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Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Fri Oct 26, 2007 10:19 am
by blonde madonna

Re: Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Fri Oct 26, 2007 4:44 pm
by Andrew (Darby)
BM, this is indeed great news and I'll certainly be seriously toying with the idea of getting down there for this (even though Leonard won't be there)! :D

Cheers :)
Andrew (Darby)

Re: Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Fri Feb 01, 2008 4:00 pm
by dick
Good article on March show ... public_rss

Poet's self reflected in clear Glass
Matthew Westwood | February 01, 2008

WHEN the veil of unknowing is lifted, what is revealed? In Leonard Cohen's volume of poems Book of Longing, the revelation is equal parts sacred and profane.

He describes with humour and some self-examination episodes from the five years he spent at a Zen centre at Mt Baldy in California, where he had retreated from the world and lived "in the precious company" of Kyozan Joshu Roshi, his spiritual guide. In the poem Early Morning at Mt Baldy, he writes of rising in the dead of night and dressing in kimono and hakama robes, "about 20 pounds of clothing/ which I put on quickly/ at 2.30am/ over my enormous hard-on".
Certain poems, in simple rhyme or blank verse, evoke Zen-like equilibrium. In others, he's "back on Boogie Street": Cohen's mindscape of wine, women and general dissipation. The book's title indicates that desire has not been subdued.

"He lives in the same world that you and I live in," says the American composer Philip Glass, who has set some of Cohen's poems in a concert work also called Book of Longing. "The world of the senses, the world of samsara. He knows about that, he admits to it. All of these things make him very appealing ... His ordinary attachments make him seem less ordinary."

Book of Longing will have its first Australian performances in March at the Adelaide Festival, which co-commissioned it with the Luminato Festival in Toronto and other arts organisations. Cohen did not give interviews in connection with the Adelaide performances, but Glass did.
The composer becomes the looking glass, as it were, on the poet.

"What do I think about his Mt Baldy experience? I have no idea," Glass says by telephone from New York. "He told me a lot about the details, and what it was like to live in that way.

"By his own account, he says, 'I discovered that I had no gift for spiritual matters.' But you can't take this too literally. In fact, he is very self-deprecating about his achievements, whatever they might have been, in the spiritual realm."

In Buddhist practice, Glass says, a humble attitude is preferable to aggrandisement.

"Modesty is meant to offset any pride that you might have in your achievements," he says. "The pride itself would be a sign that you haven't achieved very much. So when someone like Leonard says, 'I don't know very much', you say 'Waaait a second!"'

Glass and Cohen share a Jewish heritage and both are drawn to different strands of Buddhism. Cohen, Glass says, has retained Jewish traditions alongside Buddhism, and his poems and lyrics refer to them. One poem that Glass has set to music, but which isn't in the book, describes Jewish custom: "This morning I woke up again/ I thank my Lord for that/ The world is such a pigpen/ That I have to wear a hat."

"If you've ever wondered why people wear these hats," Glass says, "well, he's just told you. These things are surprising, because you never thought of them that way. I've heard other explanations, that you're supposed to have something between you and the divine. But his explanation was far more descriptive: it's a way of separating yourself from the samsara. A Zen teacher might have called it samsara, he calls it a pigpen.

"He lives with one foot in each world, doesn't he? I would say it's a very tasty place to be. He moves from one to the other and doesn't tell you which one he's at."

Cohen recorded some of the poems in Book of Longing on his 2001 album Ten New Songs, the first since his Mt Baldy retreat. The songs were co-written by Sharon Robinson with elegant, understated arrangements and melodies that rarely stretch the contours of speech. They fit Cohen's voice like a crumpled suit.
In coarse baritone, Cohen half-speaks, half-sings, and bedroom inflections bring the tone back from brink. The lyrics, with their simple rhymes, would read like something out of Dr Seuss - albeit with adult themes - were it not for Cohen's inimitable delivery.

It's tempting to say that Cohen is the best interpreter of his own material, until one thinks of the many performances of his songs by other musicians. Audiences at the 2005 Sydney Festival still recall with wonder the all-star Cohen tribute concert Came So Far for Beauty, with such talents as Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright and Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Antony Hegarty's version of If it Be Your Will was revelatory.

"He says things in a way that most of us would never have thought of saying," Glass says of Cohen's verse. "His artistry as a poet is to frame a familiar thought in an unexpected and beautiful way."

