glass notes
The Glass Harpsichord Concerto Returns to Seattle


This weekend, Early Music Seattle presents Philip Glass’s Harpsichord Concerto with soloist Jillon Stoppels Dupree, who performed the premiere back in 2002.

Richard Guérin: “What do you remember about the premiere of the piece?  I recall there being a flourish of soloists in the mix around the premiere and that you had something like one week to learn and prepare the piece.

Dupree: ”The preparation for the premiere felt like a whirlwind within a rather sad storm of events:  Tragically, the original harpsichordist, Igor Kipnis, passed away, and his successor, David Schrader, was involved in a traffic accident and was unable to travel. Thus, about a week prior to the first rehearsal, I was asked to step in (and yes, I had a fleeting thought that my participation might prove to be an ominous choice, given that history!). I recall spending nearly every waking hour immersing myself in the music, studying the score, and drinking quite a bit of coffee!  

RG: The first thing we hear in the piece is an arpeggiated flourish.  When I first saw the score, I was surprised to not see that.  Where did that come from because it all subsequent performances that I know about, it was incorporated.

Dupree: The initial chords, which also appear later in the movement, are notated with no arpeggiation marks. However, any harpsichordist familiar with 17th and 18th century harpsichord practice feels free to arpeggiate chords – or not – depending on the mood and color desired. I chose to arpeggiate them, yet played them differently each time we rehearsed; even in the premiere I was not certain how I’d play them until l did so. Mr. Glass was present at the dress rehearsal, and seemed to like this approach.

RG: To me, this is a very classical piece. What I mean by that is that while it’s clear to me the direct line and influence from composers like Bach into Philip Glass’s musical language, it doesn’t seem that that is always apparent to people.  I guess in many ways it really is a classical piece – i.e. I don’t think it shocks audiences like the people at Early Music Seattle. They can almost immediately connect to it and understand it. Has that been your experience?

Dupree: Yes, indeed. From the moment I played through this piece, I felt a strong connection and resonance with it.  It encompasses so many elements that I love in Baroque music:  beautiful lines and sonorities, playful rhythms, crunchy dissonances, expressive motifs, etc.  Also, it is so very well-written for the instrument, making it a joy to learn and to perform. I think listeners are immediately drawn into it and entranced!

RG: Have you played it since the premiere?I played for the 2005 recording on Mr. Glass’s Orange Mountain Music label, but have not had an opportunity to play it since then.  What’s it like to come back to it?

Returning to it is a great joy, as I’ve of course had more time to “live with it” and make slightly different choices about how to play certain things, especially with regards to rhythmic freedom. Also, playing it with a different conductor and orchestra will be a treat, as every ensemble brings new colors and characteristics to light. It’s a very powerful, soulful, and yet joyous concerto, and I so look forward to sharing it!

Early Music Seattle presents “Everything Old Is New Again” This weekend, May 14th 2023: