Philip Glass in Concert: Usher Hall in Edinburgh, 23rd June 2010

Philip Glass photo courtesy WNYC New York Public Radio This was an excellent concert showcasing one of today's great composers. Billed as "An Evening of Chamber Music" it featured the composer Philip Glass on piano and introducing his works. Despite some last minute alterations it went very smoothly indeed. The alterations were necessary because the cellist Wendy Sutter had taken ill unexpectedly, so Glass and his percussionist associate Mick Rossi from the Philip Glass Ensemble made some quick and radical changes to the programme. Yet these artists have an extensive repertoire of Glass works which they have played over the years. Glass referred to his handwritten notes from time to time to remind him what was next in the new programme but otherwise the performers gave the impression that the entire programme had been rehearsed and played many times before.

Concert Programme

The replacement concert programme consisted of the following works, and where available we've included links to youtube videos of these works to give a flavour of the concert.

There are five works for solo piano called "Metamorphosis" dating from 1988, and they were originally written for a play of that name based on Kafka's short story. Some of the music was adapted from the score of the film "The Thin Blue Line", and later some of the music was further adapted for the score to the film "The Hours".

There are at least 3 works labelled "Music In" all dating from 1969 and they see Glass in experimental mode, testing the dramatic effects of different parts playing at different intervals. "Music in Similar Motion" can be played by any combination of instruments:

Introducing the "Etudes" Glass remarked that he intended to write 20 of these and had so far reached 16, but could play only 10 of these. For this concert 3 Etudes were selected:

  • Etude 1 - Philip Glass: piano video
  • Etude 2 - Philip Glass: piano video
  • Etude 10 - Philip Glass: piano, Mick Rossi: hand drums (not available on youtube)

Philip Glass - Solo Piano album cover "Mad Rush" has an interesting history. It was originally written for organ to entertain the audience prior to the Dalai Lama giving his first talk in the West (in 1981) in the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York. Since the organisers were not certain exactly when the Dalai Lama would arrive, Glass was asked to write something of indefinite length (which is not a problem for Glass). That first performance lasted about 30 mintues but the resulting concert piece for piano typically lasts 13 or 14 minutes but there are versions with different lengths. The name "Mad Rush" was given to the work when the choreographer Lucinda Childs used the work as the basis for a dance.

"The Screens" was a stage play for which the music was a collaboration between Glass and Gambian composer Foday Musa Suso. The music for a number of scenes has been turned into concert pieces, and the Edinburgh audience heard two of those pieces tonight - "Night on the Balcony" and "The French Lieutenant" as an encore.

  • Night on the Balcony from The Screens - Philip Glass: piano, Mick Rossi: marimba (not available on youtube)

"Orphée" is one of 3 operas by Glass based on films by Jean Cocteau. I'm not sure if the piece played was identified, but Glass was joined on the piano by Mick Rossi playing the upper "primo" part.

  • Music from Orphée - piano 4 hands: Mick Rossi and Philip Glass

"Glassworks" is the name of an album released by Glass in 1982. The first track of the album is called "Opening" and the final is its reprise and called "Closing". Glass almost called the work "Opening" during his introduction, and then corrected himself saying it was "Closing" since he was nearing the end of the concert.

  • Closing from Glassworks - Philip Glass: piano video

"Wichita Vortex Sutra" is the name of a poem by Allen Ginsberg. Glass composed music to accompany it, and the pair performed the resulting work in this form. Glass had asked the poet to record the voice part so that Glass could play the work solo when the poet was unavailable, but didn't play the work for a number of years following Ginsberg's death in 1997. However, remembering about the recording he has now resumed playing the work along with the recording.

  • Wichita Vortex Sutra - Allen Ginsberg: words, Philip Glass: piano, Mick Rossi: percussion video

"Wichita Vortex Sutra" marked the final work in the amended concert programme, and following this the pair played the following encore:

  • The French Lieutenant from The Screens - Philip Glass: piano, Mick Rossi: marimba (not available on youtube)

All in all it was great to see this remarkable composer in Scotland, and to hear at first hand how he plays his own pieces.

Notes and References

Here is Philip Glass speaking about Bach for the film "Bach and Friends" with Wendy Sutter playing Bach on the Cello. We recommend the documentary film "Bach and Friends" and you can find more information about it on our review on mfiles.

The album "Solo piano" contains a number of the works performed at this concert, including Metamorphosis 1-5, Mad Rush and Wichita Vortex Sutra. It is available from and If you play the piano then the sheet music is also available for this album at Sheet Music Plus or Music Room.

The photo of Philip Glass above is by WNYC New York Public Radio - see wikipedia for license details.