Glass says his and Cohen's discussions about a collaborative project began with a meeting in Los Angeles before the Mt Baldy interregnum.
"We spent the day," Glass recalls. "He was reading poetry to me of, at that time, an unpublished work. We had dinner, we had a very good time together. I immediately was attracted to the idea that we could maybe do a stage work of some kind. I found out a few months later that he had gone into the monastery."

The project was resumed after Cohen's return from Mt Baldy, where he had been ordained as a monk in 1996. Glass says he was toying with ideas for a whole-evening work, and that maybe Cohen should contribute not only words, but music as well. Cohen argued, successfully, that the concert should be no longer than 90 minutes, and that the music should be Glass's own.

Cohen wanted Glass to select the poems he would set: the composer says he spent "several months reading and thinking and recycling". Eventually he settled on about 20 poems from a book of more than 150.

"The hardest part was sequencing them in an order that was going to make sense for me," Glass says.

"I decided that I wanted (the song cycle) to be as if you were reading a book of poetry and dipping in here and there, as one does with poetry. I analysed the poems in terms of categories of content and made up a whole rhythm of these things.

"When we agreed (on the sequence), then I wrote the music. That was actually surprisingly simple. I put these poems on the piano, and I read the poems, and then when I heard the music, I wrote it down."

Knowing something about Glass's spiritual practice makes it easier to understand what he means. Glass rarely discusses this topic in interviews, but in a new documentary film on the composer by Scott Hicks - which will also have its Australian premiere at the Adelaide Festival - Glass is seen deep in conversation with his spiritual adviser, a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. His wife, Holly, says he makes daily offerings.

In the film, Glass describes the act of composing as if it were like divining water. Music flows like an underground river that only has to be tapped.
"I've given myself permission to work in a very intuitive way, in a language I've spent my life immersed in," he says now.
"I'm not working from an ideological or theoretical point of view. I'm working from statement and response: the (Cohen) poems are the statements and the music is the response. Sometimes it's close to the poem and sometimes it's further away."

Glass's song cycle Book of Longing begins with the title poem, which Cohen recites against anxious bass notes and ominous drumstrokes. Solos for cello and saxophone intersperse the songs, which include A Sip of Wine (the poem Boogie Street), Puppet Time and Babylon.

Towards the end comes the longest of the settings, You Came to Me This Morning: it's one of the songs on Cohen's album, where it is called A Thousand Kisses Deep. Glass sets the verses for solo male and female voices, and for combinations of voices. The accompaniment throbs beneath the words and winds dissonances around them. The mood is persistently solemn.

Compare this with the version on Ten New Songs, with Spanish-tinged guitar and Robinson's voice quietly supporting Cohen's. It's a song of regret, without bitterness, as if happiness has just slipped out of reach: a near-perfect expression of longing.

Philip Glass and ensemble present Book of Longing at the Adelaide Festival Theatre, March 14 and 15. Scott Hicks's film Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts screens at the Piccadilly Cinema, Adelaide, on March 9 and 10.

Re: Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Sat Feb 02, 2008 3:34 am
by blonde madonna
Thanks for posting this Dick, I only buy this paper on the weekend.

I have been listening to the CD and feel Glass has given us such a beautiful gift. It sits alongside Leonard's Book of Longing and I don't compare it to Ten Songs, it is something completely different and inspired.

I look forward to seeing the live performance in March. :D


Re: Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Sun Feb 10, 2008 4:24 pm
by Andrew (Darby)
Blonde Madonna, did you see the current Weekend Australian Review article entitled "Through a Glass darkly"? It was written by David Hajdu, the music critic for The New Republic.

Anyway, it's not a flattering assessment of the Glass BOL production, with the intro suggesting that "Leonard Cohen's intimate artistry has been done a comical disservice"! :o Thankfully, Leonard is spared to some degree!

I couldn't find a link for the Weekend Australian Review article, but the TNR version (with the different title: The Sound of One Hand Composing: Philip Glass Does Leonard Cohen") is only available to TNR subscribers. This is the link to their list which references it:

Cheers :)
Andrew (Darby)

Re: Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Mon Feb 11, 2008 1:38 am
by blonde madonna
Thanks Andrew
I have it but I hadn't got to reading it yet but I like the pic. :)
The big question is are you going?


