Philip Glass

Minimalism Under Glass

Philip Glass
The Vogue Theatre
Vancouver, B.C.
Monday, March 3, 1997

Review by Peter Grainger
Photography by Rodney Gitzel

As cold and mechanical as an assembly line in an ice-cream factory, American composer Philip Glass served up an overview of his dramatically low-key music at a recent sold-out show at the Vogue.

The evening had the pretentious air of the worst classical recital: all hushed anticipation, forced formality and polite bows and curtsies. Glass didn't help matters much: he performed his repetitive, robotic music on solo piano; his brief spoken introductions were Philip Glass on stage characteristically dry; and the lighting consisted of a simple pair of white spotlights, setting Glass in a detached state of suspended animation.

What rewards there are in his style of minimalism reveal themselves slowly. Glass doesn't demand much of the listener except patience, and THAT is tough to expect in this channel-zapping-fast-forward-need-to-be-instantly-gratified age in which we live. And perhaps that's the point of Glass' music: to slow us down, throw away the wristwatch, and let his sounds soften the edges of time, giving us time to think... dream... or sleep.

It's not surprising that Glass was a philosophy and mathematics major at university: the clear, cold logic of his compositions are as symmetrical as an equation, and yet he almost always throws a curve to set everything askew. It's like listening to a jazz man trying to play scales... or the Dalai Lama playing "Chopsticks" all night.

Philip Glass Glass made a real last minute change to the glossy published program by beginning with a recent tone poem. "Mad Rush" was anything but: more lyrical and, dare one say, more melodic than his earlier works, the piece conjured up images of a brook in early spring, with ice along its edges and dead leaves floating by. Glass performed several new pieces during the concert that lean more towards landscape-inspired composers like Aaron Copeland than the heady 12-tone and Indian drones of his earlier works.

Glass can be maddening, though: such repetitive, slow patterns can be hypnotic or boring, depending on your frame of mind. You could overhear the mutterings of some in the crowd wondering WHY he kept playing the same thing over and over, with hardly any variation. Did he really keep returning to the same bass note 38 times in the three-minute-long "Wichita Vortex Sutra"? It's meant to be meditative, but you'd better be in the mood.

Philip Glass speaking to the audience Glass' best music pulls and snaps like an elastic. Just as you're beginning to nod off or scream in frustration for something -- anything -- to happen, Glass breaks the suspension and lets a phrase fly. It's dramatic, but not nearly dramatic enough with just a solitary piano. Two hours of this trance music needs more instruments, more sounds to keep people awake. Maybe they should have been selling mind-lulling opiates rather than high-octane java at the concession stand -- the desired effect would have been produced just that much quicker. Or maybe the next time Glass plays Vancouver he'll consider bringing along his ensemble.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on March 24, 1997

Index | Search | E-mail | Info | Copyright

Considering copying some of the images from this story?
Please read this first. Thanks.