Inspired by the challenge to create a work for a world audience on the occasion of the Athens Cultural Olympiad in Summer 2004, Philip Glass has conceived a new evening-length work that contemplates the Earth’s relationship to the constellations as interpreted by the world’s many cultures.
Conceived in ten movements, the work features the Philip Glass Ensemble in collaboration with seven of the world’s most esteemed composer/performers who will perform live with the Philip Glass Ensemble. Each guest composer was chosen for their unique mastery of a global musical tradition and worked in close collaboration with Philip Glass to incorporate their individual perspective into the composition. Guest collaborators include Australian didgeridoo master, Mark Atkins; West African Griot Foday Musa Suso Indian composer and sitar master Ravi Shankar who composed a work with Philip to be performed by Kartik Seshadri; Nova Scotian fiddler Ashley MacIssac Brazil’s UAKTI ; pipa virtuoso Wu Man of China; and contemporary Greek vocalist Eleftheria Arvanitaki
A moment's hush, and then the crowd goes ape. Standing ovation, cheers, whoops; multiple bows by the performers...sheer enthusiasm for Glass and his league of Musical Nations.
PHILIP GLASS' NOTE
Orion, a new concert work for the Philip Glass Ensemble, was commissioned by the 2004 Cultural Olympiad and premiered in Athens in June 2004 preceding the Olympic Games.
For this special event I assembled a group of renowned composer/performers to collaborate with me on an evening length work that, in its multinational format, is intended to reflect the international character of the Olympiad itself.
I collaborated with Mark Atkins (didjeridoo) from Australia, Wu Man (pipa) from China, Foday Musa Suso (kora) from Africa, UAKTI (multi-instrumentalists) from Brazil, Ravi Shankar (sitar) from India, Ashley MacIsaac (violin) from Nova Scotia, Canada, and Eleftheria Arvanitaki (vocalist) from Greece.
Since 1964 I have been actively engaged in musical encounters with composers from musical traditions different than my own.
I began working with Ravi Shankar in 1964 as his music assistant on the film Chappaqua. Our friendship flourished and led to a musical recording Passages in 1989. Foday Musa Suso and I began working together on Godfrey Reggio's film POWAQQATSI in 1985. Later, in 1990, we composed music for a production of The Screens by Jean Genet. We have been touring together with this music since the early '90s. I brought Ashley MacIsaac to New York's Public Theater in 1992 to be a featured soloist in JoAnne Akalaitis' production of Buchner's Woyzek. We had met in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia the previous year. He was 17 years old at the time, and I wrote the Woyzek music especially for him. Paul Simon introduced the group UAKTI to me when he was recording music for his album Rhythm of the Saints in 1988. During the late '80s and most of the '90s I was in the habit of spending one month each winter composing music in Brazil. After meeting the group, I began producing records of theirs for a small record label, Point Music that I began as a partnership with PolyGram Records. Eventually we composed a work together for Grupo Corpo, a Brazilian dance company. My first work with Mark Atkins was a duet/concerto for organ and didgeridoo composed for the inauguration of a new pipe organ in the town hall of Melbourne, Australia. Since then he has performed on the soundtrack of NAQOYQATSI, the final film of Reggio's QATSI Trilogy. I recently completed an opera Sound of a Voice featuring Wu Man the pipa virtuoso, which premiered at American Repertory Theater in Boston. Though we have known each other for years and often talked about working together, this has been our first opportunity to do so. Eleftheria Arvanitaki is the only musician in this group that is new to me. Even so, we have been discussing working together on her song "Djivaeri" for the last half-year.
Without having had such extensive work experience with each of my collaborators, it would have been virtually impossible to undertake a project of this musical scale and cultural range.
In the same way that civilizations are united by common themes, history and customs, we singularly and together are united by the commonality of the natural world-- rivers, oceans, the organic environment of forests and mountains. And the stars. Stargazing must be one of the oldest pastimes of humanity. It led to astrology, astronomy, measurement of the seasons and the very beginnings of science. I think no single experience of the world speaks to us so directly as when we contemplate the infinity of space, its vastness and countless heavenly bodies. In this way the stars unite us, regardless of country, ethnicity and even time.
Orion, the largest constellation in the night sky, can be seen in all seasons from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. It seems that almost every civilization has created myths and taken inspiration from Orion. As the work progressed, each of the composer/performers, including myself, drew from that inspiration in creating their work.
In this way the starry heavens, seen from all over our planet, inspired us in making and presenting a multicultural, international musical work.
-Philip Glass, 2004