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Composers Philip Glass and Augusta Read Thomas Discuss Artistic Collaboration

Composers Philip Glass and Augusta Read Thomas Discuss Artistic Collaboration


MARTHA ROTH: This evening
we are privileged to watch and participate in a
conversation between two of the most interesting
and exciting figures in American music today. Augusta Read Thomas is
a university professor, the university’s
highest distinction, and Professor of Composition
in the Department of Music. As a composer,
Gusty Thomas’ oeuvre is known for its fierce
and unbridled passion. Her work and her
career have been championed by such luminaries as
Barenboim, Boulez, Eschenbach, Salonen. She, in her turn, has been an
influential teacher and mentor to students at every level
through her work at the Eastman School at Northwestern
University Tanglewood summer program, and now of course,
at the University of Chicago. She is the former Chairperson
of the American Music Center. She’s become one of the most
recognizable and widely loved figures in American music today. Thomas was the longest serving
Mead Composer-in-Residence for Daniel Barenboim and
Pierre Boulez with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from
1997 through 2006– a residency that culminated
in the premiere of her Astral Canticle– one of two
finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Most recently, Thomas
has devoted energy to organizing Ear Taxi
Festival, an elaborate festival that will take place here
in Chicago in October 2016, celebrating new music made
in and around Chicago, including the works
of 75 composers and over 300 performers. Meanwhile, here at
the University, Gust, Read Thomas’s vision for
nurturing future generations of composers is taking shape
through our new Chicago Center for Contemporary
Composition, which will bring established and
rising composers to our campus for intensive engagement
with scholars and students from every discipline in field. She will model this
engagement for us tonight in her conversation
with Philip Glass. Philip Glass graduated from
the University of Chicago 60 years ago at the age
of 19, having majored in mathematics and philosophy. Philip Glass is,
without question, among the most innovative
and influential composers in the 20th century and 21st. And his fusions of
Western and world musics are considered
among the earliest and most successful global
experiments of their kind. Through his operas,
symphonies, his compositions for his own ensemble, and his
wide ranging collaboration with artists including Twyla
Tharp, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Wilson, David Bowie,
to name only a few, Glass has had an extraordinary
and unprecedented impact on the musical and
intellectual life of his times. Indeed, Glass was
the first composer to win a wide multigenerational
audience in the opera house, the concert
hall, the dance world, and in films and popular
music, and to do all of that simultaneously. The new musical style
that Glass helped create was eventually
dubbed minimalism, though Glass himself has said
that he never liked the term, and that the most useful
description is actually chamber music that is amplified. When Philip Glass was on
our campus in February 1982 with his ensemble to
play in Mandel Hall, he recalled then that
he saw musical scores for the first time
here in our library, and that he wrote his first
composition in his dorm room at Burton Judson Hall. His compositions, either
standing on their own or performed in conjunction
with other media, move the listener to
unexplored places. The operas Einstein on
the Beach and The Voyage, among many others, played
throughout the world to full houses. Glass has written music
for experimental theater and for Academy
Award-winning motion pictures such as The Hours and
Martin Scorsese’s Kundun. While Koyaanisqatsi, his
1982 filmic landscape with Godfrey Reggio and
the Philip Glass Ensemble, may be the most radical
and influential making of sound and vision possibly
since Disney’s Fantasia. We are thrilled to have
him back on our campus and have the
opportunity to learn more about his
interdisciplinary collaborations and his prolific history
of cross-cultural projects. Please join me in welcoming
Augusta Read Thomas and Philip Glass to the stage. [APPLAUSE] AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: You are
such a generous, creative, visionary artist. And I am a huge fan of
you and of your work. And I loved your memoir,
just absolutely fantastic. And I thought we could start
this conversation by– just take us into your house. Like the kids have gone to
school, you’ve had your coffee, you sit at your piano. Are you happy at that moment? PHILIP GLASS: Oh, I
think I have to say that I was fascinated by writing
musicals when I was young. But now, I love it. I have a drawing board, like
a big table with a tilt in, and the music papers are there. The pencils are there. And it’s the only time
I feel that I really know what I’m doing, or that
there’s some kind of– well, control is a funny word. But I feel like
whatever happens there will be something that will be
rewarding to me in some way. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
You work so hard. PHILIP GLASS: That’s the
part that isn’t hard. The hard part are the
airplanes, the things that we have very little control over. The work part is
performing, for example. I love to play, but I can’t
play at home that much. Because no one plays at home. You have to go out. You have to go to Europe. You have to go to Asia,
wherever you have to go. I have to go to Asia this
year, which I try not to. But it’s so far away. It’s a physical thing. I tell you, if
you’re lucky enough to be traveling when you’re
close to 80, which I am very close to 80, almost 80,
and if you’re lucky enough to get that all then, the
thing that gets the hardest is the traveling. That’s the hardest part. Everything else is
a pleasure, really. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: So when
you’re sitting in your studio, you’re at your piano,
writing at the piano and writing the notes on paper. Is that how you’re
mostly doing it? PHILIP GLASS: I use pencil
on paper, I’m happy to say. Because, actually,
it’s a good thing, because I keep all
the sketches now. I number the pages, so
I can find them again. Because someone
comes along and says, they’ll say, well, in this
piece, in this measure, what note is that? I can’t read that. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Is that
an E flat or an E natural? PHILIP GLASS: I said,
wait a second now. And I can usually find it. Actually, I don’t keep
all the sketches there. But I have to archive it myself. And then I can’t
remember sometimes. Then I look at it, and
I can usually tell. The manuscript is
usually correct. My assumption is the
manuscript is right, and everything
else is a mistake. That tends to be true. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
