Philip Glass Appears at Marathon Piano Concert of His Etudes

Philip Glass Appears at Marathon Piano Concert of His Etudes

Ten pianists performed a marathon concert of all 20 of Philip Glass’s etudes at Lincoln Center on Nov. 19th. Glass attended the concert which, celebrated the release of Philip Glass Piano Etudes: The Complete Folios 1-20 & Essays from 20 Fellow Artists – a special edition book set published by Artisan Books.

Additionally, this was the first major concert of the etudes since COVID.

“It was extremely extremely emotional, extremely important, and historic,” performer Jenny Lin said. “It’s hard to describe the emotions of being back on stage with the colleagues I’ve been touring with all these years and to see Philip Glass there in person.”

Echoing the concert premiere of Glass’s etudes in 2014 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), the stage was adorned with individual benches for each player on stage, dynamic lighting, and multiple pianists playing sets of etudes, to hauntingly beautiful effect.  

Lighting and staging with 10 Steinway piano benches pictured above. Photo by NeON Photography.

The first half of the concert had softer music, harkening to the intimacy of Glass composing these to improve his own technical flaws in performance, and the second half was more grandiose  the etudes more complex. During the first half, a hearing aid went off. Performer Daniela Liebman noticed the noise.

“For a second I thought that was the AC or some kind of malfunction on the technical side, ” she said. “I think because the tonal centricity of the music is so powerful because it’s so anchored in a specific set of chords, that when you hear something else, it can be very jarring.”

The David Geffen Hall was completely packed. Of special note, this concert was pay-as-you-wish, to invite an audience with a more mixed-income bracket into the space. 

Liebman described the audience's energy as especially warm compared to other New York audiences she had played for. 

“Oftentimes, the audience reception will be really respectful, appropriate, and nice, ” Liebman said. “Because [New Yorkers] know so much, there’s this space the audience creates where...your work, whatever you perform, joins this list of experiences that are already in their heads and their ears.”

She added she does love this about New York audiences. But elaborated, saying that the energy on Sunday evening came from an appreciation for Glass's music itself.

“I feel Philip Glass is so open to everyone’s different styles, interpretations, and histories,” Liebman said. “When someone plays it, you see more of them as a person, even more of them as a person than you do as an artist. It’s just so simple that it becomes...a blank canvas for you to put yourself on as a person. I think the audience reflected that... There was a very special kind of enthusiasm there.” 

Community Between the Glass Pianists

The 10 pianists who performed at Lincoln Center (Timo Andres, Inon Barnatan, Lara Downes, Daniela Liebman, Jenny Lin, Nico Muhly, Maki Namekawa, Ursula Oppens, Christian Sands, and Adrian Zaragoza) all have a unique connection to Glass’s work.

The 10 pianists take a bow (above). Photo by NeON Photography.

Pomegranate Arts (who produced the event) enlisted a core group of pianists who tour playing Glass's works and new artists. Namekawa, Andres, Muhly, and Lin are among this core crew. Liebman and Zaragoza provided representation from a younger generation, and Sands from the jazz world.  

Christian Sands, pictured backstage, at the performance. Photo by NeON Photography.

Artists were selected in various ways. Lin has been a core pianist since 2014. Zaragoza found his way to the stage through a YoungArts open call, and Pomegranate Arts reached out to Liebman via her manager and Juilliard.

“It’s one of those situations where all the stars line up,” Lin said. “In 2013 I was walking on the street in midtown and my manager called me and said ‘Philip Glass is looking for a pianist and you’re on that list,’ I was completely in shock.”

There was a sense of community amongst the performers that night, and that may be due to offstage ties. Zaragoza and Andres met beforehand at a YoungArts interview at Andres’ home. Both were YoungArts winners  Zaragoza in 2022 and Andres in 2003. Liebman and Zaragoza met at the Aspen Music Festival last summer. The two were both in Julian Martin’s studio and spent time together outside of the studio as well. And, Martin used to teach Lin at Juilliard and currently teaches Liebman.

“[Jenny and I] shared the same dressing room, so we started talking about [Julian Martin],” Liebman said. “It was nice to have this community of people and to meet new people and form new connections.” 

Zaragoza was taught by Downes when he was younger in Davis, California. Eventually, Downes’ career picked up and the two decided Zaragoza should continue studying with someone else.

“[Lara] is a very, very special person in my life,” Zaragoza said. “I had been going to see her play since I was four years old. Her musical voice is an integral part of my musical upbringing…This is the voice that taught me so much, and I admire so much.”

Lara Downes, pictured above, performing on a Steinway Grand Piano. Photo by NeON Photography. 

Before the show, the pianists bonded. There was a social room for the 10 of them to have dinner together and share ideas. This sense of community was permeable during the performance, especially when they welcomed Glass to the stage.

“I felt very free and at home on stage,” Zaragoza said. “I just felt that there was so much love in the audience, and a lot of support amongst the pianists... Definitely one of the most memorable performances of my life.”

Adrian Zaragoza, pictured backstage, at the performance. Photo by NeON Photography.

