The Old Man and the C: Free to Be Glass and Me

I have an indelible memory from age 7, one in which my diminutive hands have intruded inside a handsome walnut card catalogue and plucked out a prism-covered cassette. My selection was no doubt graphically driven, and my permission to pilfer from my mother's music collection unclear, but the result was definitively my introduction to new music. Dad had handled introductions to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd while Mom facilitated those of Brahms and Shostakovich, but "Glassworks" was a singular, personal discovery.

I was reminded of this vector redirect of my musical development reading Alex Ross' latest in the New Yorker, Number Nine. Much of Glass coverage tends to either the poles of dismissiveness or fan-boyishness, but Ross' career recap and first-person reactions to the recent premier of the composer's Ninth Symphony (Jan 31st, 2012, Carnegie Hall, American Composers Orchestra led by Daniel Russell Davies) are characteristically even-handed.

Take a moment to jump over to the above link and give it a read.

Much like author/illustrator Chris van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, in which a reader must draw on her imagination to compose the narrative to wordless drawings, Glass leaves much to the listener. It's music that invites a 7-year-old brain to explore, unafraid, or a 33-year-old brain to bliss out to after twelve hours of rehearsal. It's also music through which the Spektral Quartet began to develop its continuity of ensemble sound in its first year together, with Quartet No. 2, Company. Finally, it's music that is undoubtedly responsible for a not-insignificant number of seats filled at our more cerebral new music concerts.

As a cultural icon, Philip Glass has remained a divisive character in the new music scene, with many of my colleagues claiming it's high time we moved beyond the easy popularity of minimalism. There is some truth to that sentiment, but I am unable to divorce myself from sublime experiences such as performing The Hours with Michael Riesman at the Harris Theater (MusicNow, 2008) or wearing out the aforementioned tape on a hazzard-yellow Sony boom box, circa 1985.