Re: Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Mon Feb 11, 2008 4:01 pm
by Andrew (Darby)
BM, right now I'm thinking I won't go to Adelaide for this, but will PM you about my deliberations in this regard. :neutral:

Cheers :)
Andrew (Darby)

Re: Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Sat Mar 01, 2008 4:10 pm
by dick
Good article on concert and new film
Hope all our friends "down under" really enjoy! ... 44027.html

A Glass Half Empty Is Topped Up
Philip Glass has replaced the void left by the death of beat poet Allen Ginsberg by forming a collaboration with Leonard Cohen, writes Penelope Debelle.
After the death in the late 1990s of beat poet Allen Ginsberg, American composer Philip Glass needed a new poet in his life.
Ginsberg, an acid-dropping Jew turned Tibetan Buddhist and a contemporary of Bob Dylan, was one of the new voices of 1960s rebellion and hope in America, along with Timothy Leary and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He liked to string words together in unusual ways to surprise the mind into new understandings and he wrote long poems full of insight, sex and madness. Born in 1926, he was older than Glass but they met in a New York bookshop and began collaborating. Glass set Ginsberg's voice to music and together they created an operatic cycle of poems called Hydrogen Jukebox, a quirky phrase from Ginsberg's best known work Howl.
When Ginsberg died of cancer in 1997, Glass was desolate.
"I felt that my poetry partner was gone and I just didn't know what to do," Glass said by phone from his home on Manhattan's East Side. "I didn't work with any poetry for a long time."
Glass, 71, a brilliant and influential composer who was inspired by the powerful repetitive structures of Indian rhythms to create a distinctive modern sound, has a long history of collaboration with some of the great artists of his time. He has worked with songwriters such as Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, Linda Ronstadt, Brian Eno and David Bowie and is a prolific composer of film scores including Kundun with Martin Scorsese, Koyaanisqatsi with Godfrey Reggio, the orchestral score for Notes on a Scandal and The Truman Show which featured him performing at the piano. He knows Woody Allen well and worked for a long time with Ravi Shankar.
Clearly he was not in need of a friend. But his work with Ginsberg had been complex and emotional and took Glass to the heart of inspirational composition and social comment.
Glass, an American Jew of Lithuanian heritage, whose father owned a record store, studied maths and philosophy before graduating from the Juilliard School of Music and moving to France where he discovered new wave cinema and the excitement of avant-garde art. He was in his late 50s when Ginsberg died and was by then a vastly experienced composer who had written a trilogy of operas celebrating religion, science and man.
He tried performing with punk poet and singer Patti Smith who was a close friend of Ginsberg's but it was a mutual admiration of the work of another without the creative combustion. He lacked the deep relationship with her that he had with Ginsberg.
Then along came Leonard Cohen, the dark and inscrutable genius behind eternal songs like Bird on a Wire and Hallelujah that have been recorded so many times their origins have been all but forgotten. Cohen thinks he and Glass first met around 1997, the year that Ginsberg died. At the time Cohen was on a deep spiritual path and was a full-time resident of the Mount Baldy Zen Centre near Los Angeles. A year earlier he had been ordained a Zen Buddhist monk and took the name of Jikan, meaning "Silent One".
They spent an afternoon and an evening together at a friend's house in Los Angeles looking at a loose-paged book of poems that Cohen brought along. The poems were the precursor to his first major published work in two decades, Book of Longing. Like Ginsberg, Cohen framed often simple ideas in ways that were shocking, erotic, illuminating and beautiful.
"When we came back after dinner he wrote some more poems and it was such a delightful time we spent together on that occasion that we decided we had to do a piece," said Glass. "I asked him if I could set some of his poems to music and he agreed. I asked if he wanted to help and he said, 'no, no, I just want your music with my poetry'."
They talked over how they could stage the work and Glass expected to hear from him soon after. Instead, Cohen disappeared back into the Zen monastery where he would rise at 2.30am and don heavy traditional robes to meditate and study with the Zen teacher Joshu Sasaki Roshi. It was six years before Glass heard that he was back. Glass emailed Cohen and 20 minutes later a reply bounced back. Cohen would be in New York in two weeks and wanted to meet.
The serious work began that led to the world premiere in Canada last June of the Glass/Cohen collaboration Book of Longing which was co-commissioned by the Adelaide Festival of Arts where it has its Australian premiere next month. When Glass met Cohen, his book of poems was about to be released and the Came So Far For Beauty tribute concert at the 2005 Sydney Festival was being planned. His immersion in Zen had closed some kind of circle within him and his creativity was rekindled.
"We talked at length about what his participation would be," Glass said. "He didn't want a performing role but he agreed to be there from time to time."
Glass read the book of poems and absorbed it over a few weeks and decided there were categories that were autobiographical, about loss, about romance, about his teacher and a category of longer epic poems that Glass calls ballads. Some of the poems were included on Cohen's 2001 collaboration with Sharon Robinson, Ten New Songs, and have been reimagined and renamed for copyright reasons so A Thousand Kisses Deep on the album becomes You Came to Me This Morning and Boogie Street becomes A Sip of Wine.
Cohen recorded all of the 150 poems in his book and left Glass to choose those he wanted to include. Glass says he created the stage piece like building a tent, using the ballads as the big poles that provided the main structure then after each big pole inserting a personal poem or a love poem or poem about a spiritual path. Cohen approved the choices and Glass then composed the music and made a demonstration recording in which they altered some of the order but kept the general shape The whole had to be kept, on Cohen's insistence, at 90 minutes although Glass preferred 120. They agreed on 93 minutes and Glass began auditioning singers.
