Philip Glass on His Final Bowie Symphony & the Last Time They Spoke

Danny Clinch
Philip Glass

David Bowie’s musical gifts continue to materialize nearly three years after his death on Jan. 10, 2016, at the age of 69.

Earlier this year and 26 years after he started the project, composer and pianist Philip Glass completed his third and final symphony based on the last of three consecutive studio albums Bowie recorded with Brian Eno while he was living in Berlin: Low, released in 1977, Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979). The three works are collectively called the Berlin Trilogy, although only Heroes was primarily recorded in the city.

The two artists had been friends and mutual admirers for years. “He and Brian did these three albums in their early 30s. And maybe 20 years later—I’ve know them for a long time—I said I wanted to make some symphonies based on the albums, and they both agreed,” Glass tells Billboard.

“I did the first two (symphonies) years ago, and I didn’t do the last one until very recently,” says Glass, who was inducted into the Kennedy Center Honors on Dec. 2. “I spoke to David before he passed away, although I didn’t know he was that sick. No one knew, I don’t think.”

In fact, as fate would have it, Glass spoke with Bowie just days before his passing. “I said, ‘David, guess what? I’m getting ready to do Lodger.' And he said, ‘Oh good, I’m glad, that’s great,’" Glass says. “What I didn’t know at the time was I wasn’t using the music, I was just going to be using the words.”

Glass says Bowie “had always wanted more of a collaboration with me. He didn’t like something that just sounded like him… but in this instance I think this would’ve been what he likes. It’s his words and my music, and how they go together. This was the collaboration that he dreamed of.

“I can say that now,” Glass adds. “I wish I had been able to then. At the time I didn’t tell him what I was going to do because I didn’t know. Then after I spoke to him, maybe a week later, he died. We didn’t get to talk again.”

The Los Angeles Philharmonic will present the world premiere of Glass’ Symphony No. 12, based on Lodger, on Jan. 10, 2019. 


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