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Leonard Cohen's 'Book' with Philip Glass' music

February 23, 2009 |  4:06 pm

Bookoflonging The unexpected blessings of calling the same place home: For several years, Robert Faggen, one of our contributors and an English professor at Claremont McKenna College, lived in a cabin on Mt. Baldy, which is north of the Southern California campus. Poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen also lived on the mountain, at the Zen Center; in 1994, Cohen quit the spotlight to become a Zen Buddhist monk and spent five years in seclusion there. 

When the two encountered each other in a Claremont store, a friendship developed.

Out of that personal contact has come something else besides friendship: a series of five performances of Cohen's poetry from "Book of Longing," set to music by composer Philip Glass, which is coming to CMC later this week and will be sponsored by the Family of Benjamin Z. Gould Center for Humanistic Studies, of which Faggen is also the director.

The song cycle features singers and an ensemble of eight musicians (Glass himself will perform on all five nights at the keyboard). Cohen's artwork, which is on display at the college and which The Times has reported about, will also be prominent in these performances.

Bringing "Book of Longing" to Claremont, Faggen said, involved a great deal of preparation and coordination with Glass, Glass’ longtime musical director Michael Riesman and many others.

There was also an additional element of poetic aptness to this production. Cohen wrote many of the poems in "Book of Longing" while he lived on Mt. Baldy.

"I think it intrigued Leonard," Faggen said. "To have it performed in sight of the mountain was pleasing to him and everyone involved."

— Nick Owchar