(The text below is copyright Valerie Hector 2015. All rights reserved.)
A few weeks ago I was listening to NPR in the studio. Terry Gross was interviewing composer Philip Glass. Glass's new memoir Words Without Music had just been released to glowing reviews. In it Glass tells of his struggles to establish himself as an artist, which took to say the least a very long time.
I had always assumed that Glass was too inscrutable for me, too arcane, too academic. The interview showed him to be just the opposite - earthy, humorous, worldly-wise and humble. Maybe all great thinkers are, when you get to know them.
Considering his stellar educational credentials, Glass could have chosen an easier path by working within an established institution. Instead he chose to go it alone. Now he's almost an institution in his own right. Music critics proclaim him America's greatest living composer.
In the beginning Glass struggled to make ends meet and provide for his family. First he operated a furniture moving company. But he worried about his hands. Then he drove a taxi in New York city, sometimes at night - a dangerous occupation at the time. Worse still, reviewers scorned his early compositions. "Glass murders music!" one critic crowed.
It takes decades for an artist to realize a vision and create a legacy for a field. Glass has done both, by grit, determination and commitment to his cause.
I went looking for some of his music. I hoped for something accessible. Honestly I didn't know where to begin. But the internet is vast and Google is a godsend.
I happened across Valentina Lisitsa Plays Philip Glass, a 2-CD set covering 30 years' of works for piano. I wasn't prepared to like all of the pieces as much as I did - especially on CD 1, which features selections from Glassworks and The Hours as well as How Now. Simply put, the music is mesmerizing. It pulses with concern for the human condition, contemplating vast, unanswerable questions.
Just as it can be difficult to distinguish the dancer from the dance, it can difficult to separate performer from composer. Lisitsa is more than up to the task, delivering a compelling and emotionally-charged performance.
Coincidentally, I also recently read Cloud Atlas, a novel by David Mitchell that was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2004. I had the clever idea that if the novel were to be turned into a movie - a seemingly impossible task - it should be scored - could only be scored - by Philip Glass.
Such is the affinity between music and novel, especially the chapters that tell of the future, when humans have lost much of their humanity. Alas I was several years too late. The movie was released in 2012 and scored by other musicians.
But I won't be renting it, because it can't possibly be as impressive as the novel. Besides, I see scenes from Cloud Atlas in my head every time I listen to Valentina Lisitsa Plays Philip Glass. It's a strange but welcome synchronicity.
Now to read Glass's memoir Words Without Music and watch Scott Hicks' documentary Glass: A Portrait in Twelve Parts. And to take a look at Philip Glass's website, where further wonders surely await.
Thank you, Terry Gross! (and NPR).