glass notes
Pick of the Week – Dreaming Awake


Above: The original Dreaming Awake package including the work on CD, a facsimile of the Glass manuscript, and a number of the 500 copies which were created in 2003

In light of the recent comments about Philip Glass' piano prowess (or lack thereof), I thought it to pick something which would continue that conversation.

Dreaming Awake was composed and recorded in 2003 as a project to benefit Jewel Heart.  It was a good cause but a steep financial proposition for Glass fans at the time.  I myself coughed up the $150 (I think) plus shipping to obtain it since it was limited to 500 copies and was "never to be recorded by Philip Glass again."

Of course in 2003, downloading was less prevalent and if you wanted to hear this you'd have to buy it. But nowadays I believe there are sources on youtube or wherever where you can hear the piece. At 17 minutes, it's the longest piece for solo piano which Glass has written.  And who knows, this may be the last new piano music which Glass ever has a chance to record.  We've all been waiting these last seven years for the second volume of piano études which are reportedly all finished.

The piano playing on this recording is typical of Glass' style.  As time goes on, his stylistic liberties have become more exaggerated (at 73 years old). To hear this, you simply need to listen to his playing on the Sony record Solo Piano.  Even back then in the 1980s, he was not a piano virtuoso, but he was pretty decent and I always felt that his playing with lots of rubato (stretching of time) and dramatic yet restrained dynamic coloring did real justice to the idea of "this is the composer performing the music as it should be performed."  This idea was strongly cemented for me with the release of the Aleck Karis recording of virtually the same repertoire on the Sony Solo Piano record, and to me, Karis' interpretations were straight readings of the pieces, highly technical, but missing 100% of the charm of Glass playing.

There are happy mediums, like Bruce Brubaker's interpretations of Glass' style and intent, with his own very high technical talent. Then there's the overly dramatic versions of these pieces by Arturo
Stalteri (but it's ok because he's Italian.)  But to me, Glass' playing is what I want to hear.  Not only for the piano music, but we can project that style, phrasing, dynamics on how his other music should also be heard.  This part, is the proverbial "rub." 

The original piano études were commissioned and premiered by Dennis Russell Davies a.k.a. the definitive interpreter of the Glass orchestral works.  So it was a surprise to me to hear Davies' interpretation of the Glass études. All the charm and herky-jerky awkwardness of the Glass interpretations was no where to be found, neither was the rubato. For this you can take a listen to Glass' performance of étude no.2 versus Davies' performance. It's totally confounding to me.

So here we are back at Dreaming Awake.  This is a lovely piece of piano music, written perhaps as with most of Glass' piano music, knowing that he'd be the interpreter so therefore it's not so difficult to perform. You hear the delays as the pianist needs to make mildly acrobatic changes in register, if you listen closely you can hear him playing with his fingertips so you hear his fingernails hitting the enamel of the keys.  Not for one second do you mistake who is playing, but simultaneously that these musical thoughts originated and carry the conviction of their creator.

Listen to Dreaming Awake

3 thoughts on “Pick of the Week – Dreaming Awake”

  1. Well said, Richard. Well, said.
    Anyone who thinks that Glass is anything but a superior performer of his own music would have to show me someone who does etude #2, #3 or #6 as well as he does.
    It’s not just all technique, guys.
    And also, in Davies’ defense – he did a superb job on the recording of the Tirol Concerto. He is a gifted pianist but as I’ve said before his conservative approach to the etudes had me puzzled.

  2. Thank you for this. You’ve hit the nail on the head with exactly what I’ve been trying to say myself. I have the Bruce Brubaker CD, and I like it, but it’s nothing like listening to Glass play.

  3. Just attended a solo piano concert by PG on Monday night in Baton Rouge, of all places. PG got a standing O when he walked out onto the stage. He says “I haven’t done anything yet. Now, when I’m done I will be disappointed if you don’t levitate out of here.” PG stands for “periodic goofs” but I loved every minute of his concert and wished it wouldn’t end. The crowd loved it too. The next day PG attended performances of PG music by LSU music students. They played 1+1 for amplified table top, “Opening” on a marimba, the last 2 movements of String Quartet No. 5, and two movements from the Saxophone Quartet. PG then gave the performers his critique of each performance. He especially liked the performance of 1+1 which was fantastic.

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