Monday, May 20, 2013

Philip Glass and Friends: The Avocado of Adulthood

Tim Fain and his magic violin.
As Tim Fain's bow feverishly raced across his violin strings whilst playing Philip Glass's Chaconne, my eyes welled up and I was overcome with emotion.  I felt as if someone had grabbed me by the throat and life was leaving my body--in a completely wonderful way.  If you have to go, may it be by the beauty and power of Philip Glass as performed by Tim Fain.  In a benefit for the Henry Miller Library, Philip Glass hosted an evening of music with friends last night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. 

An eclectic audience gathered to hear an even more eclectic array of performers including Glass, Fain, Nico Muhly, Nadia Sirota,  Real Estate, Sondre Lerche, and Bryce Dessner (Van Dyke Parks was originally scheduled to play but had to pull out at the last minute due to a sprained hand).  

This is less a review and more a confession.   This was my first time seeing or hearing Philip Glass (I know--for shame).  I definitely fell asleep once during Koyaanisqatsi but I'm thinking that does not count.  I'm wondering if, like many things in adulthood, you only acquire the taste for Glass once your palate has matured--you know like a taste for avocado or The New Yorker (I feel I've finally earned the hearty laugh at something droll and I pretty much want avocado on everything.). Or maybe this was more of a personal challenge.

For years I have struggled to "listen" to music.  Music has always been so foreign to me.  I've learned the language of photography, painting, sculpture, drama and cinema but felt out of sync with dance and music.  Perhaps this is because the sum total of my own musical skills is the complete inability to clap on the beat.  Then suddenly this year (ok fine, last month), I let go with music.  I stopped trying to find the narrative and I stopped trying to "understand" it all.  I've given myself permission to understand what I can and feel what there is to feel.   And I'm glad I did because this evening proved to be well worth experiencing.

Philip Glass opened the evening with Étude #1 and Étude #10. As Glass sat as his piano and played, I got swept up in the beautiful melodies of his pieces.  My mind went to Mondrian and urban landscapes full of hustle and bustle. I heard rainfall and dancing in the rain.

Real Estate
With no emotional break or moment to catch our collective breaths, following Glass, the indie band Real Estate played three songs. I'm afraid I did not really hear much of what they played because I was still lost in the Glass pieces. 

Tim Fain came out after and played the rigorous but evocative Chaconne. As he finished I wrote in my notebook, "I'm a broken person" and then I spent five minutes trying to find tissues to wipe away my tears.  So that happened.

Sondre Lerche
Sondre Lerche, a Norwegian singer-songwriter, followed Fain.  With amusing self-awareness, Lerche entered the stage after Fain and exclaimed "Did you see that! Did you hear that!"  Wondering aloud how he ended up on this bill, Lerche played a couple of songs, including one by Van Dyke Parks.  His last song he introduced by saying it was one he wrote when he was very young and then let out a very pregnant sigh which made us all giggle.  Ah youth. But his rockabilly sound was unexpectedly richer than his self-effacing manner might suggest.  Definitely going to check out more of his music.

Next up was Nico Muhly.  He invited several artists to play along with him.  Tim Fain returned to play Drones and Violins alongside Muhly.   Nadia Sirota and Bryce Dessner joined Muhly to play Violas and Drones. 

Tim Fain and Nico Muhly

Bryce Dessner
I was partial to the Violas piece but I am biased.  Dessner bowed his guitar during Violas and Drones.  Turns out this is the way to my heart--bow a guitar well.  Melting.

Dessner's solo piece was an improv.  In the spirit of Philip Glass, he was going to do a guitar solo without touching the guitar strings--an attempt to say much with so little.  He held the guitar upside down and tapped it on the ground, controlling the sounds emanating from the guitar with his hands and pedals.  He would nudge it with his knee.  Tap and knock on it with his hands.  Layering sounds upon sounds to build a piece of music.  Swaying the guitar away from himself. Thumping it on the ground to gain more sound. 

It's a mesmerizing performance and sound in its own right but much like his role in A Lot of Sorrow watching him create in the moment feels like an incredible treasure. I know The National is kicking off a tour shortly so Dessner might not be performing a lot of his own compositions for a while but I'm keen to see that next. Mark your calendars, as he has a performance with So Percussion at Carnegie Hall in November.

Glass and Fain returned to play a piece that Glass composed for the 90th Anniversary of the ACLU called Pendulum.

The grand finale was a piece that all the acts performed in.  Glass said it was challenge to find something they all could participate in.  They played The Chase from the opera Orphée. The echoing calls between the violin and viola and the guitars were an absolute delight. Watching these talented artists all build something together made my heart sing. 

Glass did an encore called Closing.

It's always gratifying to get out of your comfort zone and "discover" something new.  Because the line-up was a mix of singer-songwriters and new classical music talents it made for a smörgåsbord of sounds and emotions.  I left beaming regardless of the rainy night upon us.  And maybe I'm listening to a lot of Philip Glass and Tim Fain today.  Not a bad You Tube rabbit hole to fall down.

Finale: Fain, Sirota, Dessner

Finale: Fain and Sirota

Finale: Lerche, Fain and Sirota

Real Estate and Dessner

Bows from Philip Glass and Friends

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