Philip Glass: Book of Longing, Music in Twelve Parts, London Barbican Centre, 20-21 October 2007

Back from a short trip to London, the main reason for which was to attend two concerts at the Barbican in honour of the 70th birthday of Philip Glass. The first was Book of Longing, a collaboration with another of my musical heroes, Leonard Cohen. The pre-concert talk was remarkable in the fact that it was the first time I had seen Cohen in person for 14 years, since his last London concert at the Royal Albert Hall. It was interesting, but I don’t think Leonard came out of it particularly well, his responses (to some predictably batty questions) being somewhat gnomic and underwhelming. Glass dominated the conversation (before the Q&A, that is), and acquitted himself much better.

The Book of Longing concert itself was excellent. Again, it was Glass who came out with his credibility intact rather than Cohen. With one or two exceptions, these late poems are bitty and inconsequential. Glass’s music, however, gave them a stature I’m not sure they really deserved.

The main event was on Sunday afternoon – a rare performance of Glass’s superb Music in Twelve Parts in all its sumptuous entirety. This piece is a towering achievement in 20th century music. Endlessly vital and kaleidoscopic, it was performed magnificently by Glass and his ensemble.

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