Choosing your city

Heard in the Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg on 20 August 2016:

There he was, Philip Glass (1937), the great American composer and pianist, speaking about his autobiography, ‘’Words without Music’, and also playing a piece of his work (‘Choosing Life’ from ‘’The Hours’) on the piano, in the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam. Harpist Lavinia Meijer and pianist Feico Deutekom played three more pieces. Melchior Huurdeman did the interviewing. Both speakers were introduced by Tracy Metz, director of the John Adams Institute and initiator of this unique event. Glass talked about New York. How he moved from Baltimore, where his father owned a recordshop, to the Big Apple, in order to study music. That was 1969. New York, he stressed, was still an affordable place at that time. Thousands of young artists moved to the big city every year. In order to earn a living young Glass needed a job for three days a week, not more. A hundred dollars a month was sufficient to survive. He became taxidriver, construction worker, you name it; he even helped Richard Serra build his large sculpture for the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The rest of the time he studied music at Juilliard.

While studying he started composing and playing for small audiences. A great time to experiment. No responsibilities. Lots of talented people, lots of opportunities. Though his minimal music was a new sound not well understood by many, he became a successful composer in short time. Only ten years later, in 1976, his opera ‘Einstein on the Beach’ was performed in the Metropolitan Opera House. Glass seemed still to be overwhelmed, after all those years, by his unexpected stardom. Just read ‘Outliers’ (2008) of Malcolm Gladwell and you’ll understand: 10.000 hours of hard work and training plus a lot of luck is needed to become an outlier. Glass worked hard and New York is a lucky place. Not that the city is a garantee for success, but sure it helps. Plus: If I can make it in New York, I can make it anywhere. But then in the interview Glass raised the point that what New York lacked, at least at that time, was expert technical knowledge for composers. So he moved to Paris, where Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was teaching at the conservatory. In Paris he also met the Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar. That means these two cities were very important in his life: Paris and New York. And if you listen to his music, you’ll hear New York, and a bit of Paris.





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