Happy Birthday, Philip Glass!

Philip Glass, the most famous representative of minimal music and longtime companion of Ars Electronica, celebrates his 85th birthday - we congratulate him!

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The American Philip Glass is one of the most important composers of the present day and has helped shape the “minimal music” movement. Works such as Glassworks, Einstein On The Beach and the film music for The Hours or Kundun have made him known far beyond the borders of the classical music scene. On January 31, the Baltimore-born pianist and composer celebrates his 85th birthday. To mark the occasion, we look back at the many times Philip Glass’ music made us dream with its magical repetitions and pulsating triads.

Philip Glass and Ars Electronica

The first time Philip Glass came into contact with Ars Electroncia was as early as 1998 in the course of the Prix Ars Electronica. Monsters of Grace, a multimedia opera in 13 short acts directed by Robert Wilson, with music by Philip Glass, performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble, received an Honorary Mention in the Computer Animation category. Just a few years later, on the occasion of Philip Glass’ 65th birthday, Symphony No. 6 – Plutionian Ode was jointly commissioned by Carnegie Hall and the Brucknerhaus Linz. Based on the poem Plutonian Ode by Allen Ginsberg, it was performed during the Linz Klangwolke in 2002. The symphony’s three movements follow the three parts of the poem – the first movement a passionate outcry against nuclear contamination and pollution, the second a turn toward healing, and the last movement an epiphany achieved through personal transformation.

The Piano Duo

In the successful career and extensive oeuvre of Philip Glass, two names keep cropping up that have helped shape the music world here in Europe: Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa. Dennis Russell Davies has conducted many European orchestras, including here in Austria, the RSO in Vienna and the Bruckner Orchestra in Linz, and is currently principal conductor in Brno and Leipzig. The friendship and collaboration of Dennis Russell Davies and Philip Glass goes way back to their youth in New York, and Dennis became one of the important interpreters of Philip Glass’ music. No other conductor has premiered as many works by Philip Glass as he has, and as a pianist Dennis Russell Davies also has close ties to the work of Philip Glass, composing the first six Etudes for Piano for his friend in 1994. Maki Namekawa is one of today’s leading pianists* and has earned a special reputation as the most distinguished interpreter of Philip Glass’ piano works, in addition to the classical-romantic repertoire. In 2013, Maki Namekawa presented the complete cycle of Philip Glass’ piano etudes for the first time with the composer’s participation at the International Arts Festival in Perth. Since 2005, Maki Namekawa has formed a successful piano duo with husband Dennis Russell Davies, performing regularly in Europe and North America.

Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa performing at Deep Space 8K
Credit: tom mesic

From the big stage …

As part of the 2012 Ars Electronica Festival, Japanese pianist Maki Namekawa performed compositions by three visionary composers, musically celebrating the 60th birthday of Ryuichi Sakamoto (JP), the 75th birthday of Philip Glass (US), and remembering John Cage (US), who would have celebrated his centennial in 2012.

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The work Four Movements for Two Pianos was written especially by Philip Glass for Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa. In 2014, the piece was presented in the course of the Ars Electronica Festival’s grand concert night C… what it takes to change. The piano duo was accompanied by real-time music visualizations created by media artist Cori O’lan.

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Ars Electronica 2019 bid farewell with an Austrian premiere on the last day of the festival: pianist Maki Namekawa performed Philip Glass’s first piano sonata, which he dedicated to her personally. The piece was a joint commission by the Ruhr Piano Festival, the Philharmonie de Paris and Ars Electronica.

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… into the Piano Room

In 2020, Ars Electronica Home Delivery transformed the closed Ars Electronica Center into a broadcast studio. With a concert by the Linz-based piano duo, Ars Electronica Home Delivery will launch its first live program on May 1, 2020-directly from the “Piano Room” of the AIxMusic exhibition in the Ars Electronica Center. It is to be the first concert in a whole series of live performances. These piano recitals also featured works by Philip Glass such as Two Pieces for Four Hands

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… and Etude No. 4.

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Mishima

With his autobiographical novel Confessions of a Mask, Yukio Mishima became an overnight star on the Japanese literary scene at the age of 24. Philip Glass’s beautiful and evocative music, composed in 1985, closely follows the structure of Paul Schrader’s biographical film Mishima – A Life in Four Chapters, but the music still stands strongly on its own. Maki Namekawa asked his longtime collaborator, conductor and pianist Michael Riesman, to create a piano version of this beautiful score and recorded it in 2018. In the spring of 2021, Maki Namekawa will present the piece at the Ars Electronica Center’s Deep Space 8K.

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