Saturday, 16 May 2009

A Festival Event

The annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival is taking place at the moment and last night I went to the Theatre Royal to see Philip Glass perform some solo piano works. As you might expect for such a big name the audience was an even mix of people who were into his music and others just curious as to what the fuss was all about.

To the untutored ear the music is much of a muchness and I found my thoughts beginning to wander as the same note patterns and chord sequences seemed to be reworked in successive pieces. Not being a piano player I had never attempted any of his work but watching his fingers move I realised this was music composed by and for the piano. Add or take away a finger from either hand and it would all sound very different. Change from a piano to an electric guitar or a bassoon and he would have made another music altogether. And then I couldn't help thinking that although he's not a bad player himself he's hardly a concert pianist and that perhaps someone else might have performed it all with more technical accomplishment. And somehow I don't think he would disagree.

At some point I realised I had been immersed in, was still immersed in, a wonderful feeling of calm introspection brought about by the music. And the performer's demeanour was so warm, matter-of-fact, unassuming and yet tremendously respectful of his audience that I was enjoying that connection to the music that only the composer can give. The concert wasn't about technique, it was about intent and communication.

At the end he did the obligatory encore; that part of the set that is really the final number but which is saved for after the applause because that's what the audience expects. After further enthusiastic applause he played what I believe was a genuine encore, an extract from the soundtrack to The Thin Blue Line. I am not sure how well be had prepared for the piece. It ended abruptly with a loud staccato chord from nowhere as it to say 'enough's enough'.


  1. Interesting. I have never seen / heard a live performance of Philip Glass, by himself or anyone else. Perhaps palying it on the stereo abstracts it too much from the performance?

  2. I have a friend who paints (art) to Philip Glass, purely as background music. I've seen films with his music in but never listened to an album. In both cases I suppose what's important is that the atmosphere created by the music facilitates another activity. I'm really not sure how well it stands alone, unless you are happy to drift off into your own thoughts, as I was. Performance? He's not exactly Keith Emerson!

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