Valentina Lisitsa: my 5 favourite Philip Glass works

15 May 2015, 14:41 | Updated: 6 November 2015, 11:52

The brilliant pianist recently released an album of piano music by Glass – so we asked her to tell us which 5 pieces by the great American composer she couldn't live without.

1. Orphée Sonata

“This sonata is actually based on his opera Orpée which dates from his early period and is greatly influenced by his studies with Nadia Boulanger. I think the opera is an amazing piece of art, with beautiful singing and beautiful music, absolutely haunting. My favourite section is the ‘Retour d’Orphée. Unfortunately we ran out of space for this sonata on the album – even when we expanded to two discs!”


2. Passages with Ravi Shankar

“Glass is just such an amazing composer but people like to put labels on everything. People say to me “oh you play that minimalist music by Glass”. But I know that he resists this label himself and he’s much more than minimalist. There’s one recording on which he collaborates with sitar player Ravi Shankar. It’s an album called Passages and the opening of that CD, is a fantastic juxtaposition of Western-Eastern music and. It starts with a saxophone solo which is utterly Western and then it blends of course with folk instruments, it’s just so great.”

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3. Violin Concerto No.2 – The American Four Seasons

“I have to include something with violin because I think this is a very special instrument for Glass. In fact I was introduced to Glass’s music through playing chamber music with a violinist. I’ve worked with violinist Robert McDuffie who actually commissioned a piece from Glass recently, his Violin Concerto No.2. It’s called The American Four Seasons and it’s interesting that Glass left it up to the listener to decide which movements are which seasons – we don’t know which one is winter, which one is spring. I love the last movement, for me it’s probably winter but of course listeners can decide.”


4. Mad Rush

“The most iconic piece on my album is Mad Rush. It’s essential Philip Glass. Performing it is certainly different from playing music in the classical, Western tradition. The title implies something like the crowds on the streets of New York. But actually it was written on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s first visit to New York [it wasn’t clear how long it would be until the Dalai Lama arrive so Glass’s piece had to be an indefinite length] and actually requires a different set of listening and playing skills – from both the performer and the listener. It almost requires a kind of patience, to let you think big and enjoy the way they come without active participation.

“Like the current phenomenon for ‘slow TV’, this piece gives people the time to stop and contemplate something, to look inwards and that is quite incredible.”


5. The Hours soundtrack

“I had to include some of Glass’s film music in the list and I’ve chosen his soundtrack for The Hours. I’ve recorded all of it and the most beautiful piece for me is ‘Morning Passages’, but they’re all beautiful and haunting and I know people love them very much.

It’s interesting to see how film music goes on to have a life of its own. People might not have seen the movie is was originally written for or know what it’s about but the wonderful music gets its own life separate from the subject. It give people something totally different.”


Valentina Lisitsa’s new album of music by Philip Glass is out now and includes ‘Mad Rush’, music from ‘The Hours’ and ‘Metamophosis’. It is available on Amazon and iTunes.