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Influences: Composer Philip Glass

August 24, 2011 | 10:00 am

Philip Glass
For a composer associated with the minimalist movement, Philip Glass always has a lot to say. In comparison to the repeating and sometimes laconic quality of his music, he’s full of words and ideas and speaks in long, often coiling sentences. 

Glass is interested in film –- he’s composed Academy Award-nominated scores for “Kundun,” “The Hours” and “Notes on a Scandal” –- and in Franz Schubert, India, vegetarianism and spiritual matters. (The Baltimore native has called himself a "Jewish-Taoist-Hindu-Toltec-Buddhist.")

In April, he brings his Ninth Symphony to Walt Disney Concert Hall, to be conducted by John Adams (who dissed Glass slightly in his own memoir, “Hallelujah Junction”). The symphony, performed and co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will make its West Coast premiere. “It’s a very high energy piece, not contemplative like my Eighth Symphony. There’s lots of time for things to happen, and they do.”

And on Tuesday Glass will be in town to lead the Philip Glass Ensemble in a performance of “Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation, at the Hollywood Bowl.” He also recently announced that he will write a memoir to be published by W.W. Norton.

 “In a way,” Glass said as he spoke about figures who have shaped his composing, “these people are all more connected than they seem. All of these people were about social responsibility, and being open to the world and alert to life.”

Here are five of his key influences: 

Teacher and composer Nadia Boulanger: “She didn’t actually teach composition. What she schooled you on was technique –- harmony, counterpoint, analysis. If I was a carpenter, I would say I left her with very sharp, shiny tools.”

Sitar player and composer Ravi Shankar: “He brought a more comprehensive understanding of music. Until I met him, my only knowledge of music was Western art music. And the popular music of our time is a simplified version of the art music of 100 years ago. He opened a door to the world of global music. He began life as a dancer, so he understood the rhythmic structure of music very, very well.”

Composer John Cage: “I got to know Cage in New York. Even before I met him I knew his writings on music. He brought ideas from Duchamp and Dada and surrealism –- that music didn’t have an independent existence. It was a form of communication between  the performers and composer and the audience. It totally reshaped the role of the listener: The listener is the completion of the musical experience."

Poet Allen Ginsberg: “I knew him very well; we did a lot of concerts together. Like Cage, he understood the function of art and the function of society in a very integrated way. More than any other person, he understood ethics and morality. The thing about Allen, he really believed in what [Pharoah] Ahkenaten called 'walking in truth.'"

Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi: “I first encountered Gandi’s life and work while traveling in India in the early '70s; I wrote an opera about him. He helped to shape my understanding, like Allen and John: They all shared the idea that art and society and ethics were connected.”

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-- Scott Timberg

Philip Glass Ensemble, Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., L.A., (323) 850-2000, 8 p.m. Aug.30.

Photo: Philp Glass. Credit: Los Angeles Times file photo.

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