The arts as a mirror on the future

"It's very clear that as a world culture we're going through a huge catharsis right now that has political, economic and technological aspects to it."
     -- Philip Glass, composer

One of the world's best-known modern composers, Philip Glass believes the gap between performers and audience is narrowing. As part of his optimistic appraisal of the future, Glass sees music and the rest of what he calls the "collaborative arts" shifting toward individualism, a shift that will be assisted by continuing technological innovations.

On whether the line between performers and the audience will "blur":

I don't think the line will blur. But I think the activities will be shared. And that's a little bit different. I can see the audience becoming not a passive receiver of the performance, but an active participant in some way. Not in the composition, but in the outcome. If we can think of the way the arts have changed in the last hundred years, and we can project that into the next hundred years, we might be in a very, very different world in the 21st century.

On where the arts will be in several centuries:

One of the things we see happening right now -- and I think we can look forward to -- is that not only will technology be pervasive, but it will be inexpensive, and it will be a much more common language. If we can project a little farther, I think the divisions we make between audience and artist might be quickly disappearing, so we [can] expect audiences to be involved in creativity on a very high level.

On whether music will no longer be classified as "pop" or classical -- but simply as "music":

Not only can the genres of music begin to mix, but more importantly, the audiences will mix. The audience that comes to an evening of experimental theatre might be also willing to go to a movie, and they might be involved in classical music, and they might be involved in jazz music or world music. I find [that] one of the most dramatic things that has happened is that the lines are broken down, not in the arts, but in the audiences. You find people with very broad and diversely developed tastes in the arts.

On how the arts will change the world's outlook:

My personal hope -- not a prediction, but a hope -- [is] that the world would be moving more toward decentralization than individuality and diversity -- a kind of acceptance of coexistence on a very high level of quality. That's what I'd like to see. You have this other image of the old "Brave New World" or "1984," of the fascist, dictatorial system, where everything becomes the same. But I'm not sure that has to happen that way. I think the struggle toward a world of diversity and individuality is a much more interesting one. In that sense, I think the arts would be very well suited to a powerful support and reflection of that kind of social milieu.

Philip Glass

Born in Baltimore in 1937, Philip Glass discovered music at an early age listening to recordings played for him by his father. Glass began the violin at age 6 and took up the flute at 8. During his second year of high school he was admitted to the University of Chicago, where he majored in mathematics and philosophy. In his free time he practiced piano and studied the music of such composers as Ives and Webern. Glass graduated from the University of Chicago at 19, moved to New York and entered the Julliard School. By then he had abandoned the 12-tone techniques -- or serialism -- he used in Chicago, and he preferred American composers such as Aaron Copland and William Schuman.

By the time he was 23, Glass had studied with Vincent Persichetti, Darius Milhaud and William Bergsma. Among the composers he preferred were mavericks such as Harry Partch, Ives, Moondog, Henry Cowell and Virgil Thomson. But he still had not found his own voice. Still searching, he moved to Paris for two years of intensive study with the noted pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. In Paris, a filmmaker hired Glass to transcribe the music of Ravi Shankar into notation readable by French musicians. Introduced to the techniques of Indian music, Glass promptly renounced his previous music and, after further research in North Africa, India and the Himalayas, he returned to New York and applied Eastern techniques to his own work.

By 1974 Glass had composed a large body of new music, some for the theater company Mabou Mines, which he co-founded, but most for his own performing group, the Philip Glass Ensemble. Between 1971 and 1974 he composed "Music In 12 Parts," which became a defining work in the minimalist canon. In 1976 he collaborated with Robert Wilson on the opera "Einstein on the Beach," the 4.5-hour epic now seen as a landmark in 20th century music theater. Glass's output since "Einstein" has ranged from opera to film scores to symphonic works to string quartets. He has created music for dance and music for theater.

Philip Glass
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