Yeah, exactly. PHILIP GLASS: Do you find that? AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Yes, I do. PHILIP GLASS: Do you
keep notes like that? AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Well, I
really want to speak about you. But– [LAUGHTER] PHILIP GLASS: I want to know. Do you write down the
music or use a computer? AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: I write
music, actually, by hand. PHILIP GLASS: Yes, of course. That’s the right way. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
With White-Out. PHILIP GLASS: The reason
is that your hand is also a record of what you know. The files don’t show that. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
That’s so true. I saw a bunch of
your manuscripts. They’re gorgeous. PHILIP GLASS: You have
to work on your archive. Then you have one,
because you have a record of what you wrote. But a file is not an archive. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
That’s right. Yeah, your handwriting
is gorgeous. PHILIP GLASS: It’s like
a photograph, in a way. We’ll talk about this. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Just
one last question about that. Do you feel sometimes that
when you’re composing, that it’s like therapy? PHILIP GLASS: I was talking to
a friend of mine who’s a writer and he works very
hard at writing. And I said tell me, Stokes. His name is Stokes. Stokes, why do you write? He said, well, if I don’t
write, I would be crazy. It keeps me sane. I’d never put it
quite that boldly. I don’t think it’s just
artists who do that. I think we all do that. I think we always think of art
as a wonderful, different kind of– but it isn’t
that different. It’s not so different
from cooking, or sewing, or in inventing a language,
or designing a program. Anytime that we have a way
of making something different come into the world, it’s
part of what I call dreaming. I don’t mean dreaming,
I mean the dream that you do when you’re awake. And I think that’s a
tremendous resource for us as human beings. And I see that people do that. It’s not just that– we
always talk about the arts. They’re not actually
that special. They’re special in a way because
our skills are a little perhaps unusual. The actual way that our
work functions for us is the way it works– my
mother was a librarian. I’m sure that she– there
were some very similar things. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Yeah. I wanted to ask you. You said that all music, without
exception, is ethnic music. Can you unpack that
a little for us? PHILIP GLASS: Well, I
was saying that earlier. It happened this way for me. I began to work with people
from Africa, from Asia, from South America. I did it out of curiosity,
because I’m just very curious about how people
arrive at what they do, when I ask them how they
learned and how they studied. A friend of mine, for
example, Foday Suso, a kora player– that’s a
harp-like African instrument– he’s a singer. And the history of the
Mandingo tribe is in the songs. And I found out how he studied. And I went to where he lived. And what I discovered
was that when I played my music in
these places, of India, Africa, wherever I would be,
that sometimes people liked it. Sometimes people
will say, oh, I can’t make heads or tails of it. And I realized that to
them, I was ethnic music. I was not the music
of their daily life. I was something
exotic, music that had entered in some curious way. In that sense, my
music was ethnic music. Well, from that
point of view, there is no music that is
not ethnic music. There’s no one that
has a copyright on creativity, or on style,
or on thought, or on poetry. There’s no copyright for that. These are spontaneous,
I could say– creations isn’t quite the
right word– the result from our activities,
and in that sense, we cart with us the
language of our culture. I don’t have to tell you. You’re in Chicago,
so you know that. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: You know
what might be interesting? I actually prepared a few
very, very short sound samples. And I did prepare
one of Foday Suso. This is from your
film, The Screams. This is track two. Can we just hear just
30 seconds of this? It’s absolutely gorgeous [MUSIC PLAYING] AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Do
you feel that your study of the great books and
learning how to use the library has really affected the music? PHILIP GLASS: Oh,
sure, absolutely. By the way, Foday lived in
Chicago for about 30 years. He was from the Gambia. But he would come here. He’s not here right now. Oh, for sure. Later when I got interested
in working in theater, working with stories or
working with writers, I knew how to use a library. I knew how to do research. I knew how to assimilate
materials from exotic things. By exotic, I mean something
that was not Wagner, or something that I
was not born close to. I think that was
because I was here when I was 15, and
just studying homework. AUGUSTA READ
THOMAS: Shakespeare? PHILIP GLASS: Or Galileo,
studying anything, everything. In a way, not only music,
but almost all information was exotic. Because it comes
from a place of– we come from a place of ignorance. Ignorance means not knowing. We don’t know. And anytime an intrusion,
when our ignorance becomes an opening, in fact. And culture’s allowed to. It comes in like water welling
out of the sink, practically, how that can happen. And one of the things
about this place that was unique for me
and many people was that the breadth
and depth of culture was far more than I could
have imagined growing up in Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore wasn’t a bad place. People might think that, but
there was a great library system in Baltimore. And our free library
was a wonderful library. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: And
your mother was a librarian. PHILIP GLASS: I
studied astronomy when I was 10 or 12
years old at that place. But it’s still, when
I came to Chicago, it felt like I was walking
into a living encyclopedia. And the school was like that. The time that I came
here, I had to take the courses of the college. But we were invited to go
to any classes we wanted to in the university. And I would go to– all we
had to do was ask permission. And the permission
was always granted. So we’d go to someone’s house. It was during a course that
wasn’t even in the catalog. He was giving a talk
about the Iliad. And it went on for a year. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: And
that was in his home, right? Isn’t that what you said,
that was in his home? PHILIP GLASS: It
was in his home. It wasn’t even a course. You didn’t even know about
it, unless someone said, oh, you’re going? AUGUSTA READ
THOMAS: And no exam. PHILIP GLASS: Well, I didn’t
take the exams anyway. I took the ones at
the end of the year. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: You
crammed for those though, right? PHILIP GLASS: Of course I did. But on the other hand, I wasn’t
just sleeping all the time. I was very interested. And I went to– AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: You went