He expanded the ensemble concept used with Ginsberg of oboe, saxophone, percussion and keyboards to include a string section with violin, cello and double bass and Glass will be on stage at the Adelaide Festival playing keyboards.
"I wanted a different sound and I thought this was the sound that would go with Leonard," Glass said. "In the same way they were different, I wanted the music to be different."
Some of the poems are spoken just by Cohen sounding more like a prophet than a poet and are accompanied by the vocalists, two male and two female, who sing to Glass' music on a stage decorated with Cohen's paintings and drawings of birds and Japanese stamps. Cohen helped audition the singers, among them tenor Will Erat and soprano Dominique Plaisant, and stayed close to the project while it came together to the satisfaction of both
"It was fairly straightforward," said Glass. "I had him to work with and he was very responsive and we were very close in that part of it and it's turned out OK."
Cohen was the poet Glass was looking for and, like Ginsberg and Glass himself, Cohen was a Jewish man on a spiritual journey. A publicity shot of Glass and Cohen taken for Book of Longing shows two slightly grumpy Jewish men in their early 70s, ordinary but for who they are. Glass could not be happier about it.
"I wanted to have a poet in my life again," says Glass. "In a way, the similarities and differences between Allen and Leonard are so interesting to me."
Glass grew up with an atheist father but his background was Jewish rather than Christian and Judaism was the familiar backdrop to his childhood. He became involved with Tibetan Buddhism in the early 1970s when the first Tibetan refugees fled to the United States and in 1987 he co-founded Tibet House with Robert Thurman (father of actor Uma) and Hollywood star Richard Gere. It is a journey that has no end and in a Scott Hicks documentary of Glass that also premieres at the Adelaide Festival, a reporter is shown saying to Glass that he read he was Buddhist.
"I read the same thing!" says Glass with a guffaw. "You might say I'm a Taoist, I'm a Hindu, I'm Jewish, I'm Christian. I mean it's true I'm interested in all of these things but I can't say that I'm exclusively anything."
What Glass shares with Cohen, and with Ginsberg, is the ambivalence of being Jewish in their upbringing but having worked deeply with Asian teachers.
Glass may not call himself a Buddhist - to claim Buddhist status would show a lack of wisdom - but his involvement with Tibetan Buddhism has been rich and interesting and his wife reveals in the documentary that he makes Buddhist offerings each day.
So the cultural references in Cohen's work are very close to Glass' own because their paths have been so similar.
Glass says any westerner who comes to an eastern tradition in adulthood always retains a part of themselves that would not be there if they were born into the tradition. This ambivalence is neither a bad nor a good thing.
"I don't think it's a question of failure," he says. "It's the reality that you grow up in a certain way and you have tremendous experiences and influences in your life. It doesn't make it bad, it's just the way it is, it's just the reality. And you see it all the time. You see people coming into these spiritual paths with their own personal history and it can be very different."
Glass is a surprisingly down to earth man who lives in the real world. Director Scott Hicks, a confessed Glass tragic since his son took him to see Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi in 1984, spent two years making a delightfully revealing documentary of Glass that shows the artist living and working in happy domestic chaos. At 71, he is married to his fourth wife Holly, they have two young children and spend part of each year at a remote holiday house on Nova Scotia. Hicks, who was encouraged by Glass' management to take on the documentary to commemorate Glass in his 70th year went back to basics and filmed an intimate portrait of Glass that bounced off the warmth of their personal relationship.
Hicks who will launch Glass: a portrait of Philip in twelve parts at the Adelaide Festival arrived at the Nova Scotia house with no budget for the documentary and only a lightweight portable HDV camera that he intended using as a stopgap until the money was in place to hire "a real cinematographer". After hanging around for a while Hicks pulled out the camera and began filming Glass making pizza and talking about his work.
The 12 chapters look at the various facets of Glass' life and catch him in conversation with Woody Allen and reminiscing about Ravi Shankar. He is filmed riding a bike and taking a ride on the rickety Coney Island roller-coaster, a ritual Glass has been doing annually for 50 years.
"I didn't want to make a film that was reverential about Philip and his work ," Hicks said. "I knew him as someone who was funny, warm and open. He is interested in people, interested to know what you are doing and he likes to gossip. All that surprised me and I wanted the film to show that side of him."
The documentary follows the production of Glass' first major opera for almost a decade, the 2005 premiere of Waiting for the Barbarians, based coincidentally on the work of Adelaide writer John Coetzee, the South African emigre. It also captures the writing cycle of Symphony No 8. Hicks had earlier captured him meticulously writing notes in pencil over the previous year. It was a major orchestral composition and Hicks sat there with his portable camera closely trained on Glass, who was oblivious to everything but the sound of the notes heard only in his head coming to life in the hands of a New York orchestra.
He had spoken to Hicks during the film about the mystery of the composing process. "I think of it as one of those rivers that's running underground," he says in the film. "And you don't know exactly where it is, but you do know it's there. If you try to find it you might not."
Hicks captured Glass hearing the result of his composition the first time. At the end, the conductor asks Glass what he thought. "Yeah," he says, with a small smile, "that's it."
The Adelaide premiere of Book of Longing is at the Adelaide Festival Theatre March 14-15.
Glass: a portrait of Philip in twelve parts screens on March 9 (introduced by Scott Hicks) and March 10.

