Live: Philip Glass Brings Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg, The Brooklyn Youth Chorus, And Music In 12 Parts To The Park Avenue Armory

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The Park Avenue Armory on Friday night.
This year's Park Avenue Armory Tune-In Music Festival was dedicated to honoring composer Philip Glass (who, in turn, turned over a large chunk of it to honoring Allen Ginsberg). Sound of the City attended three of the weekend's five offerings, which closed out a month of musical events around the city celebrating Glass and his 75th birthday.

The Poet Speaks: Patti Smith, Philip Glass, Lenny Kaye, Jesse Smith, and the poetry of Allen Ginsberg
Park Avenue Armory
Friday, February 24

Better than: Every Occupy Wall Street musical act.

The Park Avenue Armory is one of the grandest, most amazing performance spaces in New York City, but Friday's performance began simply and intimately. Philip Glass and Patti Smith, two icons of a certain age, walked out onstage with their arms around each others' shoulders, like two old friends. The carpets in front of the stage, where people in the cheapest (and best) seats in the house, worked at recreating the environment, as Glass described to us, of his loft decades ago. Though a recreating, the effect worked.

What did not work—in fact, what would be an unfortunate undercurrent through out the festival—was the sound system. No one could hear poor Smith as she started to address the audience, who seemed surprisingly nervous to begin with and who looked downright spooked as people shouted, "Louder! Louder!! LOUDER!!!" at her.

During the first half of the night, Smith read from the works of Allen Ginsberg—a close friend of both hers and Glass—as well as from her own poetry. She was usually underscored by Glass at the piano, and it worked strangely beautifully. Much in the same way Glass's rhythms are so fast that they'll fit within many other structures, his music suits beat poetry well. The beats were all about finding the natural rhythm within everyday speech and using, cultivating and exploiting it until it burst out into a naturally building howl.

The only way you could tell if Smith was "reading poetry" or "singing" was that she used a paper for the poems (even her own) and sang from memory. But that was it, musically speaking. When she read Ginsberg's poems, especially "Wichita Vortex Sutra," Smith rode Ginsberg's words, the crescendo rising until she rang them out with the force, fury and fervency of a born-again Baptist beneath a rival tent.

Smith and Glass also took their turns performing apart, Smith with guiataris Lenny Kaye and her daughter Jesse, and Glass by himself at the grand piano. One of the most beautiful nights of the entire festival—indeed, of the past month of listening to Glass's music around town—was when he played Piano Etude No. 2, perhaps this writer's favorite solo work of his. I'd actually first heard it remixed, a genius example of how beautifully Glass's rhythms can be built on by DJs, but the original, with Glass himself at the keyboards, is even better.

The sweetest moment of the night was when Smith read a love letter she said she'd written that morning to Glass; in it, she said how she loved his "sad eyes in an otherwise happy face," adored the "way you keep time with your head" (something that would become apparent on Saturday) and how it made her feel like "you're nodding in approval when I feel nervous", and cherished "how you stop and look up as if hearing birds, or angels."

The night ended with quite a rendition of Smith's "The People Have the Power," an anthem for the Occupy Wall Street movement if there ever was one, with Smith belting, Kaye on guitar, and both Jesse Smith and Glass together at the grand piano. Ever the poet and singer, Smith shifted seamlessly as the musicians played out the song back into the spoken-word realm, improvising the exhorting that the people have the power "to dream, to dance, to vote, to strike, to occupy!"

Critical bias: I've been a huge fan of the beats, especially Ginsberg, for many years, so it doesn't get much better than this for me. I only tuned in to Patti Smith a couple of years back, when I read Roy Edroso's review of Just Kids. I've seen her once before, at the recently closed Southpaw, and I've been listening to Horses on vinyl lately.

Overheard: "Louder!"

Random notebook dump: Though they have collaborated for years, this was allegedly Smith and Glass's first time playing New York together.

Set list (Friday):
Notes to the Future by Patti Smith/excerpts from Metamorphoses by Philip Glass
Wichita Vortex Sutra by Allen Ginsberg
The Blue Thangka by Patti Smith/excerpts from Metamorphoses by Philip Glass
My Blakean Year by Patti Smith
Ghost Dance by Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye
Pissing in a River by Patti Smith and Ivan Kral
Etudes No. 2 and No. 10 by Philip Glass
"Dear Philip, Love Patti"
Magic Psalm by Allen Ginsberg/music by Philip Glass
Footnotes to a Howl by Allen Ginsberg
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People Have the Power


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1 comments
G Fatal
G Fatal

The Brooklyn Youth Chorus is not a junior high school choir.  It is an accomplished group of singers drawn from the tri-state area, and ranging up to age 18, who have performed with the Mariinsky Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the American Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra, as well as Nico Muhly Elton John, Grizzly Bear.  They won a Grammy for their work with John Adams. 

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