Since the curtain first rose on the cinematic art form, composers of classical music have been called upon to write incidental music for film much as they had done for the theater in centuries past. Some composers made it a regular part of their careers, while a handful virtually abandoned concert music altogether to concentrate on film scores. Yet few classical composers can boast a relationship with film music as innovative and dynamic as that of Philip Glass.
Beginning with the seminal score Glass created for Godfrey Reggio’s 1983 cult classic “Koyaanisqatsi,” his works for film have numbered among his most important and popular compositions. Over the past 15 years, the composer has also broken new ground by accompanying some of those films in live concert settings with his own ensemble or in league with such groups as the Kronos Quartet. Beginning this summer and continuing well into 2002, Glass’ cinematic oeuvre will be celebrated with major premieres, an eight-city fall tour, and a deluxe retrospective boxed set from Nonesuch.
The festivities began this month at New York’s Lincoln Center Festival. As part of a larger series dedicated to the 64-year-old Glass that has already seen the U.S. premiere of his opera “White Raven,” the festival will devote the evenings of July 26-27 to “Shorts,” a new collaborative film-and-music project. “Shorts” combines Reggio’s lesser-known short films “Anima Mundi” and “Evidence” with new films created especially for the program by leading filmmakers and visual artists Peter Greenaway, Atom Egoyan, Shirin Neshat, and Michal Rovner.
Glass’ collaborations with Reggio on “Koyaanisqatsi” and “Powaqqatsi” are among the most influential marriages of film and music in recent decades, and both works have become key parts of his concert repertoire. The two artists are currently at work on the trilogy’s final installment, “Naqoyqatsi,” due in late 2002.
According to Glass, producer Linda Greenberg-Brumbach proposed the concept for “Shorts” as a means by which he could add the 30-minute “Anima Mundi” score to his performance repertoire.
“Linda suggested commissioning the rest of the program from filmmakers,” Glass explains. “We began by watching a lot of films last summer, both by traditional filmmakers who make interesting movies and people who make art films. Once I decided with whom I wanted to work, we called them up, and every one of them agreed.”
Glass was surprised to discover that each of his chosen collaborators already had a concept or work in progress that could be adapted to his needs. “It turns out that a lot of filmmakers keep sketches and little ideas around,” he says, “but nobody really asks them for shorts. It’s not a form that anybody particularly wants to work in.” Glass and Greenberg ultimately commissioned four short films to add to “Anima Mundi” and “Evidence” for an evening-length program. “We basically reversed the usual process and commissioned filmmakers to make movies for a composer.”
Each of the filmmakers responded to the commission differently. Greenaway had already nearly completed “The Man in the Bath” when he received Glass’ call, while Rovner used a series of her visual images selected by Glass to fashion a storyboard for “Notes.” “As they showed me the movies,” Glass says, “I didn’t ask them to change very much.” When writing music for a filmmaker, a composer has to make changes in the score all the time, Glass notes. “I didn’t exact the revenge of the composer here, which would have been tempting,” he adds, laughing. “But I wanted them to do what they wanted to do artistically, and I liked what I saw.”
Glass will take “Shorts” on the road in October and November for an eight-city tour that includes multi-evening festivals in Austin, Texas; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Los Angeles; and Ann Arbor, Mich. In each city, Glass and his ensemble will dedicate separate evenings to his scores for “Koyaanisqatsi,” “Powaqqatsi,” and “Dracula.” The first four locations will also see performances of the unique cinematic opera “La Belle et la Bete.” The tour then takes Glass and his ensemble to Columbia, Mo.; Bloomington, Ind.; and Cleveland for one- and two-night engagements in November.
Marking the occasion of the tour, Nonesuch is preparing to release the five-CD film music boxed set “Philip on Film” in September. Glass’ Nonesuch tenure began with the 1985 release of his score for Paul Schrader’s “Mishima,” and the label has since presented eight further releases of Glass’ music for film.
“Philip is one of the great collaborative artists of our time,” Nonesuch chief Robert Hurwitz says. “Whether collaborating with a stage director like Bob Wilson, a film director like Martin Scorsese, or a choreographer like Twyla Tharp, he always brings his own vision. And at the same time, he finds the way to enrich the overall theatrical or cinematic production.”
“Philip on Film” will include “Koyaanisqatsi,” “Powaqqatsi,” and “Dracula” in their entirety. A fourth disc presents a carefully edited version of “La Belle et la Bete” (originally released on two CDs). The fifth disc includes selections from the Nonesuch recordings of “Mishima,” “The Thin Blue Line,” “Anima Mundi,” “Kundun,” and “The Secret Agent,” as well as new recordings of the scores for the “Shorts” by Greenaway and Egoyan (Diaspora). A new version of “Facades” from Glass’ dance suite “Glassworks,” used in Reggio’s “Evidence,” completes the disc.