Philip Glass is 75 Years Old Today

I’m sympathetic to Justin Davidson’s view, since Glass is a composer that I had to concentrate on appreciating. And while we prefer different pieces — for me the great works are Music in Twelve Parts and Another Look at Harmony — we’re also both drawn to the operas. I think Glass is a fine melodist, crafting expressive and beguiling combinations of words and notes, and his Hydrogen Jukebox and Monsters of Grace sets are some of his best pieces.

Of course, he recycles his own material. Every composer has done that, even Mahler. Where I think Glass’ work is weak is in that he often reuses lesser material and that he presents every nth setting of that same old arpeggio with the po-faced innocence that no one has ever heard it before. I don’t claim that’s his intention, but that the intense objectivity of his style comes off, in the weaker moments, as disingenuous.

Tonight is the US premiere of his Ninth Symphony, at Carnegie Hall. Worthwhile, of course, but even this early in the day, I find myself drawn farther away from that and more towards Cage. Perhaps because it’s hard to escape the feeling that, though I’ve never heard this new piece, I’ve heard it all before.


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.