to a lot of the jazz clubs? PHILIP GLASS: I
went to that too. But besides that,
I went to courses on [? Auerstedt. ?] I
was interested in things. The thing is that I was
so curious about things. I still am, I think. And I did not come to
the end of my curiosity. It was always something beyond. Again, I didn’t
know that music– I knew a lot about music because
my father owned a small record store. But I heard music live, really,
for the first time, though I was too young to
get into the clubs. I would go down to 55th
Street to the Beehive. And I would listen
through the window until finally the guy,
after a number of times, the guy at the
door said, OK, kid. Come on in. He said, OK, you sit here. I had to sit next to him,
so that if someone came, he would get me out right away. Legally, I couldn’t
be in those places. But I was there. Later I was in New York,
and I continued that, listening to the music
of Wanda Coleman. So there was so much
music that was going on. That music I never
really studied. I never played jazz. But I was totally
enamored by it. And in the end, it’s insinuated
itself into the music. In just that little bit
that you played, you can– I never was an improviser,
although I play with Foday. And he is an improviser. We play together. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
So I wanted to ask, you were speaking
about your teachers. And about two angels,
Nadia Boulanger and– PHILIP GLASS: No, I
said one was the angel and one was the devil. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
One was the devil, OK. One taught with love and
one taught with fear. PHILIP GLASS: One taught with
love and one taught with fear. At one point in life,
maybe it was 1963 or ’64, it felt like I had one
on my left shoulder and one on my right shoulder. And in the end, it was the same. The style of pedagogy
was remarkably different. I came to Madame Boulanger’s
door, and if for some reason the metro delivered
me a little bit late, it was better to go home,
not to ever be late. I would go home and make a call
that I was sick and couldn’t make it that day. But I only showed up late once,
and I never did that again. But with Boulanger, it
was a very– You know, I can’t say that. I would say that Boulanger,
she did love her students. But it was a hard tutelage. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Yeah,
I have an imagination that you were sitting there
singing cadences and doing counterpoint exercises. PHILIP GLASS: Oh, yeah. That’s what you did with her. You did some of that
at [? Foutanpeau. ?] AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
A little bit, yeah. But I can imagine those
years that you spent there. PHILIP GLASS: The
days began in the dark at 6:00, 7:00 in the morning. In winter in Paris, it was dark. At the end, at 6:00, 7:00
at night, it was dark again. And I would leave
from my classes– I had three or four classes a
week– I’d practically stop. That was the first
time and the last time I didn’t write music
for about a year. The first year I just stopped. And then I began to write again. Because I had so much– though
I was a graduate at Julliard, I was entitled to have had an
education, and I suppose I did. But it didn’t meet
her standards. And I had to redo everything. We started and as first week,
she’s counterpoint again. Oh, can you believe that? And we went very quickly,
still that’s what it was. She wanted a complete
reformation from us you’ll see, everything. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Amazing. And when you left,
were you relieved? PHILIP GLASS: Well, I left
because I couldn’t bear it any longer. At that point, I was 28. I had been studying music since
before I was eight years old. That’s more than 20 years. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: You
were young, playing flute. PHILIP GLASS: Well,
I started with flute. I started with the
violin when I was six. But I started with
flute when I was eight. And I finished. And at the age of
28, I couldn’t do it. I came from my
lessons in the fall. She thought I was
coming to start again. I was starting my
third year, because I had been there in
the summer as well, in [? Foutanpeau ?],
where you were. And she thought I was coming
to start my classes again. And I no longer had any money. And she said no, no, no, no. You don’t need the money. You just come here. And I said, well, I
have no way to pay. She said– this is what she
said– oh, someday you will. Now, the fact was is that I
never made any money for years after that. And I meant to do
it, but she died before I made any
honest money for music. And so she said I
would pay her back. And I wonder if maybe I
have, in some strange way. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: I
think you definitely have. PHILIP GLASS: I always say
nice things about whatnots, always so nice. But she was a fantastic teacher. And this is what she did. She taught you how to listen. When you learn to listen,
then you can begin to compose. And I learned that
from Richard Serra, who was a sculptor– a
good friend of mine– who I was his assistant for a while. And one day I said
to Richard, Richard– I was moving sculpture around. You know he’s a
wonderful sculptor. But he liked me because
I wasn’t a sculptor. And so I guess I wasn’t
taking any of his ideas, or whatever it was. He liked to have me around. And I said, Richard,
I can’t even draw. I wish I could draw. He said, oh, I can
teach you to draw. I said, well, how
would you do that? He said, well, I’ll
teach you to see and then you’ll be able to draw. By the way, I never
did learn to draw. And I realized in that
moment, that drawing had to do with seeing, that
dancing had to do with moving, that poetry had to do
with speaking, that music had to do with hearing. And when I thought about
that, and I had just been from her class only a
year or two after I’d seen her, and I thought about what I
had accomplished with her, what she had forced me to do. I think she had to
beat it out of me. She made me hear things
that I couldn’t hear. AUGUSTA READ
THOMAS: One question related– you had said
that Ravi Shankar was like your father and
Nadia like your mother. And I just wanted to broaden
that out a little bit and ask who are your cousins,
or who are your siblings. PHILIP GLASS: They’re
all kinds of people. Who’s that fellow from–
There were other– AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
I was thinking also of jazz, and rock and
roll, and Beethoven. PHILIP GLASS: I met Virgil
Thompson a number of times. When it was Nadia’s birthday
it was my 50th birthday, and we happened to have our
birthday parties together. And he said– he had a very
high voice like this– he said, now what was it like
with Nadia Boulanger? Because I studied with her. I told him what I studied and
he said, exactly what I did. Now 40 years earlier, he had
the same lessons that I did. So I would say that he
was one of my, well, certainly an uncle,
certainly not a cousin. There were all people
