Minimalism emerged as a critical term to describe a particular subgenre of experimental music in the 1970s, according to Wikipedia. As in architecture or visual art, the musical works classified as “minimalist” strip their form of artistic expression to its most fundamental parts: simple and repetitive harmonies punctuating long bouts of stasis or held notes. The listener doesn’t hear the music. The listener is supposed to experience the atmosphere that builds, extends and dissolves at the whim of the composer.
Some consider Philip Glass to be the father of minimalism in music. In fact, Philip Glass hates minimalism. The genre has a tendency to limit a composer – no pun intended. Instead, Glass remains one of the most influential and prolific pianists of the 20th century in genres as varied as opera and film scoring. On Sunday, March 2, Glass will showcase his virtuoso skill at Campbell Hall.
Like his fellow musical genius Miles Davis, Glass started out studying at Juilliard and moved on to less academic avenues of learning during the 1960s. According to his autobiography, he went to Paris seeking aural inspiration and instead found a creative connection with French New Wave film. This interest led him to Ravi Shankar, the Indian musician, which initiated a series of musical collaborations that would come to define his career.
Shankar’s influence, especially his modernization of the sitar, changed Glass’ direction in his own music. His emphasis fell on repetition of form, and a new sort of genre was born on some of his most highly regarded discs, including 1 + 1, Two Pages, Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion. Glass managed to incorporate this style into his solo piano work, his ensemble work and even into the operatic idiom. Though his minimal tendencies recurred infrequently as his career progressed, they reemerged briefly to figure into Einstein on the Beach, his 1979 modern opera, which garnered international acclaim.
Over the last 25 years, Glass has written music for Samuel Beckett plays and the score for Woody Allen movies. He even claimed an Oscar for the score of “The Truman Show.” His musical collaborations have managed to intersect with the creative avenues of popular songwriters such as Paul Simon and David Bowie. Recently, Glass has returned to providing musical scores for more Beckett short plays such as Acts Without Words I and II, as well as Eh Joe.
Like many of the great artists, Glass’s versatility and natural inclination towards the new, emergent forms of music have allowed him to transform over time. But it is his body of work and success over the entirety of his career that truly makes him a modern master. At his 7 p.m. Campbell Hall show, Glass will perform with Wendy Sutter on cello and Mick Rossi on percussion. The evening should be anything but minimal.