Philip Glass’s senior-year student ID, provided by the composer.

Last weekend, minimalism’s reluctant hero returned to his alma mater. My meager coverage for the Maroon doesn’t quite encapsulate the philosophical potency of Mr. Glass’s residency, though I feel fortunate to have attended all of the events and gotten the chance to speak to the composer himself.

The day after our conversation, I was listening to the Kronos Quartet’s recordings of Glass’s quartets when I realized just what it was about Glass’s music I found so compelling. It doesn’t assert itself, selfishly demanding your undivided attention. Rather, it embraces and enhances the world as it—like his music—slowly, inexorably moves around you.

So often artists present audiences with a canvas to survey. For me, Glass’s music is the lens through which we view that image. The image itself is one of our own creation.

A minute with the maestro

Riccardo Muti shares a laugh with CSO program note annotator Philip Huscher. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

Last week, we Dia[loge]s authors had the experience of a lifetime: interviewing CSO music director Riccardo Muti before his public appearance at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts (pictured above, alongside Philip Huscher). You can see a picture of MJ and me with the maestro on our “About” page.

During Muti’s five years as music director, the CSO has visibly increased its civic outreach and seen an idiosyncratic shift in programming, which emphasizes neglected pieces from the 19th- and 20th century (especially during this season).

Muti spoke to both of these during his time with us, articulating what an orchestra’s role in society should be and defending his programming against critics dismayed by the lack of contemporary music.

It was an unforgettable conversation. You can read the published interview here.

Diplomacy in music


Little more than a week ago, I had the privilege of speaking with pianist Frank Fernández at his studio in Havana—his first interview, I’m told, with an American journalist. An edited transcript can be found here, on WFMT.com.

I couldn’t properly speak to him in Spanish, communicating instead through an interpreter. But we didn’t need an interpreter to discern the recognition and joy on each other’s faces as we swapped our favorite composer stories. Though I didn’t see this myself, my companions say he also lit up when I mentioned that I was 19—the same age he was when he made his orchestral debut playing Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. That was the same piece Fernández played in concert with the Minnesota Orchestra three months ago during their triumphant and widely-publicized Cuban tour.

At the end of our conversation, Fernández reaffirmed his belief that music is a medium which is—and always has been—most poised to facilitate the friendship between our beleaguered countries. I could not agree more. It’s experiences like these which remind me why I’m doing what I’m doing—even if all the newspaper presses in the country chug to a standstill, even if our concert halls are pitifully half-full.

After listening to Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, that piece which has tied itself so inextricably with Fernández’s career, I keep returning to a particular stanza:

Fried und Freude gleiten freundlich
wie der Wellen Wechselspiel.
Was sich drängte rauh und feindlich,
ordnet sich zu Hochgefühl.
Peace and joy advance in perfect concord,
like the changing play of the waves.
All that was harsh and hostile,
has turned into sublime delight.