Philip Glass in Athens: Interview

Everything about Leonard's 2006 book of poetry and Anjani's album
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Philip Glass in Athens: Interview

Post by Dem » Mon Jun 23, 2008 7:50 pm

The Sunday edition of the major
Greek newspaper "TO VIMA" had
this interview with Philip Glass
with the ocasion of his coming
performances in Athens: ... m=C06&aa=1

Longing is what connects the “sacred monsters”

A few days before his concerts in Athens where he will present his work that is based on the poetry of Leonard Cohen, Philip Glass talks about their collaboration, Woody Allen and Tibet.

By Sakis Dimitrakopoylos

The interesting thing in the coming appearance of Philip Glass in our country is not only the presence of the important American composer, who for the last fifteen years he is a frequent visitor of Greece. The most important thing is the work that he will present in this new appearance to the Greek public that is no other than his setting to music of Leonard Cohen’s poetry collection "The book of Longing".

Two really "sacred monsters" of Art combine their forces for a impressive modern work, that in essence is a selection from the 167 poems and 40 sketches by the Canadian poet and musician, presented from Glass’ minimalist perspective.

The presentation of this collaboration at the Theatre of Badminton from 8th until 12th of July is expected to be equally impressive. The small ensemble conducted by Michael Riesman, consists of Glass himself on the keyboard, Mick Rossi on percussion and keyboards, Andrew Sterman on flute, clarinet, saxophone and trumpet Timothy Fain on violin, Wendy Sutter on cello, Eleonore Oppenheim on double bass) and Megan Marolf on oboe and korn.
Four vocalists will perform poems by Cohen, at least those that are not recorded with Cohen’s own impressive voice. The stage direction is by Susan Marshall and the set by Christine Jones.

Philip Glass talked to us about this collaboration with Leonard Cohen during a small break from his endless obligations:

- How did the "Book of Longing" become reality?

"I know Leonard for many years and there always existed an abstract idea to do a project based on his poetry. Ten years ago the idea became more specific once again; however Leonard decided to stay for a long time on a Buddhist monastery and therefore it remained on the papers. When finally the "Book of Longing" was published, we began some rehearsals in New York with four singers and there we saw that there was a future to our initial thought ".

- Which side of Cohen attracts you more, the musical or the poetic?

"Initially I did not distinguish in his work the one side from the other. However having now the chance to observe his poetry before it is set to music, as it happened now, I was impressed by the clarity of his works and mainly the simplicity with which he approaches important subjects, as the modern life, love and death. I had worked in the past with another important poet, Allen Ginsberg; however in that case, the musical part was clearly my own job, because he did not know music. Leonard has written poems, however in my effort to set them in music I discovered lyrics ready for songs. When I asked him if I could adapt some of his verses to my music me it he said "of course", while when I asked him to participate in the musical part with me his answer was «there is no case ".

- The "Book of Longing" reminds me strongly in certain aspects of "Songs of the Liquid Days". Is this finally your way of setting verses to music?

"I have written a lot of music in all these years and indeed there might be some resemblances but they are not conscious. Let me say it differently: the "Book of Longing» is my new my music influenced by poetry in combination with my history in composition ".

- Is this a work that you could have done thirty years ago?

"I don’t believe I was reading poetry thirty years ago. I am joking! However if you look at my work of thirty years before, you will see that the period of opera "Satyagraha" is in a completely different frame. On the other hand, if I had died at 35, this frame would have been a very concrete one. But as you progress as an artist and the music develops in general, you try to find a new space to express your current ideas and you want them to be faced as something new ".

- Your creativity seems to be endless these days. I would imagine that even your biggest fans would have a difficulty to follow your discography. How difficult it is for somebody not to repeat himself with such a big volume of work?

"I recently had the chance during my flight from Lyon to listen to all my symphonies in the ipod and I observed my development, something that really I don’t have the chance to do often, and I realized that the changes keep pace with my development. It is as if you are looking through your own photo album. It is always you there, but with the changes of time that characterize each period. The continuity and the change should coexist. It is reasonable therefore to repeat myself, it is however impossible to copy him".

-Was it Cohen’s decision not to be on the stage with you for the presentation of this work?

"Yes, because at the same time his also on a tour, and actually he does not have the luxury to avoid it because of the known financial problems that he has lately. The man has to save some money for his old age that took care to make difficult ".

(note: his former manager deprived him of about $5m from his savings accounts)

- How did you manage to become the first living composer in a Woody Allen’s film?

"I do not know how it was done. He called me himself on telephone, and said "hi, I am Woody Allen" and at first I thought that it was a joke. He asked me if I wanted to write the music for his new film and of course I immediately said yes, changing my schedule at that very moment. Our collaboration was irreproachable and it must say that he is an exceptionally intelligent person. I didn’t have in front of me this astonishing persona that he has created for the cinema and that compares only with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but a very serious person, that spoke with passion about his new work. It is also important that whenever I asked him for explanations he was always available. But, really, I do not know why he chose me ".

- You didn’t ask him?

"Never. My question would sound rather silly ".

- You are the art director of the Tibet House, how do you think of the reactions in the entire world with regard to the occupation of Tibet from China, with the occasion of the Olympic Games in Beijing?

"I read daily what is written in the Press and it must say that the Chinese have a big problem, because they can control what it is written in their country, but they cannot do the same with what is written in the rest of the world. It is indeed impressive how such a big country manages to keep in absolute control its population. But now the world has become smaller and I guess that the Internet has contributed a lot to this. I have the impression that Chinese regime will collapse suddenly, as it happened in the Eastern Europe, without even noticing it. Most basic, is that it is not only Tibetans that asks for their autonomy from China, but also the Mongolians, as many other nationalities that make up this big country. It is sure that such states cannot survive any more in the modern world. The growth of economy is so rapid on the one hand - particularly on that side of the planet - and on the other hand the access to information so much increased that it will collapse in the next years ".

Philip Glass: Leonard Cohen 'Book of Longing', Badminton Theatre Athens (0870 040 2000), 8- 12 July; tickets on sale at www. ticketnet. gr ( tel 210 8840600).

Translation: Demetris Tsimperis
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