from the jazz world. Many people studied with her. She had thousands of students. I don’t know that she
was such a great teacher. But she taught a lot of people
who became great teachers. And some of us became composers. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
One other question. I’ve always wondered about this. Of course, she
would be someone who wouldn’t like parallel fifths. Right? This would not be a good thing. PHILIP GLASS: Yes,
that’s why I did it. [LAUGHTER] AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: So on
that note, if I might say, I really wanted to play
an excerpt of your Music in Fifths. And I wanted to ask, was
this really an homage to her? Or was it kind of like a secret? PHILIP GLASS: First
of all, I wrote a piece called Music in Fifths. And I wrote it in 1969. I studied with her,
in 1966 was, I think, the last year I was with her. And I called it Music in Fifths. And then the next piece was
called Music in Contrary Motion and Music in Similar Motion. There was another point. It was before. First, I was celebrating,
not making fun of. I was celebrating my teaching. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
I was just wondering. PHILIP GLASS: But I
celebrated by doing a piece called Music in Fifths. But it was also a
way of describing– the process of the music
was the music itself. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Exactly. The form and the content– PHILIP GLASS: The form and
content were identical. But if you understood
what the title was, then you understood
what the piece was. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Yeah. Let’s hear just
30 seconds of it. PHILIP GLASS: The
third [INAUDIBLE]. It’s probably what you can take. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Yeah. It’s track three. [MUSIC PLAYING] PHILIP GLASS: She said, I
have such a profound respect for the creativity
of music that I’m afraid if I said something
about someone’s composition that there would be a great
talent I had not seen. And I would have– AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Or
derailed them or something. PHILIP GLASS: So I won’t
talk about your music. But we’ll talk about technique. And she didn’t
teach composition. She taught technique. And when people said they
studied composition with her, probably they never met
her, because she never did teach composition. But the only time I
showed her my music was at my first lesson with her. I brought maybe 8 or 10 pieces. I thought they were my best
pieces, and I gave it to her. She could speed read. She could, oh, like that. She could read a
piece of music the way you would– Doris Lessing
was a speed reader too. She can read four
novels in a day. But Madame Boulanger
could just turn the page. And I came to it. This was my first
lesson and she wanted to see what I had written. And she was going
through this pile. And she wasn’t saying anything. And finally she stopped. And she pointed to
and said, this measure was composed by a real composer. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
That’s great. That is fantastic. PHILIP GLASS: Well, that’s the
last nice thing she said to me. [LAUGHTER] PHILIP GLASS: She
never said that again. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
But at the end of it, I know she wrote
the nice references about you and whatnot. PHILIP GLASS: I found
out that she said, but I didn’t know
that at the time. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: You have
so many interesting things in your life. I want to move through
some other topics. So at around this time,
you were writing music for several plays
of Samuel Beckett. And I was wondering if you could
talk a little bit about that, and if you saw synergies
between the non-narrative nature of Beckett and the
rhythm of [INAUDIBLE]. PHILIP GLASS: Well, Beckett
was living in the same part of Paris that we were. There were three or
four young Americans. We were in our 20s. For some reason he liked us. And he was a man probably
in his 50s at the time. And one of us was bilingual. We weren’t. He preferred to speak in French. And he took us on. And we asked him. I wrote music for about
eight or nine of his plays. And I would send him the pieces. And he didn’t want to meet,
didn’t want to see us. But we could consult
him about it. I remember I did a
piece called Company. And it was a monologue that was
taken from one of the novels. He let us do that, too. We would take pieces out
of Molloy or Malone Dies and make an evening length
piece but one actor. In this one particular
piece, the director, who was the actor, asked me
to write a piece of music. And I wrote to Mr.
Beckett and I said, where should I put the music? And he wrote back, “in the
intercises of the piece, as it were.” Which, of course,
told me nothing. So that’s what I did. Where it looked like there was
a place to put a piece of music, I wrote pieces of music
that fit in between. And he seemed to
be pleased with it. He never said anything. Let’s put it this way. He allowed us to go on. I wrote music for End
Game, for La Comedie, for Mercier and Camier. I wrote for about eight pieces. And what I had to
do at the time, was I had to find a language of
music that would somehow– now, at the time, it was
shortly after Waiting for Godot was a
few years before. But it was very, very
abstract theater. In one way and
another way, it was comic theater in another way. It was like vaudeville, really. If you listen to it in a certain
way, it was hilariously funny. And that’s how we
did listen to it. But in a way, not so different. Years and years later, I was
working with a text of Kafka. Kafka thought his
texts were funny. I just did The Trial. And I did it as a black comedy. It was just on the [INAUDIBLE]. And people said, oh,
it was really funny. But Kafka thought
it was funny, too. And we were convinced
that Beckett, it was like vaudeville. And I had to find the
music to fit that. And I began to work
in the repetitive style, which I had learned. The elements of it came from
my work with Ravi Shankar. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: That’s
where I was just about to head. PHILIP GLASS: I was
working with Ravi Shankar. I spend a lot of time with him. But his tabla
[INAUDIBLE], Alla Rakha was the one that was
really teaching me. Because Alla Rakha
would take the time to, and I actually studied with him. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: You
went and bought tabla. PHILIP GLASS: I did all that. And so I got involved
with stretches of music that were very repetitive. And I started to put it
against the Beckett pieces. And in some ways, it
made it– the funny thing was that when you put
the music with it, you both heard the words better
and you heard the music better. That somehow the music framed,
or the words framed the music, in a way that then made them
both seem more enjoyable. So that became sort of funny. Those early theater pieces were
the basis of– it was only, I would say, that was
