by / June 28th, 2010 /

Philip Glass – National Concert Hall, Dublin

Is this one of the only National Concert Hall performances where, had they opted to fill the pre- performance time with a bit of Animal Collective or Burial, most of the crowd would have whooped and hollered with bohemian delight (or secretly pleased, chin-stroking indifference)? Possibly. On a hot day in an even hotter concert hall, the doors close at 8.30pm sharp and Mr. Glass rolls on at 8.36pm. The audience is rapt, hushed and reverent, possibly not knowing exactly what to expect or what to do.

Glass has a microphone placed at the front of the stage to introduce the pieces he will play (also, he says, to give people an opportunity to come and go) and announces he will be playing some compositions from as far back as the late ’70s.

Expectations were understandably high for this gig and the insanely prolific Baltimorean, who has managed to straddle the commercial and art worlds successfully for his entire career, does not disappoint. This is a master class in modern, raw, pulsating piano-playing.

Glass and his style are distinctive for a love of repetition and for the passion and emotion that infuse his solo piano work. For any budding pianists out there, take heart at the bum notes that are banged out every so often tonight. The pieces rise and fall majestically in the National Concert Hall (the sound in the stalls was perfect), the contrast evident between those compositions that seem to burst at the seams under a flurry of fingers and those where Glass barely makes contact with keys at all. The punctuation for the evening becomes his right hand arcing over his left to tap that familiar, low, anchor note of certain pieces. Comically, there are moments of absolute silence where it’s clear no-one wants to begin clapping until they are sure he is done and the nervous giggles highlight how truly lost in the moment the audience has become.

For almost two hours, the 73-year-old barrels hypnotically through some of his best work: His Etudes from the mid-’90s, a sublime performance of much of Metamorphosis, Mad Rush, The Thin Blue Line, the closing piece of Closing and a fantastically-eerie performance of his music for Allen Ginsberg’s -Wichita Vortex Sutra’, with the celebrated Beat poet’s disembodied and distinctive nasal twang reverberating around the hall.

Somewhat unusually I’m sure, for a solo piano performance, it proves nearly impossible for this writer to stop head-nodding during many of the pieces, particularly the lump-in-your-throat recital of ‘Mad Rush’, yet the lack of stuffiness in Glass’ approach to piano-playing makes one think he probably wouldn’t have minded if we all decided to nod along with him.

The perception of the NCH may be a factor in putting people off attending too many performances here but if this sort of genius becomes the norm, they can expect far more Converse to be bounding across the hallway in the coming years.