Phillip Glass

Philip Glass Concert Review

A slightly different kind of update this week, but one I would still without a second thought classify under the broad category of learning.

On Friday, I attended the performance of Philip Glass’s The Complete Piano Etudes at the University of Chicago’s very own concert hall. There were five different pianists, including Phil himself, each of which played a total of four of the Etudes. Because each of the pianists had a different background and playing-style of his or her own, someone not already familiar with Glass’s works or the Etudes themselves would likely have detected little continuity between the each of the performances, so different were they played. Although the primary focus of the concert was of course Phil and his compositions, what struck me the most how much like theatre the total performance felt. Watching the continuing rotation of personalities each take the stage, play Glass’s patent minimalist-repetitive piano music for a while, stand-up, bow, and then leave the stage, only to be replaced by another pianist after the piano stool was changed or adjusted, struck me as being similar to watching a bunch of differently trained dancers playing a game of keep-the-balloon-from-touching-the-ground while hundreds of people watched. It was really entertaining.

Although Phil kicked-off the concert with the first two Etudes, he was probably my least-favorite player of the night. I know that his interpretation of each piece is probably the „correct“ version (although I have my doubts as to whether the concept of a „correct“ interpretation is even possible, but he wrote them, so hey), but in terms of his energy-brought-to-the-performance score, Phil was basically batting zero. The eagerness with which he rushed on-to and off-of the stage for each performance was the most lively part. It came as a disappointment to me, but I’ve come to terms with it in the days since: Phil phoned it in.

The other performers, however, more then made-up for the stiltedness of Phil himself. Each one wore their biography on their sleeve, so to speak, making the program guides almost superfluous. All of the requisite pianist personalities were represented: Suave, tuxedoed, Jazz-pianist, who seemed genuinely surprised to see his hands moving across the piano while he played. Manic, Motown singer with pearl-necklace who texted her friends while on the wing of the stage during Phil’s second set. Kimono-wearing Japanese virtuoso, whose CDs were being sold afterward for twice the price of Phil’s own. Horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing, double Yale-degree holding, part-time pianist, part-time blogger, who started playing one song before actually sitting down.

Overall, the concert was very enjoyable, and I recommend listening to Phil’s Etudes if you have the opportunity.