Philip Glass Live in Norfolk

4th May 2003

The Virginia Arts Festival this year had a special treat for me. Two live performances by Philip Glass. I've seen Glass only once before in Sydney at the Opera House in 1996. That was a Solo Piano performance. The performances we just saw were with the Philip Glass Ensemble.

Glass has done a few soundtracks over the years. They break down to three types:

  • soundtracks to Godfrey Reggio films (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqatsi, Naqoyqatsi, Anima Mundi)
  • new soundtracks to old black and white films (Beauty and the Beast, Dracula, Secret Agent)
  • and other soundtracks (Thin Blue Line, Mishima, 1000 Airplanes on the Roof, Kundun, Candyman, Truman Show, The Hours)

My favourites are the soundtracks to the Godfrey Reggio films, the Qatsi films.

[Ticket to Dracula]

[Dracula soundtrack by
Philip Glass] On Monday, we headed into Norfolk for the first of the two films. It was at the Roper Performing Arts Centre, where we had previously been for the bodybuilding contests. The Monday night film was the 1931 black and white Dracula with Bela Lugosi. The night started with a quick intro by a woman dressed as Dracula, speaking like the Dracula of the film. Arts Festival intro. The ensemble came out, all dressed in black, presumably so as not to distract from the film. The screen was above them. Michael Riesman conducted. He started with a quick phone call to the projectionist to synchronise the film and the Ensemble. The film started. I hadn't seen this Dracula before. It might have been scary 70 years ago, but it wasn't scary now. It produced more titters than gasps from the audience. Renfield was particularly looney, and now I know where the really funny bits from Love at First Bite came from. They took the stupidest aspects of this Dracula and enhanced them to total lunacy. The music was pleasant, but not memorable. I've got the soundtrack and have played it a few times, and it's pleasant, but it's not one that grabs me and says "Play me often". It was a fun night, funny film, good music.

[Ticket to Koyaanisqatsi]

[iKoyaanisqatsi by Philip
Glass] On Tuesday, we repeated the dash to Norfolk after work. Back to the Roper Centre, this time for Koyaanisqatsi. This was ever so much better than Dracula. The film Koyaanisqatsi is a little dated, with the images coming from 1975 to 1982. Fashion in the late 1970s was a terrible thing. The computer games were ancient, but I had played them all. The music was better than the original soundtrack. It had a different feel, a more exuberant feel, a more sophisticated edge to it. It was wonderful to see the singers in action, rather than just hearing the sounds they produced. The piece about two thirds through the film where the female singers are going through a wonderfully uplifting, energetic wordless chant was beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes. I was rocking and tapping and having a lot of fun. I've been listening to this music for more than 25 years, it's etched on my brain, it's familiar, it's a core bit of my favourite repertoire. At the end, the Ensemble got a standing ovation. Anne clapped away too, and I asked her about it and she said that she was very familiar with the music after having been subjected to it so many times over the last 13 years. And she enjoyed it. I came out of the theatre feeling really happy, joyful, and uplifted. A great night.

The third Qatsi film, Naqoyqatsi, is coming to Norfolk for one night only at the Naro later this month. We'll be there.