Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Book of Longing and Philip Glass

"A" took me to see the Philip Glass opera "The Book of Longing" (Leonard Cohen) at the Fowler Centre (as part of the NZ International Arts Festival). It was great fun, prior to which Glass made a free appearance at the Town Hall. The place was bulging with people in the aisles, hanging from the walls. Glass entered the small stage looking like a frumpy old man in his rumpled casual attire (but very handsome in black during the show). I took this photo of him from the third row. He sat very still but every time I tried to shoot him, he moved. The New Zealanders wanted him to talk but he said, ask me questions. And so they did.

He talked mostly about working with Leonard Cohen over many years because Cohen was up at Baldy Mountain meditating and he had to wait till he came down, which he did after five years, (because of a woman).

He said English is the hardest language to sing -- too many words end in consonants. He consulted singers David Byrne, Laurie Anderson, Paul Simon and Susan Vega to learn how to use the voice with Cohen's poetry in his opera, which he entitled, "The Book of Longing" The same title of a book of drawings, poems and this and that by the Canadian poet/singer. Glass also said he was really grateful when he asked Cohen about his contribution to the opera and Cohen said, me words, you music.

After the show, I wondered why Glass used professional opera singers when in fact a little of Susan Vega would have been closer to Cohen and maybe give the show a bit of a kick. I said to "A" Patti Smith or Deborah Harry would have been a nice addition to the show. "A" gave it careful thought and then said, "They would have been too expensive." Yeah, I guess so, but everyone wants to go to New Zealand, the other alternative is using people here. There is a strong music scene here.


tom appleton said...

strange, i've always enjoyed philip glass most when he kept vocalists OUT of his music, and have frequently felt that leonard cohen could have done with some additional input from somebody else, i.e. from some musical heavyweight. as it is, it sounds to me as if both men missed the chance of arriving at something more exciting than what they have already done many times over, in the past. another dull glass composition -- with zero input from cohen. cohen's lyrics usually suggest a very different song from what he does with them himself, they're far more humorous, and almost much too well rhymed. i imagine the reason why cohen writes such limited SONGS is that he is a very limited composer, really. so a bit of a leg-up from glass working WITH cohen might have done the trick -- and given us the best cohen yet. and some listenable glass verbiage as well. alas ----

Anonymous said...

in fact, further to my previous comment, i was just listening to paul mccartney's "monkberry moon delight" (from "ram", his first post-beatle solo album) and macca's doing a wonderful philip glass imitation there in the extended fade-out. gives you an idea of what a cohen//glass cooperation MIGHT have sounded like. lively. fun.