'An Evening with Philip Glass' at Oldcastle Theatre

BENNINGTON — Just don't call him a minimalist.

Call me an American opera composer, says Philip Glass, with 26 such operas behind him, by his own count. Plus 11 symphonies, eight string quartets, 20 ballets and he doesn't know how many film scores — the latest being for "Jane," the National Geographic-based documentary about Jane Goodall, the chimpanzee researcher.

Nearing the end of his 80th birthday celebration year, the prolific composer — he's now actually 81 — appears at the Oldcastle Theatre at 7:30 Saturday for an evening of his music and conversation with Bennington conductor-composer-impresario Thomas Lawrence Toscano, a longtime friend. Glass will play some of his own works for piano.

The minimalist label is a touchy issue for the composer. It stuck to him with his early works, such as with "Koyaanisqatsi," "Einstein on the Beach" and "Satyagraha," which brought him to public attention, and it never came unstuck. He prefers to speak of himself as a composer of "music with repetitive structures."

"The problem is no one is doing minimalism now," he said in a birthday interview with The Guardian. "It's music we wrote in the 1970s. It's over 30 years out of date. It's a crazy idea to use a description made up by journalists and editors to cover all kinds of music."

The problem is spread across genres, he went on.

"A lot of people want to hear my music of the 1970s and 1980s. And do you know what I do? I play it. I talk to Paul Simon or anyone like that and it's the same. I say, 'What do you play live, Paul?' and he says, 'I play my new songs and I play my hits.'"

Same thing when Glass performs with his Philip Glass Ensemble, seven woodwinds and keyboards funneled through an electronic mixer. "We've been together 40 years. We play the familiar stuff, the highlights."

So he's a minimalist in spite of himself. And critics aren't always admiring of the later operas. Looking back over Glass' overall output in Opera News, William R. Braun likens the use of percussion in "Galileo" (2001) to "ketchup on an ice cream sundae."

Glass, who holds the 2017-18 composer's chair at Carnegie Hall, wasn't available for an interview for this article. In announcing the Oldcastle program, producing artistic director Eric Peterson said the benefit concert is part of a move to expanded musical programming at the theater.


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