The Park Avenue Armory's second-annual Tune-In Music Festival, wrapped up last Sunday with a trio of events highlighting the multi-faceted musicianship of Philip Glass, who turned 75 in January. The day started with an afternoon concert in the Wade Thompson Drill Hall, featuring musicians from a variety of musical backgrounds. Nico, who worked in Glass' studio for six years, started things off with a set of his music for piano, laptop and viola (played by Nadia). Most of the pieces featured simple figures and drones, but Nico lit things up with Skip Town: a devilishly difficult piece for solo piano. Drones and Piano had Nico plucking out strange, almost dissonant figures before resolving into his more familiar shimmer.
Tania León has achieved success in recent years as both a composer and conductor, but here she decided to show off her considerable skills at the piano, which she learned growing up in Cuba. León performed a new jazz-inflected piece that was 1/2 composed, 1/2 improvised, unleashing a flurry of overhand notes while Samuel Torres accompanied her on congas and timbales. Dedicating the piece to Glass, she said that it was a synthesis of her experiences as a Latina composer growing up in America.
Another jazz pianist with some serious chops, Vijay Iyer performed with his Indian-jazz fusion outfit, Tirtha, which also included Nitin Mitta on tabla and Prasanna on guitar. Glass has embraced Indian music and culture throughout his career (Satyagraha; various collaborations with Ravi Shankar), and Iyer went so far as to say: "This band wouldn't be possible if it weren't for Philip Glass." All three played with effortless skill, filling the cavernous space with a trance-like ecstatic whirl. Prasanna, in particular, was impressive, wieldng his guitar with all the speed of a sitar.
The last set combined three different takes on rock-blended world music, which might sound strange until you realize that Glass has been a huge supporter of world music throughout his career (see his releases on Point Music and Orange Mountain.) Argentinian singer-songwriter Ruben Gonzalez channeled Caetano Veloso with his blend of African and Brazilian rhythms. And, Canadian fiddler Ashley MacIsaac played an impressive - if generic - Celtic reel and free improvisation. Unfortunately, someone should have told Zack Glass - Philip's son - that his indistinct voice and rudimentary lyrics were a bad fit for this otherwise-stellar lineup.
After the concert, the Armory's artistic director, Kristy Edmunds, hosted a conversation with Glass and the artists in the Armory's banquet hall. Glass was unassuming and soft-spoken, holding court like an elder sage. ("Music isn't just real. It's beyond real.") He was also very funny, at one point chastising Nico: "What were you doing with that laptop? I need to talk to you about that."
At the end of audience questions, a young art student asked Glass: "Where does music come from?" In spite of the muffled groans heard around the room, Glass took the question seriously.
"I've been searching for the answer to that question for the past sixty years," he said, "since I started writing music. But, I think the question you meant to ask was: What is music? And, only recently, I came to the realization that music is a place, as real as Chicago or Baltimore. It's a place. And, that's given me some comfort."
(pictured l-r: Kristy Edmunds, Tania Leon, Philip Glass, Vijay Iyer, Zach Glass, Nico Muhly)
The day wrapped up with a performance of Glass' Another Look at Harmony - Part IV (1977), written around the same time as Music in 12 Parts and Einstein on the Beach. Composed for chorus and organ, the hour-long work explored the relationship between rhythm and harmony (as opposed to harmony and melody) by way of atmospheric, repeating structures. Performed here in a new arrangement by The Collegiate Chorale and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, with longtime Philip Glass Ensemble music director Michael Reisman at the organ, it was all hallmark Glass and a fitting, inspiring end to a long, diverse day of music.
More pics on the photo page.