Friday, December 7, 2007

Einstein in Carnegie Hall

Phillip Glass and the Phillip Glass Ensemble's performance of "Einstein on the Beach" last night was a sonic boa constrictor that ate Carnegie Hall whole, demanding that we examine every nuance of its innards.

The opera is composed of fast-paced arpeggios on three electric keyboards, clarinet, saxophone and violin, spoken word sections and a chorus' repeated intonation of "One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight," along with other phrases. For three hours, all of this went through subtle changes in time-signature and syncopation and drastic dynamic shifts. Intermittently, violinist Tim Fain would step out from backstage and tear through an awe-inspiring set of 16th notes. Fain's strings, the opera's serpent tongue, left my mouth agape long after he bowed and returned backstage.

Master Glass wrote the opera in the late 1970s, while he plumbed toilets and drove a taxi for a living. This was an abridged performance--the original lasted about 5 hours.

Like a dream, every last detail of last night's performance is sure to fade from memory--to be replaced, eventually, by some vague recollection. But I'm expecting that this arpeggiating Einstein, full of intoned phrases, will show up in one of my nightmares some day. Or return to me suddenly, like a visceral LSD flashback.


Crash said...

"arpeggiating" is the top new verb of the day! said...

I was actually more than a little disappointed in last night's performance. I thought the playing was a little uneven, and there were several flat-out miscues. But this may be because I know the piece WAY too well. When I was in grad school, every time I would drive home for holidays, I'd pop the disc in my car and it would take up the whole 4 hour drive from Williamsburg to Baltimore.

Anyway - the NYC Opera has promised a real STAGED production of the full opera in 2009, so... I'm still holding out for that.