in the 60s, ’65, ’66. Einstein on the
Beach was written maybe eight or nine years
later, very soon after that. The progress from Music in
Fifths to Einstein on the Beach happened in seven
or eight years. It happened very, very
quickly, within 10 year, easily within a 10 year period. And at that time, the music
was changing so rapidly, every piece became–
it’s still changing. You should play something
that doesn’t sound like this. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
Yeah, no, I’m going to. I have a whole bunch of other
samples which I want to get to. Let’s jump now to the
Philip Glass Ensemble. We can come back
to Ravi Shankar. But it’s amazing. You formed your own ensemble,
had this very iconic sound, with the keyboards
and the winds. PHILIP GLASS: Well, I
came back from Paris and I wanted find
people to play. One of the reasons I
loved Paris was that, after I finished this
piece for Beckett, I began writing
some chamber pieces. I tried to get the French
musicians to play it, and they wouldn’t play it. They said, [SPEAKING FRENCH]. That is not music. They said it wasn’t music. I heard that, [SPEAKING FRENCH]. They said that
about dance, that’s not dance, when I did a
piece with something Nadia did with Lucinda Charles. And we took it to
the [? Chant ?] du Musee, the same place where
the Rites of Spring had been. And someone’s got up and
said, [SPEAKING FRENCH], echoing something that had
been said 70, 80 years before. So I wanted to say, OK. I was ready to go home anyway. I stopped on my way on India,
where I spent half a year. And then finally got
back to New York. And I wanted to reengage into
the enterprise of a composition based on the kinds of structures
I had been working with. And I put together a group. What I did was call my
friends I went to school with. Most of them were
keyboard players, so I ended up with
multiple keyboards and a couple saxophone players. And I got a singer. And that was the group. In fact, that group it was– AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
A lot of them were with you for like
40 years, or 30 years. PHILIP GLASS: We’re
still playing. I just was in Switzerland a
couple days ago in Geneva. And we played the music from
[INAUDIBLE] with the film. That music was
written in ’78 or ’79. The audiences are the same
age we were when I wrote it. That’s funny, because
the audiences usually get older as a composer. But they didn’t in my case. And I was talking
to the players. Everybody said, you know,
we’ve got this music. There’s 40 years of
music in this ensemble. I haven’t written music for
the ensemble in a while now. But I said, I think
maybe we should go on playing because, I said,
well, it can be like the Duke Ellington band. We’ll play my hits. [LAUGHTER] AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
That’s right. Exactly. PHILIP GLASS: But I said,
if we don’t play it, who’s going to play it? AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: The
Music in Twelve Parts story, where you put it
together part by part and then you finally had the
big event and rented Town Hall, it’s amazing. What a great story. PHILIP GLASS: What was amazing
was I rented out Town Hall, and we filled the
hall, 1,400 seats. I used to play it on the
weekends in my studio in the loft in SoHo, New York. About 30 or 40 people
would come, piece by piece. And I had this crazy idea when
I finished it in ’74 that it would have a grand opening. And we put signs
all around downtown that we’re going to do the
complete Music in Twelve Parts which we’d only played
two or three parts at a time. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
And the completed is almost five hours,
something, four and a half. PHILIP GLASS: And
we sold it out. And I don’t know where
that– I said, where do these people come from? But then that was in ’74. No, that was in ’76. We were at the
Metropolitan Opera House with Einstein on the
Beach in [INAUDIBLE]. The funny thing was
that we shouldn’t have had an audience, right? Well, I mean, not right. I wasn’t connected to anything. I had no musical economy that
I was part of at the time, or I didn’t teach anywhere. We were just like
these people downtown writing this crazy music. And somehow we
ended up at the Met. I don’t really know, one
of those strange accidents. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: I
think it’s fantastic. Do you want to hear
a smidge of Music in Twelve Parts or
not particularly? PHILIP GLASS: No, why don’t
you play the piece from– AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: We’ll
get to that, the other ones. Because we were talking– PHILIP GLASS: Which part do you
want to play from Twelve Parts? AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Oh, I
was going play the 12th part. PHILIP GLASS: Oh yeah, well
that’s a very funny part. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
Let’s just hear it. Let’s hear a little bit. [MUSIC PLAYING] PHILIP GLASS: If you
listen to the whole thing, you would actually
hear the whole thing. You wouldn’t hear it that way. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
Well, it’s so interesting when you make the shifts,
when you make a change. PHILIP GLASS: The shifts
are what was important. And it was really about paying
attention to music, in a way, paying attention at all. Paying attention at all
is kind of an achievement, very rarely able to do that. But I call it the
flow of attention. The flow of attention is
like the flow of eternity. It’s something that’s
not noticeable, but as one step becomes
part of the process, the whole idea of
content begins to change. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
Yeah, it seems that the decision of
when to make a change can either be intuitive or you
can work it out mathematically. And, of course, this
has evolved over time. PHILIP GLASS: You have people
willing to sit through it. And the surprising thing
was that people were. And we had audiences very early. That was the last part
of Music in Twelve Parts, and there 1,400 people
sat for five hours and listened to this stuff. We had a good time. We still play
together every year. And now we can actually
play it pretty well. [LAUGHTER] AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
It’s an enormous stamina that’s required, just
in terms of fingers. PHILIP GLASS: But
no, then we have to talk about
performance practice. Because for every
new style of music, there was a performance
practice that goes with it. And if that weren’t
true, then it wouldn’t really be new music. And every new music has to have
a way of playing it that’s new. So what we discovered
and what we learned, we learned how to play
with a very light touch. We learned about breathing. Well, this is the ensemble. We’ve been together
for 40 years. We can actually play this now. We can play for
four or five hours and we aren’t even that tired. We stop to eat. But what’s interesting
is that there was a performance practice
that went with the music. But there’s also a
