Music Features

Philip Glass Taps Phoenix Musicians to Help Play Compositions for Gammage Concert

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The compositions began as a method to improve his piano technique. Bored with the usual scales and practice pieces, Glass created compositions that interested him and his immediate goal of improving his piano skills.

"You know what? It worked!" Glass says with a laugh from a New York City airport while waiting to board a France-bound plane. "I just didn't like practicing scales. The things pianists use to build up their technique aren't that fun to listen to. I figured I could approach the areas I wanted to develop on my terms. What happened is that I got to be a better player. It was actually fantastic, a wonderful experience."

But it didn't happen quickly. It took years to write the first 10 compositions because other projects interceded and took precedence. With the first 10 mastered, though, his playing technique, he says, had improved enough that there actually was no need to continue the project. Changing his tack slightly, Glass carried forth with a second set.

"I always planned to write 20 pieces, but I just stopped for a while. I don't know why. I didn't expect it to take that long," the talkative composer says. "I had learned the whole thing about technique in the first 10, so with the second 10, I wasn't thinking about technique at all. I was thinking about the development of the music. The second set of 10 takes a much deeper inroad into speculative or creative writing than I did in the first set, which was really about my learning. That became very, very interesting."

Ashley Oakley, an ASU music professor who will perform six of the etudes at an upcoming concert at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe, agrees.

"There's so much depth, the differences in feel, the differences in sound," she says. "I think these are his monumental achievements. They are absolutely of the finest quality and at the highest level."

With the etudes, Glass takes a small slice from each previous track and expands from there so that each composition grows slightly in significance. When considering Glass wrote the first set as a learning tool, it makes sense he'd continually build upon what he'd already mastered -- and then some -- in the second.

"Exactly," Oakley concurs. "Each individual piece is its own individual unit, yet the set works with each other. Because each piece evolves into the next piece, it really has to be performed in one set. It really makes sense as a group."

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Glenn BurnSilver
Contact: Glenn BurnSilver