagraha.”
When Philip Glass is composing music, he finds the piano very useful. According to him, he can imagine a piece of music in his mind, adding though “but it is difficult to project the music in real time.” This is where the piano comes in.
“When I play on the piano,” he explained, “I hear the music playing in time. But it doesn’t mean that I am playing the entire piece. Like in the case of the opera, I can’t play the chorus.”
He elaborated: “I like the piano for my physical movement – with my hands and body.”
As a composer, Glass delights in treading on unfamiliar grounds. As he put it, “When I have to work with African music, I have to learn music all over again.”
He constantly tries to find and focus on something he doesn’t know anything about. At the time of his
Taipei visit, he was excited about composing a piece for a chamber orchestra in . This was to involve collaboration with Chinese pipa player or lutanist Stuttgart Wu Man.
Many gifted contemporary artists engaged in diverse disciplines show very little discipline almost as a rule. Glass though was somewhat embarrassed to talk about his own discipline as a composer.
According to his own observation, his concentration gets better as he grows older. He also shows more discipline. His technique improves, too.
“What makes me happy is to wake up early in the morning – like at six o’clock – and to know that I have nothing to do but to write music,” he said.