listening practice. And that’s the other side of it. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
Yeah, and with Einstein being revived many
times, people now know how to listen to
it in a certain way. PHILIP GLASS: Well, now
people listen to Einstein now, and they think we
wrote it last week. It sounds like it was. What’s curious is I was
surprised when there was an audience for this music. And at the beginning, it was
30 or 40 people, and then 100 people, 200 people. And then it started to
be rooms full of people. Frankly, I was prepared
to write that music for the rest of my life
and not have very many. I didn’t expect to
have big audiences. Eventually, I did
some Hollywood movies. And that was interesting. And that helped to make a
larger audience, actually. But the idea never actually
was to find a new audience, though I did find one. Because I found a
new way of playing. But I found also a
new way of listening. Now, without the listeners,
what are we doing? So I needed that. I didn’t realize how
important the audience was. But I was basically making
an audience at the same time that I was making music. And now, when we talk
about contemporary music, there’s ways of listening. I think of how people
listen to John Cage, how John never thought so. John thought it was
kind of– he always said Philip, too many
notes, too many notes. You know what I said? John, I’m one of your children
whether you like it or not. I felt that in a way, if you
listen to Music in Twelve Parts, then you can listen to
four minutes and thirty seconds of silence. I really thought that
I was connected to him, thought he didn’t. It’s funny. I think he liked me. I know we liked each other. But he really didn’t
get the music. And although he
liked [INAUDIBLE], in fact, he came
to see it twice. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Fantastic. So with Einstein, I
just wanted to point out that Philip’s written
more operas than anyone I can imagine. And I have so many more
questions to ask you. I’m going to jump through this. But more than Henze,
more than Britten, and the whole Einstein
phenomenon is incredible. And I just wanted
to ask, what for you makes an excellent
collaboration? You’ve worked with dancers,
choreographers, filmmakers. PHILIP GLASS: In fact,
the elements of theater, we have movement,
text, image, and music. Those are the four. It’s like air, earth,
fire, and water. Those are the four
elements of opera. There’s the same four
elements in film. To me, the collaboration
is when all those things come into play. That really only happens
with opera and film. So I’ve done a lot of film. I’ve done a lot of operas. With dance, you have image
and movement and music. But you don’t have
text, necessarily. You might have text, but
rarely do you have text. A play will have
words and music. I’m doing music for
The Crucible now, that’s being done on Broadway. And so that’s music, with words. And there is movement. But there’s image also. Well, this comes
very close to it. Because this particular
director wanted music. And I provided the music for it. But, to me, what I tried
to do was to put a team. I would have to have at
least those four people. And besides that, you
want a lighting designer and a costume designer. So you ended up with six people,
seven people– sound designer as well, that makes it seven. But the other thing I did
which was an unusual thing, Einstein was a very big
success, and I simply didn’t want to work with
anyone again for a while. I did another piece with
Bob eight years later. And over the next 35 years,
we’ve done five or six operas. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
That brings me to– I really wanted to talk
about Monsters of Grace. I love that piece. PHILIP GLASS: Well, that was the
third or fourth collaboration I did with him. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Exactly. And I’d love to play
an example if I could. It is so beautiful. But do you want to just tell
a little tiny bit about what the piece is, about Monsters
of Grace, the Rumi, or the 3D? And then we’re going to be play
a little bit of track nine. PHILIP GLASS: It
was a piece that was supposed to be what
Bob really wanted to do. He wanted to do a
piece that he really needed to do with computers. Where the changes of
the images are so slow, but we couldn’t– and that the
changes of colors could be. I could do that in the music. And, technically, he
could do it later on. But at the time, it was
very difficult to do. Bob is a master of slow. Here’s how he would audition. I did a lot of
auditions with Bob. Bob walks into an audition. We’re sitting in chairs. And he says, walk across
the stage as slow. Take five minutes
to walk across. That’s a long time. Very few people could do it. If you could make it across
the stage in five minutes, there’s a chance he would
use you in an opera. But that was his. That’s how he did it. So I presented the idea of Rumi. Rumi was a 12th
century Persian poet. Coleman Barks did some
beautiful translations. Now, to translate
from a language which is that far away from
European based language, you have to be a poet also. And he was able to make poetry
out of the translations. And they were beautiful. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
Yeah, they’re beautiful. PHILIP GLASS: These,
if you don’t know Rumi, they seem extreme. This poetry is 800 years hold. But it sounds like it
was written yesterday. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
It totally does. PHILIP GLASS: And Bob
did the images for it. And we traveled with it. We did a tour with it. But Bob could never
slow the images down as much as he wanted to. And he found it
very frustrating. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
I love the piece. And we’ll hear a
little tiny bit of it. And then I have one
final question for you before we open up for
other people’s questions. So this is the track called
“Let the Letter Read You.” And I picked the version
where Tara Hugo is singing. It’s gorgeous. It’s absolutely beautiful. And, of course, this is
more recent Philip Glass than some of the other
tracks that we’ve heard. [MUSIC PLAYING] TARA HUGO (SINGING): Why stay
so long where your words are scattered and doing no good? I’ve sent a letter
a day for 100 days. Either you don’t read
the mail or you’ve forgotten how to leave. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: I hate to
turn any of these examples off. And I have probably a
hundred more questions that I’d love to ask you. But I’m just going to
close with one question. And you don’t have to answer it. PHILIP GLASS: I don’t? AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: No. You can just avoid the
question if you’d like to. So you described yourself as a
Jewish, Taoist, Hindu, Toltec, Buddhist. And I wanted to– PHILIP GLASS: Is that
a good enough list? AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
That’s a great list. But I did really
seriously want to ask. You’re such a generous, and
deep, and rich human being, and that’s very much felt.
