the music world

Words Without Music mech.indd

Years later, I got to know Ornette (Coleman). He had a place on Prince Street with a pool table in the front room. A good spot to hang out and talk about music. I met numerous musicians there of all kinds, including members of his ensemble, especially James “Blood” Ulmer, who had his own band as well. Ornette gave me a piece of advice that I have pondered ever since. He said, “Don’t forget, Philip, the music world and the music business are not the same.”

Currently enjoying Words without music, the memoires Philip Glass published last year. Just love the way he remembers his dad, who sold classical music records. The ones which didn’t sell (in late 40ies Baltimore Bartók, Shostakovich, Stravinsky) his father took home trying to figure out why they didn’t sell. In the process, both father and son learned to appreciate modern music.

His time with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and his arrival in NYC is also beautifully remembered, almost as if you watch a movie. His music met a lot of criticism before his breakthrough opera Einstein on the beach (1976), classical venues and critics didn’t seem to appreciate what Glass was doing before that time. His answer: move over to spaces where they do appreciate my music. In his early days Glass played mainly in art spaces and lofts, where apparently a more open attitude towards the unknown was cultivated.

In these elegantly written pages Glass doesn’t fake any shyness, but this is not the autobiography of a self-indulgent hero, nor just a catalogue of personal victories. In a quite moving fragment he remembers all the great artists, many of them personal friends, who passed away during the AIDS crisis. It wasn’t until Glass was commissioned by the Rotterdam Opera (for Satyagraha, in 1978) that he could live from his compositions only. Up till that moment he took jobs as a factory worker, plumber and cab driver. Glass is not grandiose about it, it just served his major ambitions: make music, enjoy a family.

His thoughts on classical music (in the theatre progress can be achieved; why should you begin your artistic endeavours with composing yet another symphony or string quartet?), his open attitude towards ‘non-western’ music which informs all his major compositions, his personal work ethos – it’s all there to empower the reader. A great read for anyone interested in contemporary music and cultural history.

Philip Glass, Words without music – a memoir (Liveright Publishing Corporation/W.W. Norton & Company, 2015).

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