Glass lives in two worlds: composing, performing

November 04, 1990|By Knight-Ridder News Service

Philip Glass is more difficult to track down than a Washington politician.

"I think this is Washington," Mr. Glass said with a chuckle in a recent phone conversation from the Days Inn where he was staying in the nation's capital. "If it's Monday, it must be Washington. Believe me, these days I'm never sure."

The 53-year-old American composer -- who was born in Baltimore -- is on tour with his Philip Glass Ensemble, performing his score for "Koyaanisqatsi," Godfrey Reggio's 1983 film about ecological balance, at showings of the film. Mr. Glass and his ensemble did the same thing three years ago. They have also performed the score for Mr. Reggio's second film, "Powaqqatsi," on tour.

Why set out on the road again?

nTC "My feeling is the film is finding its best audience right now," Mr. Glass said. "When it came out in '83 everyone thought of Godfrey as some kind of hippie.

"But now, after seven or eight years of people worrying about ecology and the ozone layer, we're in a position where we're much more aware of the kind of real issues the film was about."

The other reason, Mr. Glass said, has to do with something very practical: money.

"We're trying to do the third film, 'Naqoyqatsi,' and we're having trouble getting the money," he said. "You'd think with the success of the other two, it would be a snap to get money for the third, but it isn't. Film investors want to earn their money back in two weekends, like 'Batman.'

"Godfrey planned a trilogy of these films, and here it is 10 years later and the third one still isn't done. We have half the money from an Italian producer, and we wanted to get started on it this summer, but we don't have enough money to do that yet. So we're touring four weeks in this country and seven in Europe in order to raise the money."

When he's not touring, Mr. Glass adds to the list of highly popular compositions that have made him one of the most successful composers of our time.

He has finished, he said with obvious satisfaction, the score for "The Voyage," an opera about Christopher Columbus commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. It will be premiered at the Met in October 1992 to mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America.

"We're involved with casting now," he said, "and we start working on the design in the spring. Bruce Ferden, who conducted the world premiere of my 'Satyagraha' in Holland in 1980, will conduct. We're on schedule."

One of Mr. Glass' most recent efforts, a music drama called "The Hydrogen Jukebox" in which he collaborated with poet Allen Ginsberg, received good notices at its premiere at the Spoleto Festival last spring.

And while he might not be sure which city he's in on a given day, he says he relishes taking his act on the road.

"I want to continue to be a composer who performs," he said. "It's an important part of my musical life."

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