We just did a fantastic class with all my composers. And you were so
beautiful in that class. Anyway, I wanted
to ask, what are your own religious or spiritual
interests and beliefs? And how have they evolved? PHILIP GLASS: To me, we talk
about the mind and the body, which we know about that. But there’s the
mind, and the body, and the spirit, which we
don’t know so much about. And I got interested in music. But I also, along the way,
I met my first yoga teacher when I was 20. That was in 1957. A friend of mine and I
we were 20 years old. We were living in New York. We had heard about yoga but
we didn’t know what it was. And we decided to
find a teacher. We couldn’t find anyone. There’s no one teaching. So we looked under
Y in the phone book. And there’s a guy
named Yogi Vithaldas. We called him up. Turned out to be
[INAUDIBLE] teacher. I didn’t know that at the time. We went up to see him. He gave us our first lesson. Mostly he was doing exercises
for Upper East side ladies, to be truthful. That’s what he did. And we walked into the room. And we had called him and said
we wanted to take a lesson. He said, ah, I’m finally
channeling students. My students are
finally arriving. But that was Michelle and I. And after the lesson, he said,
OK, now we go into the kitchen. He said now I’m going
to teach you about how to cook vegetarian food. And so not only did I begin
studying yoga with him, I became a vegetarian
when I was 20. And that was almost
60 years ago. And I stayed a vegetarian. And then I kept the practice,
different ones, over the years. But what I discovered
from him, and then later when I was talking
with Ravi Shankar– let me just say one other and
then maybe this will help me just what I wanted to say. At one point in
the book I talked about I wanted to know
where music came from. And a lot of that book
is I would ask people. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
Music is a place. PHILIP GLASS: So one day I
was sitting with Ravi Shankar in his hotel room in London. He had done some concerts
and I was living in Paris. And I came over to see him. I’d already been working
with him for a while. And he was sitting
in the bed across and I was sitting on the chair. And I said, Raviji,
tell me something. Where does your music come from? And he said, and he turned
to a table by his bed, and on that table
was a photograph of an Indian gentleman
in Indian dress. He turned and he made a
full bow to the picture. He said, thanks to
the grace of the guru, the music has come
to me through him. I said, oh my god. What a revelation that was. And yet, then I began
had think about it. I thought, well, that’s
how it came to me. In some traditions they call
it the ear whispered teachings. And this is such
an important thing. Well, is it just
in India or Tibet? No, we have teachers. I had a flute teacher who
I’ve learned everything about the flute from him. You’ve had a dance
teacher, or you’ve had someone who taught you
how to cook, or someone– It’s always that way. The lineage is
always ear whispered. There are classes, of course. We have those. But the best classes
are the ones where you are alone with the teacher. So I began to cultivate
these meetings. And I found a Daoist teacher,
who taught Qigong and Tai chi. I found teachers in India and
Tibet, teachers in Mexico, who were Toltec teachers. People who don’t even
speak the language. We don’t even have a language. I began working with
musicians that we don’t even know a language that
we speak together. But the point was is that the
most precious transmissions happen from someone the teacher
giving it to the student. And it’s not exclusively
Asian or African. It’s American as it’s European. It is a human transmission. It’s not confined
to a tradition. In a way when I
list those things, I was just trying to create
the idea that of course it can be that. Maybe you’re doing the
tabla with a rabbi, or maybe your
teacher is a Quaker, or maybe it’s a
Buddhist, or maybe it’s someone in Mexico who was
talking about fire and space. So what I wanted to
capture in that idea was that the transmission
of this wisdom. It happens that way. And part of it is carried
in the music and part of it can be carried in food, it
can be carried in clothing, it can be carried in poetry. It can be carried in something
as simple and important as ethics. And do I dare say morality? That’s how those things
are truly communicated. And that whole when
I list that thing, it’s a shorthand for this whole
little discussion that we made. I’m happy you asked me,
because I don’t get a chance to talk about it very much. But in one tradition I
know, I asked someone what they meant by morality. And they said, oh, morality
means keeping your commitments. I said, oh, that’s
very interesting. Maybe that is what it is. I never thought of it that way. And since then, when
people talk about it, I think about it that way now. And ethics, these great
judges, they come and they go. But ethics is something
simpler than that. Ethics is close to manners. And manners are close
to the way humanity has a way of greeting each other. So we each other we greet other. We greet our children,
our husbands or our wives, and our teachers. These are the most
precious things. And as we we’re composers,
and we’re musicians. So for us it comes in that way. But it’s not exclusive
to artists, at all. The wisdom of humanity
comes about that way. And it comes about
in a simple way. The man that teaches
you or the woman that teaches you how to
put your shoes on. I mean, what an
incredible thing to do. Did you ever have to
teach your children how to tie their shoelaces? AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Yeah. PHILIP GLASS: A little
hard at first, isn’t it? AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: So
that’s just so gracious, really everything you’ve said. And I know that there are some
people waiting at microphones to ask you some questions. We certainly have them here. PHILIP GLASS: You
mean we’re not done? [LAUGHTER] AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
Sorry, we’re not done. If there are no questions,
I’ll pop out a few more. But I’m hoping we have some. And the microphone is coming. And there’s one down here. In the late 70s, you scored a
documentary called North Star. And I was curious at that
point in your career, you had been used to composing
pieces 15, 20 minutes. How did you find the
experience of having to create very short cues and
convey a musical statement within each of them? PHILIP GLASS: That
was a request. I began doing movies, and
that was a movie, actually. And North Star was the
name of the script that was done I did the music for. And I’d never done
a film before. And I thought that
that was [INAUDIBLE]. I just wanted to do it. I learned a lot from doing it. I learned a lot, what
the limitations were. I ended up doing a lot of films. Like the [INAUDIBLE] one that
was here the other night. Some of you may have seen it. It was one of the most
extraordinary films I ever worked on, with a great
designer, [INAUDIBLE], [INAUDIBLE] the writer Again, I think all the
elements are there. It’s funny that,
in the music world, there are strict
lines of behavior that change from working in
film, working with dance, working with opera. It’s all different. The workplaces are
controlled by the person who makes the decisions
about what’s going to happen. It’s very easy to
see how this happens. If you’re working on a
film, the film producer actually tells the director
what’s going to happen. If you’re working
in the theater, it’s the theater director. If you’re working
with a choreographer– I remember I was doing a play