Liebman echoed these sentiments about the audience.

“I felt they were there because they loved the music, and were open to anything that happened on stage,” she said. “That’s one of the best feelings to have when you go out on stage and an audience greets you.”

Glass in Dialogue with Artists 

Lin met Glass the first time she performed with the tour at a concert of the etudes at BAM in 2014. Since then, she has gotten to know Glass better as a composer.

“He loves and welcomes interpretations from all performers,” Lin said. “There are certain composers who are very critical of different interpretations of their music but Philip always says, ‘I love everybody’s interpretation, that’s what my music is about. It’s for everybody.’”

Nico Muhly performing on a Steinway Model D at Lincoln Center. Photo by NeON Photography.

That’s not to say Glass doesn’t provide any feedback to those playing his music. There’s a dialogue.

“The way he does it is so kind,” Lin said. “He would say, ‘Oh, I’m interested in why you do it this way.’ Or, ‘That was unique how you did it that way.’ It was never you should do it that way or the score says [it’s] this way.”

Lin explained Glass’s appreciation of hearing different interpretations of his pieces.

“His comments are about how he hears his music through other people’s interpretations, and how that satisfies him,” she said. “It’s amazing; it’s not every composer who can feel that way.”

Jenny Lin taking the stage at David Geffen Hall. Photo by NeON Photography.

Glass is also the kind of composer who tries to show up for every performance of his work, particularly in New York, his adopted hometown. Lin recounted a memory of playing some of his work at the Jewish Museum during a snowstorm. 

“It was horrible, and we were not expecting him,” she said. “He showed up and said he just took the subway. I was so moved. I remember my husband saying, ‘Oh my goodness he came in a snowstorm.’” 

Uptown, Downtown, and Glass

Glass is a New Yorker at heart, and he's often associated with the downtown arts scene. Thus, having an entire concert of Glass at Lincoln Center (an uptown venue) may have shocked some old-school concertgoers. Richard Guerin wrote about this dynamic in Glass Notes – the blog associated with Philip Glass’s website.

“‘Uptown’ in New York is a strange version of classical conservatism anchored by what happens at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall,” he wrote. “..."Downtown" is still largely what you think of as portrayed in movies: clubs, galleries, etc. The only change is that the general level of wealth is higher across the board. So it's a lot of carefully designed spaces to make you feel as if you are in grungy old New York.”

Guerin expresses his pleasure at hearing Glass’s work at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, and the following day at (le) Poisson Rouge, as well as his distaste for the uptown and downtown crowd. He ends the piece by asking us:

“...why is it a different audience one place to another when they are only 10 minutes away from each other?”

Maki Namekawa playing the final etudes on a Steinway Concert Grand, above. Photo by NeON Photography.

Guerin wrote this over a decade ago. Sunday night’s performance of Glass’s etudes was well-packed with an audience from all over and of all ages – uptown, downtown, young, old, and even Brooklyn. It’s hard to say whether it's cultural and class bounds dissolving or the universal appeal of Glass’s music.

Lin talked about a diverse audience at this Glass concert and others.

“I never felt that downtown/uptown thing with him, and I have played his music from Lincoln Center, for 30,000 people in Brazil, to a beautiful recital concert hall in Taiwan, to retirement communities outside of Boston,” she said. “People just love this music… [It] can be played anywhere.”

She said there was no easy way to classify Glass’s music or the audiences that were enthralled by it. 

“I have friends who don’t listen to Chopin that love Philip Glass,” Lin said. “Then there are people who listen to Chopin and love Philip Glass. The last 10 years of touring his music have taught me that it’s for everybody.”

The ten pianists on Sunday hailed from different parts of the world, came from different musical backgrounds, and had different styles and interpretations – something Lin mentioned is exactly what Glass represents as a composer. His legacy is a universal one. 

Celebrating Studies in Time 

This concert was a celebration of Glass’s legacy and the publication of Philip Glass Piano Etudes: The Complete Folios 1-20 & Essays from 20 Fellow Artists. This book set contains beautifully produced scores and a book of essays titled Studies in Time: Essays on the Music of Philip Glass that explore Glass’s widespread artistic mark on the world. It features essays from different artists (including some of the core pianists in Glass’s tour: Namekawa, Muhly, and Andres) about the way Glass’s music changed their lives and influenced their practice. It also includes an interview with Philip conducted by Ira Glass.

Namekawa and Glass walk onstage together. Photo by NeON Photography.

Each of the essays shows the reach of Glass’s music. They also pay homage to his influence, letting readers see how his music has inspired art across multiple disciplines, as well as shaped the way other artists exist in the world. In that manner, the Studies in Time echoes the sentiments of the last 10 etudes.

“I never actually learned to play the last ten,” Philip says to Ira in their interview in Studies in Time. “Let’s put it this way: I can’t play them in public. But the first ten I can.” 


Park Avenue Pianos partnered with NeON Photography for the photos seen in this article.

Park Avenue Pianos Managing Partner Ronen Segev with NeON photographer Andre Whitehead outside Lincoln Center.