Philip Glass: Live in Massachusetts

According to the Bennington Banner, On Friday, Jan. 16, at 8 p.m. Philip Glass will perform, talk, and screen clips from his contributions to the big screen in a program created exclusively for MASS MoCA titled "Philip on Film" in Massachusetts.

While the opportunity to see and hear Philip Glass live is a unique opportunity, I question the above article when it says, "Considered to be one of the most influential composers ever to work in film, Philip Glass has reinvented the relationship between music and the moving image." While I very much enjoy the music of Philip Glass, I personally find it as distressing when the music shouts for attention in a film as when there is no music in a scene that is crying out for it. Music and Image must work in partnership for maximum effect. While the music of Philip Glass is extremely good, I personally do not believe Glass always achieves this partnership.

I've seen "The Hours" and felt the film was incredible, but thought the music was intrusive, as if the music was trying to be a character, trying to get some sense of recognition in itself. The repetitive minimalist rhythms played well with the timeless sense of the film, feeling just at home in the post Victorian era England as well as the post modernist 21st Century realism of AIDS. Yet, in its repetition it comes to the forefront of the film, rather than just giving dimension to the images. As a sound track, it's lovely. Occasionally in the film, it works. But overall, it was too much for what the film needed.

Godfrey Reggio's film "Koyaanisqatsi" is an interesting blend of Philip Glass's music with Ron Fricke's images. It was, in many respects, ground breaking for the concept of the way it blended music and images. But it is much more a concert video, rather than film score. George Fenton's music did much the same thing with "The Blue Planet" which was basically a film where the images where composed around the music. If you want to say Glass led the way with "qatsi" films, then you really need to give credit to Ron Fricke who directed "Baraka" and was the cinematographer for "Koyannisqatsi". In was Fricke's concept in "Baraka" that led the way. He did a better job blending images with music to evoke emotion and express themes.

"Secret Window", "The Illusionist", "Notes on a Scandal" and "Cassandra's Dream" are all recent films with scores by Glass and all suffer from having music that is too much. The music is good, perhaps too good, so it becomes a distraction from the film. The art of film music is in many ways the art of hiding in shadows, being invisible and yet still coloring the mood. The music of Philip Glass is beautiful, engaging and distracting from the images.

If you're in the Massachusetts area, take the opportunity to go to the concert. Philip Glass is a major force in music today. He is a leader in minimalist and post modernist music. While I don't think I can give him quite the credit the Bennington Banner does, he is with out a doubt a major figure in modern music and well worth the chance to hear him speak and his music.

Tickets for Philip on Film are $38 orchestra/ $34 mezzanine. MASS MoCA members receive a 10 percent discount. Tickets are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located off Marshall Street in North Adams, open from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., closed Tuesdays. Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413-662-2111 during Box Office hours, or purchased on line at


Caitlin C said…
I agree that Glass is not the film score revolutionary they describe. Out of curiosity, which film composers do you think optimize the film/score relationship? Or which films?
I think Danny Elfman's Edward Scissorhand's score is a great example, though I didn't really appreciate it until I watched the DVD with isolated score and Elfman commentary.
Chip Michael said…
There are a number of great composers out there, doing a variety of different things. For me, I think John Williams has to be given credit for revitalizing music in film. His work in the 80's and 90's really re-established the need for music in film. Then add the diversity of style with what he did with "Schindler's List" vs "Catch me if you can" vs the Harry Potter films and you get a variety of different styles yet all lovely melodic.

Craig Armstrong did an amazing job with "Ray" blending his own music with that of Ray Charles and making it seamless. Other films like "Moulin Rouge" and "The Madgalene Sisters" show his diversity in music scoring.

Klaus Badelt is a composer who follows in Williams footsteps with use of leitmotifs. He was really the brains behind "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl" and set the tone for the rest of the films (which didn't do so well musically). However, he is inconsistent, probably because he does so many films. Williams is (IMHO) the only one who can score 8 films a year and have them all be a consistent quality, but he's been doing this a while.

James Horner has done some really interesting work weaving sounds into his score making the organic sounds of the film live in the music. That's really cool!

For Broadway style music (with lyrics) I don't think there is anyone better than Alan Menken. The music in "Enchanted" was perfect and really under appreciated.

In terms of Elfman, "Edward Scissorhand" is his best score. I liked the Spiderman films, but it wasn't as interesting as what he did with Scissorhand.

So, you see, there are a lot of composers that I like, each for very different reasons. And I've not touched on any of the more obscure scores that provide ambience rather than themes.

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