with Jerry Robbins called Glass Pieces. And I went to see the rehearsal. And the orchestra
sounded terrible. I said, Jerry, you’ve got to do
something with the orchestra. He said, look. I got an hour left
in my rehearsals. The opening’s tonight. Get out of here. The orchestra, it
finally took him a year to learn to play their music. And it was a
painful year for me. But there was no question. The time was going to
be determined by Jerry. Jerry decided what
he was going to do. So each of these
workplaces is controlled. And these workplaces
are defined by who makes the decision of
what’s going to happen. The only place, the best
place, for the composer is the opera house. There you pick the writer,
the director, the designer. The opera house is
a composer’s house. AUGUSTA READ
THOMAS: The singers. PHILIP GLASS: That’s why
I wrote so many operas. I got left alone. [LAUGHTER] PHILIP GLASS: I got to
be the guy that decided, the decider, as
Bush used to say. I was the decider. AUGUSTA READ
THOMAS: There’s time for a couple of more questions. I’m not sure who
has the microphones. SPEAKER 2: I have one here. Your music for
The Hours expanded the beauty and sensitivity and
meaningfulness of that film so deeply and greatly. And I wonder if
you could comment on the process of your
collaboration for that film. And then also with
choreographers, if you could say something,
please, about that kind of collaboration. PHILIP GLASS: If
you haven’t seen, the film is about three
stories that go together. And the film is an A story,
a B story, and a C story. One story takes
place in Hollywood in the 30s, another one
in New York in the 50s. What’s the third? I forget. But the difficulty
of the film was to find a score that
would fit everything. And I was asked to
write the music. And I found out right away that
two other composers had already been fired. So I was the third one. So I knew that I had a chance,
that I would do the first. We did movies in terms of
reels, so the first reel. I did the first reel. If I didn’t get it
through the first reel, I was going to lose the job. So I did that. I wrote the first reel
in five or six days. And what I did was I
found a thematic idea for each of the stories. And the movie’s made ABC,
ABC, ABC, the three stories. And the musical goes that way. And they used the music to
tie it, to pull it together. It was as if I had
pulled it together with ropes to make it one story. Because when I saw
the film, it was a force that was like a
centrifugal force that was throwing it out, that
was making it fall apart. And I had to find a force that
would bring it back together. So I pulled it together
with the music. And I invited the
producer to come back. He came back with four people. They sat in a row in the studio. And the people that worked
for me were in another room. And I’m going there
and I sit with them. And they watch the
movie, the first reel. And finally– Scott
Rudin was the producer– there’s total silence. No one says anything. Finally he says,
well finally, there’s some music I can listen to
while I watch the movie. I said, thank you
and I walked out. I said, we got the job. [LAUGHTER] AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
Oh, that’s great. Is someone walking
around with mics? Yeah, there we go. SPEAKER 3: Thank you. This is a very
personal question. For the last six
years, I’ve suffered from a very crippling
writer’s block. And as an academic,
it’s not something that I oftentimes admit. But you have had periods
in your creative life where you have had some
pretty severe haters– people, I’ve even heard stories,
coming up on stage and trying to stop you from
playing the pieces that you have composed. And I’m so inspired by
what you have done in terms of a creative body of work. How have you, as
a creator, gotten through those moments when
the entire world seems to be telling you,
even in your own head, to just shut up and stop? PHILIP GLASS: Well, there’s two
issues here, the writer’s block and the haters circle. They’re not exactly
the same thing. But the haters are easy,
because I just ignore them. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
One thing you said is that you have the quote,
“I don’t care what you think” gene. PHILIP GLASS: I really
have that big time. I don’t really care if
they liked it or not. And, look, I never
thought I was going to be a great successful
composer anyway. So the whole thing has been a
surprise from day one ’til now. But I was writing music for
people in lost downtown New York. And they came up and put
a few dollars in the hat at the end of the concert,
and I thought that was it. I had day jobs. And I had a day
job ’til I was 42. I was prepared to go
on for a long time. I didn’t care about that. That I can’t help you with. The writer’s block,
now here’s the thing. We were talking about
this earlier in the day. The thing about music is is
that a composer doesn’t– Rachmaninoff had writer’s block. He, admittedly, found a
psychoanalyst and got over it. And the first thing he wrote
after his writer’s block was Concerto No. 2, which is his
big famous piece. And then he wrote
that Symphony No. 3. He wrote a lot of stuff. But he was very young
when he wrote Symphony No. 1. And what happened was
that it was a big success, and he couldn’t make
that next piece. That’s unusual. Usually, composers instead
having a writer’s block, they begin playing the piano. They begin singing. They do something. What I would do, if I
didn’t have any ideas, that wouldn’t both me very much. I would just start
to play the piano, and then I would start to make
up stuff, and before I knew it, I was doing something. It’s harder for people,
painters and writers, have a different process. Painters have the
empty canvas problem. And writers have the
empty page problem. Dancers and musicians
and poets, by the way– poets don’t have that problem. They just pick up scraps
of everyday language and they begin to work with it. Maybe there’s a way to if
you look at your colleagues. And we’re not that different. It’s just that the
materials that we use are more available to us. If the materials were
more available to you– for example, if a poet
could just speak his poetry, it would probably
make it easier. But mostly, poets don’t
have that problem so much. It really is a painters
and writers problem. We don’t have it exactly. Except I’m suggesting
that the activity of music itself can break
the musical problem. And it must be the
activity of writing that, somehow, the solution
will be somewhere there, I would guess. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: I noticed
that we do have to stop. I wanted to say two things. First of all, we really
want you to come back as soon as possible. [APPLAUSE] AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Because
there are so many more questions to ask, and we’re
so fortunate to have you here. You’re always welcome
back, and we’re going to try to get you back. But I did want to say, in a
master class that you gave, there was a student who said
that he had written some music but that he didn’t know
what to do with it. And he came to you and he
said, well, what should I do with this music? And you said, well,
I know the feeling. It’s like walking
into a restaurant but all the tables are taken. So what do you do? This is you saying, you say,
you build another table. “Just build your own
table,” quote unquote. And so I’m just thanking you
for building your own tables for all these years. PHILIP GLASS: Thank you Gus. AUGUSTA READ THOMAS:
Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE]

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