Re: Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 4:30 pm
by blonde madonna
Here is a luke warm review that I didn't agree with. I suppose Glass is an acquired taste but the audience seemed to enjoy it. ... 77,00.html

It was a special night. Adelaide was in the middle of a heat wave and after the concert we walked to see the Northern Lights.

Re: Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Sat Mar 29, 2008 3:23 pm
by dick
Hope your post means you got some enjoyment out of it Blonde Madonna. Anyone who has read Joe Way's powerful pieces can't help but admire the work some. And the reviewer did pick up on the fact that the visuals work quite well, a point many critics didn't seem to note.

Did you also get to see the movie? I look forward to it. Although I am a newcomer to Glass and his music, I find many aspects of the man and his work quite interesting.


Re: Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Sun Mar 30, 2008 11:55 am
by blonde madonna
Hi Dick
Oh, I did enjoy it; I just felt it has all been said already. Unfortunately I didn't see the movie because it screened on a different weekend.

I am still listening to the CD’s and my appreciation of them is growing but there are certain parts that I like better than others, particularly the instrumental solos, the bass solo is a real favourite.


Re: Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2010 6:17 pm
by dick
This thread popped up as having a recent post (spammer result I assume.) Think I posted it elsewhere, but just in case I'll update here with the fact that Glass developed a real fondness forthe cello player, Wendy Sutter. Wrote a musical cycle for her, and left his wife for her.

Re: Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Thu Jan 06, 2011 12:32 pm
by blonde madonna
Let the music play on. ;-)

Slow starter on husband no. 1,


Re: Book of Longing / Adelaide Festival 2008

Posted: Thu Sep 08, 2011 2:51 pm
by rochan
Certain poems, in simple rhyme or blank verse, evoke Zen-like equilibrium. In others, he's "back on Boogie Street": Cohen's mindscape of wine, women and general dissipation. The book's title indicates that desire has not been subdued. "I'm not working from an ideological or theoretical point of view. I'm working from statement and response: the (Cohen) poems are the statements and the music is the response. Sometimes it's close to the poem and sometimes it's further away."