Philip Glass turns 70 today and it seems to me he is doing so without much of the hoopla that surrounded Steve Reich’s attainment of that milestone a few months back. No mention of the event in today’s New York Times and Google News turns up only a brief note about a birthday concert in Nashville. Underwhelming reaction for a man who is America’s best-known living composer and one whose music is so widely available in so many forms–CDs, films, concerts and so on.
Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that Glass had written so much music that critics assume that it must be uneven in quality and, of course, that is certainly true. But, like the work of Martinu, (another busy little beaver) Glass’ seconds are better than most composers’ first.
Whatever it is, Glass is generally undervalued by the critics and music directors and that’s a shame because he has (according to some critics whose work I respect) been doing some of his best composing in years lately. When his new opera Waiting for the Barberians opened in Austin last weekend, the reviews were considerably better than they have been for a long time: “Some of [Glass's] most agile, vivid music,” wrote Steve Smith for The New York Times, “setting scenes with a genuinely impressive emotional specificity.” Mark Swed said in The Los Angeles Times that “Barbarians is a sad, shocking and painfully pensive story … Glass’s music, commercially successful, long ago lost its ability to shock. But he can still write melancholic, wistfully pensive music — and better than ever.”
Another new Glass opera, Appomattox, will debut next October at the San Francisco Opera.
So, here’s today’s Cafferty File question: Is Philip Glass overrated, underrated, or fairly valued? I want an up or down answer from everybody.