INTERVIEW – Premièred in 1976 at the Avignon Festival, Philip Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach had the effect of a cultural explosion, with its five hours of uninterrupted music and its staging by a young Bob Wilson. The two accomplices, now widely recognised, have decided to restage the original production for a world tour starting in Montpellier. An encounter with the composer.
In 1992, you’d already restaged Einstein on the Beach in its original version. Why do so again today?PG: Twenty years have gone by, and several generations haven’t had the chance to see this opera. Bob Wilson and I are, respectively, 70 and 74 years old [Philip Glass will celebrate his 75th birthday on the stage at Montpellier]. If we’re going to do it one last time, now’s the moment!
What’s changed from the 1976 version?
PG: Many things. Bob has new technical possibilities at his fingertips for the staging (computer-controlled cues, lighting, etc.). Theatrical technique, too, has stunningly progressed. He found his original sketches from 1975-76 and it struck him that he can now realise things the way he’d dreamed them at the time. Bob Wilson took the opportunity provided by this restaging to rewrite, to not say write down, his indications and his notes so that later on, others will be able to use them.
Is this also true for the music?
PG: Absolutely. Every music requires a certain technique. Today, the young musicians who play my music have acquired the necessary technique to do so. These sonorities, these rhythms are no longer impossible to play! Listening to the rehearsals, I said to myself: this has never sounded so good! It’s a huge present they’re giving me. We’ve gained in clarity and lucidity. In 1976, all we were doing was struggling… struggling against physical and technical constraints.
In what spirit did you compose Einstein on the Beach?
PG: At the time, we were working alongside very intense theatre people: Peter Brook, Jean-Louis Barrault, the people from New York’s Living Theater, and progressive theatre in general. Bob Wilson was a young man! We wanted to compose a quality work, mixing spoken theatre and musical theatre. We worked hand in hand, managed to fuse two imaginations, two points of view on theatre in the broad sense of the term. Einstein on the Beach was born of that very specific point in our lives.
What are you expecting from this restaging?
PG: We’re curious, even enthusiastic, to see how the younger generation will take to this work, the people who are between twenty and thirty years old and weren’t born at the time of that Avignon Festival. This is even more important because contemporary theatre seems to us to be more conservative, more commercial than it was back then… maybe for financial reasons, but not only. The younger generations aren’t part of this mindset. As to the question of whether Einstein on the Beach is a work that will last beyond our moment on this earth, that’s impossible to say. At the end of this tour, having observed how young people react to it, I may be able to answer this question, but it definitely won’t be a definitive answer!Philip Glass: “My music’s never sounded so good”
This article was published publish in TGV Magazine on mars 2012. Translated by J.A. Macfarlane