Musical pioneers in partnership: Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson come to Norfolk and Norwich Festival
- Credit: Norfolk and Norwich Festival
The avant-garde music pioneers will share a stage in Norwich, the only UK date outside London for their American Style project.
In what is quite a coup for local audiences two of the biggest names from the world of avant-garde music are set to share the Norfolk and Norwich stage for one of their first live performances together outside America.
Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson will mix their creativity and flair in this rare performance which is a sell-out at the Norfolk Theatre Royal.
Norwich is one of only two locations in the UK, along with The Barbican in London, hosting what promises to be a highly creative collaborative live experience, involving prose, song and visual work. It comes as part of the 80th birthday concert season of Philip Glass.
Glass is recognised as one of the globe's most prominent composers. Through his operas, symphonies, film scores and collaborations with artists — from Twyla Tharp and Allen Ginsberg to Woody Allen and David Bowie — he has had an extraordinary impact on our musical times.
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Born in 1937, he grew up in Baltimore and studied at the University of Chicago, the Juilliard School and in Aspen with Darius Milhaud. Finding himself dissatisfied with much of what then passed for modern music, he moved to Europe, where he studied with the legendary pedagogue Nadia Boulanger and worked closely with the sitar virtuoso and composer Ravi Shankar.
By 1974, he was involved in a number of innovative projects culminating in Music In Twelve Parts and his landmark opera Einstein On The Beach.
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He formed the Philip Glass Ensemble — seven musicians playing keyboards and a variety of woodwinds, amplified and fed through a mixer. The new musical style they evolved was eventually dubbed 'minimalism.' Glass himself never liked the term and preferred to speak of himself as a composer of 'music with repetitive structures.'
Since then his repertoire has included opera, dance, theatre, orchestra and film, with his work earning him Academy Award nominations, and also a Golden Globe for The Truman Show.
In recent years, his work has included the opera The Perfect American about the death of Walt Disney, a touring production of Einstein and his memoir Words Without Music was also published.
Both he and Laurie Anderson have previously appeared at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. He performed a sold-out concert in 2009 while she visited the previous year.
Anderson shares much in common with Glass – they're both based out of New York, travel constantly, produce avant-garde work, practice Buddhism. They first met and collaborated in the blossoming communal arts scene of writers, dancers, sculptors and composers in lower Manhattan in the early 1970s.
They have continued to collaborate through the years on various live and recording projects but they have only recently come together to create American Style.
First performed in 2015, it has grown and developed into a unique piece of art. Trading songs and improvising, they approach the work with a loose and inventive feel, blending to create entirely new music.
It is a collaboration that features experimental music from Glass and Anderson's mix of vocals, text and visual art, together with the words of their friends, Leonard Cohen, Laurie's late husband Lou Reed, and the 1950s beat poet Allen Ginsberg.
Glass enjoyed a long friendship with Ginsberg, who was a frequent visitor to the composer's regular Tibet House benefit concerts.
'Allen, I would say, from 1989 to when he died in 1997, he played every concert he could at Tibet House,' Glass told the New York Times. 'He was a regular. He would come up and he would do it with music or he would just go and talk and he'd do poetry.'
Since Ginsberg's death, he's remained a strong presence. 'There are a couple of pieces that I did with him which I have played since then with other people reading it,' said Glass.
Anderson says she's continually inspired by Glass' generosity, open mind and fresh ideas — even when those ideas sometime push her to uncomfortable places. But she finds his music a calming influence.
'It's looping around on itself in ways that my own mind does,' she has explained. 'I began to listen to Phil's music at the same time I began to meditate, so they're forever bound together for me. Also, I found I could listen to Phil's music in a way I'd never listened before, which was in a kind of meditative state. Not expecting it to do giant crescendos and then loop back to the theme, but to be persistently there.'
In 1981, the song O Superman became a hit for Anderson, first in the UK, and helped launch her career outside of Manhattan's art circles. She's since made albums, film soundtracks, multi-media pieces including an elaborate performance Songs and Stories For Moby Dick.
She is known for her experimental works using the latest technology — she was the first artist-in-residence at NASA, but is also author of seven books. Her most recent work, Heart of a Dog, a looping consideration of various loves and losses narrated by Anderson, comprised animated drawings and old home video of her dog, her mother, and her late husband, who died in 2013.
The appearance at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival has already proved one of this year's hottest tickets. For the performance, they are joined by special guest, genre-transcending composer and cellist Rubin Kodheli.
Theatre Royal chief executive Stephen Crocker said: 'We are thrilled to bring Philip and Laurie to Norwich. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I would encourage everyone to come along and enjoy their fantastic collaboration.'
• Philip Glass & Laurie Anderson: American Style, Norwich Theatre Royal, May 19, 8pm, £58-£8-£58, 01603 766400, www.nnfestival.org.uk