Message from the Center: On Philip Glass’s Piano Sonata

When Philip Glass mentioned to me a few years ago that he was working on a piano sonata (his first!), I instinctively sensed that this was going to be a big deal. Not because a new composition by Philip Glass generally is, but because of his exuberance for it: “Hey! Did I tell you I’m working on a piano sonata?!” For all I knew, he committed himself to the idea in that exact instant, or, more likely, he had been working away on it in his mind while we were talking about a range of other topics over our bowls of soup. Whichever the case, he was excited by the journey he was embarking upon.

Phil has written sonatas for other instruments before, but this would be his first for the piano. I imagined how much he would pour into it given that the piano is the instrument he has spent a lifetime playing (at home and on countless tours). However, Phil is not an artist to let the potential of a ‘first’ be tethered to what is known. His exuberance came from writing something that would far surpass what he could play, or be able to entirely hear on the instrument itself beyond imagining it as the composer. There would need to be someone who could bring the music to life and bridge the musical space between themselves, the audience and the composer.

Phil composed his Piano Sonata for Maki Namekawa and Maki collaborated on its shape and dimensionality by adding her tremendous capacity and insight as a pianist. They sent recordings and adjustments back and forth across the Atlantic, and Phil describes her contribution as much more than a facile pianist interpreting the material, but adding to it in order that it can be heard and embodied.

Many will recall an epic week in 2013 when CAP UCLA presented a survey of Philip Glass works at Royce Hall that included La Belle et La Bete, Music in Twelve Parts and his Complete Etudes. The week offered towering elevations, with an audience experiencing countless intakes of breath on so many levels and for me, experiencing Maki play Phil’s Etude #20 is forever lodged in my being. I have little doubt that I was not alone in my astonishment.

As you experience the concert as given by Maki – there is something undeniably present about the current moment we are living in, and an incredible point of connection to the future that arrives in the third movement. There is far more consonance in the music than dissonance, and Philip Glass has put a great deal of faith into our evolving capacity to listen and hear. We recognize the piano, the structure of the sounds and the notes in time – but the speed of change and harmony is almost unimaginable. Hearing what we perhaps could not have been able to until now, is the gift of their work.

We originally scheduled the concert to take place on the Royce Hall stage, which has served as one of Philip Glass’s many ‘creative homes’ over decades. Throughout this pandemic we have had to invent previously unconsidered approaches for fortifying our commitment to artists and audiences in supporting our continuity together. No small feat within a global pandemic, with our borders closed, and our stages dormant. As the US administration stopped all visas, as the devastating heave of the virus expanded, we had to find another way.

I want to thank Maki and my team at CAP UCLA, and especially also Gerfried Stocker, Artistic Director and CEO of Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria for the truly generous collaboration in filming the Piano Sonata just before the new COVID-19 restrictions took hold in Europe.

My gratitude to Philip Glass runs deep and long. For his immense humanity, perspective and music. For me, it is like light finding its way through all of the cracks in the seams and is forever arriving.

Thank you for joining us.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance