Philip Glass Composes New Arts Festival

BY Jeffrey Brown  August 19, 2011 at 2:44 PM EDT

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American composer and pianist Philip Glass performs in Prague in July 2009. Photo by Jindrich Mynarik/isifa/Getty Images

 
The inaugural Days and Nights Festival of the Arts is about to launch in Carmel Valley and Big Sur on the California coast. It will include music, dance, theater, film, poetry and more, and it’s headed up by the renowned composer Philip Glass.

I talked to Glass today by phone in Carmel:

[Read the transcript after the jump]

JEFFREY BROWN: So, why did you want to take this on? I guess that’s the first question.

PHILIP GLASS: Well, you know, it’s funny. I’ve been performing in many places around the world, actually the last 40 years. And a lot of them have been in festivals. You know, whether it was the Wolf Trap in Washington, or Ravinia in Chicago, or Tanglewood in Massachusetts, or Ravello in Italy. Summer festivals have become very common, and I’ve done a lot of that, in the course of which I began to think this must be really fun to have a festival, and I wasn’t thinking about all the work involved. But I liked the idea of shaping a festival the way I would do it, which probably the closest thing that we know that would be like it would have been in the days of [Gian Carlo] Menotti was at the Festival of Two Worlds. And he had a lot— he combined a lot of things. And they still do it, they still do that in Charleston, South Carolina and in Spoleto, also, where you’ll have theater and dance and music. I’ve thrown in poetry and film, also, so I extended it a little bit. But the idea that the festival wasn’t just a film festival or just an orchestra. It’s very much the way I’ve worked. I’ve worked a lot with other people. Collaboration has been kind of the blood, flesh and bones of what I do.

JEFFREY BROWN: Forever for you, right? Yeah.

PHILIP GLASS: So it was a way to express that interest and, in a way, to articulate the kinds of interest I’ve had over the years in the form of a festival. And it was surprisingly easy to do, and, from the point of programming, because basically I just called up my friends. I organized the events in about a week. Organizing everything else took a bit more time.

JEFFREY BROWN: But I’m wondering, in your role as essentially curator here, did you develop a theme?

PHILIP GLASS: I realize now that I have, although I wasn’t thinking that way. Its only in retrospect, when I looked at the program, there is a— it goes from classical music— The music section part of is from the classical chamber music, through my own ensemble and the composers are— there are only four composers — there is Schubert, Shostakovich, Bartok and Glass. We have a Mendelssohn piece, we did a Mendelssohn octet, also. So it became the musical theme this year. I want to next year to begin introducing a festival composer, and not myself, but I would like to have a composer who would be in their 20s or early 30s, a younger composer, who would come, we would hear their work and they would be part of this. So that’s in the future. Once I realized, whether I planned it or not there is going to be theme, so I might as well plan it.

JEFFREY BROWN: This multi-discipline, multi-arts approach, as you said, reflects long time interests for you. A few years ago I spent a day with your old friend, Richard Serra, doing a piece for the Newshour, and he talked about your friendship and this interest that you both had in exploring all kinds of art forms. How do they— talk a little bit about that, how they sort of play together for you, and how exploring different art forms ends up influencing your own music making.

PHILIP GLASS: My own personal history, I’ve been very involved with visual artists all my life and I just think it’s a connection that I’ve had since I was very young. I had a Fulbright to be in Paris he had a traveler’s grant from Yale, and he spent some of the time in Paris and we became very good friends at that time, and that would have been in 1963 and ’64 — it’s quite a while ago. And when he came back to New York, he had just gotten started with the Castelli Gallery and he needed a studio assistant and I needed a job and we were good friends anyway, and the fact of the matter was that I was helping him at night move things around anyway just for fun. So then I got hired to be his assistant and I spent three years working with him, which was a wonderful time for me and I hope it was for him, too. I think it was. We talked about art, we lived and breathed it. I learned so much about sculpture and painting just from being with him. And then I made very good friends in the art world. I knew Bob Rauschenberg fairly well, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns is still around, fortunately. This is a generation older than us, but they were very interested in Richard and they were very interested in me. And so then his colleagues were people like Chuck Close and Brice Marden, and the people that they had known at Yale. So through him I became very familiar with sort of contemporary artists who lived in New York. So that was just part of my world. When I did concerts I naturally asked them to do the posters for the concerts and I ended up at one point with something like 15 or 20 beautiful posters made by all kinds of people. Richard did one, of course. Brice Marden did one. Chuck, everybody did one.

JEFFREY BROWN: Coming back up to date now with this festival that you are putting together — the idea of including music, dance, theater, poetry…

PHILIP GLASS: Well, I became a collaborator very early. And I did work with dance companies. Then working in film. So it became very easy for me to make those connections because I was kind of living in the middle of it, so to speak. New York is a great place to meet everybody, and by the time I was in my 40s — and by then I was starting to make a living with music. I didn’t before then, I had day jobs — but by the time I was in my 40s, I knew so many people to work with them. It was the world that I lived in.

JEFFREY BROWN: So now you’ve gathered some contemporary friends and collaborating—

PHILIP GLASS: Well, it was very easy to do. I just called. I found out that Molissa [Fenley], for example, was premiering a new work in Nova Scotia this summer with music of mine, and I asked her to come to the festival, and of course she did.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, it helps that you are saying, ‘Come to be Big Sur and Carmel,’ right?

PHILIP GLASS: It’s an easy invite to make. And we are also performing in Big Sur at the Memorial Library, we’ll be doing some outside performances there. We’ll be doing the Dracula film with my score that I did, the Tod Browning film with Bela Lugosi — that film. And we’ll be performing there. And there is a poets night there, and that of course grew out of my interest in poetry, and work I’ve done in poetry. Then down in Carmel Valley, we have a more of a concert hall situation and we’ll be doing chamber music and theater. John Moran is doing one of his theater pieces. He did work in the Public Theater and LaMaMa in New York and worked in Paris and Berlin and now lives in Thailand. And he was back in the United States touring, and I just called John up and said, “John, bring your— what do you have?” And he had a new piece and I said, come and do it for us. And then there are younger people I’d like to work with. My only— when I say the thing that I missed out on this year is that I didn’t have as many of the younger people as I wanted to. There wasn’t so much time to plan everything that I wanted to. I would like to have young composers as part of this, and young choreographers. If I did people of my generation, it would be people in their 70s. There is not going to be— a lot of people aren’t going to be that interested. There are some wonderful people in their 70s, but there are some wonderful people that are in their 20s and 30s, too.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well let me just ask you finally, I mean, you’re still clearly going strong. Not slowing down at all?

PHILIP GLASS: No, in fact the problem is that I’m running, I’ve run out of time not in terms of my lifetime, which of course often obviously true, but I don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything that I want to do and that I’m asked to do. What happens is you reach the point where you can almost do everything you want to do, but you just don’t have the time to do everything. I need a 10-day week. Seven days isn’t really quite making it, but I’m very busy with that, and of course, I love working with the people. This festival has been a real joy. We’ve become a family almost immediately. And then there will be people coming and going over the next three weeks, and there will be something like 17 performances in 20 days.

JEFFREY BROWN: Alright. The Days and Nights Festival of the Arts runs through September 4th. Philip Glass thanks so much for talking to us.

PHILIP GLASS: Very happy to talk with you.