Two Nights in the Cheap Seats at Carnegie Hall: Philip Glass’ 75th Birthday and the Tibet House Benefit

Until January 31, I had never been inside of Carnegie Hall. Now I’ve been there twice, viewing two wonderful shows from the cheapest seats in the house. January 31 was Philip Glass’ 75th birthday, and included the premiere of Glass’ Ninth Symphony. On February 13, I attended the Tibet House Benefit Concert, which had a totally ridiculous lineup, including Philip Glass again (there is an obvious joke about Glass and repetition that I’m sure I’m missing here), Laurie Anderson, Antony Hegarty, James Blake, Lou Reed, Das Racist, Stephin Merritt, and, somehow, more.

First of all, Carnegie Hall is gorgeous and the sound is amazing. (Yeah, none of this is exactly a news flash, but I still find myself stunned by these historic New York performance spaces.) The main concert hall (there is more than one hall in Carnegie Hall) was built in 1891 and has five levels. It must be amazing to see from the stage. According to Wikipedia, you have to climb 137 steps (no elevator to the very top) to get to the fifth balcony, which must earn me the right every time to then sit for two hours. Also must be why 70% of the people up there are in their 20s and 30s and have relatively new knees.

It was amazing to hear Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 9 in the space. It’s sort of shocking that he’s 75 years old, but considering his musical output, it’s also amazing he’s not 175 years old. Even if you aren’t familiar with his orchestral or early more experimental work, you’ve undoubtably heard his minimalist compositions in films. (My favorite is his soundtrack to the movie Kundun, a really atmospheric and intelligent work for film.) If you are familiar with his music, then you know Glass’ love of repeating themes and carefully curved moments of swelling and softness, and nothing in his ninth symphony would have been a surprise. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t wonderful. He is an absolute master at music, and while my erratic mind has a hard time focusing exclusively on one thing at a time, especially at orchestra concerts, I was entranced.

The Tibet House Benefit Concert on February 13 was emceed and curated by Philip Glass, and included a beautiful performance by him on the piano accompanied by Tim Fain on violin. It was a last minute decision of mine to go and I sat in the very back, but it was still an incredible evening. Although eclectic, to say the least. Let me just walk you through the show…

After the Drepung Gomang Monasteries Monks sang to open the show, the first performer was the amazing Laurie Anderson, who gave a highly entertaining spoken word performance accompanied by atmospheric music. She was then joined by Antony Hegarty (who you may remember as almost bringing me to tears at Radio City not that long ago), who was ethereal and breathtaking as usual. I don’t know if my heart can take much more of him, but I’m happy to continue to push myself towards Stendhal Syndrome.

James Blake, who is quite beloved these days by the indie music scene, performed and he was enthralling as well. Each performer only played about two songs, and his best was his popular “The Wilhelm Scream.” I’d never heard him play live before, and while the electronic aspects of his performance seemed a little off with Carnegie’s acoustics, I still love the sound of rain that poured over the middle of “The Wilhelm Scream.”

Things got a little more… crazy with Das Racist. I have to say, when I first saw Das Racist perform their frenetic rap a ways back at Piano’s, I never thought I would next seem them at Carnegie Hall, introduced by Philip Glass. But such is the way of life. They started with “Michael Jackson,” built around the refrain: “Michael Jackson, one million dollars, you feel me?,” which, with their suits on the Carnegie stage, was especially entertaining. And their hype man in a white robe doing some of the most bizarre dancing that’s probably graced the place. In the video above, they’re rapping with Rahzel, an incredible human beat box. Oh, and a string quartet.

Other performers included Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, who was his charming self, especially on “The Book of Love,” and Lou Reed, who ended the evening with some rocking songs (I am happy that he left the spoken word to Laurie Anderson). The concert closed with all the musicians and performers singing happy birthday to Philip Glass. In conclusion: I love Philip Glass!

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