There’s finally a review of Philip Glass’ new work Book of Longing from its Friday night world premiere at Toronto’s Luminato Arts Festival. Writing for the Toronto Star, columnist Greg Quill seems to have mixed feelings about the work, which had Leonard Cohen in attendance for its opening. Cohen’s new book of poetry and drawings, of course is Book’s namesake and inspiration. Quill is clearly a fan of both Glass and Cohen, but he was nonplussed by the work’s staging and its relationship to Cohen’s poetry.
“Many in the audience … were clearly thrown by the scarce heed paid by the great American composer to the low, conversational meter and distinctive beat rhythms of Cohen's verse, adapted here to fit great slabs of Glass' typically attenuated chord progressions and intricately layered arpeggios, and given voice for the most part by four classically trained singers enunciating Shavian-quality syllables. The voices were exceptional, the melodies elegant, but somehow Cohen's words sounded false, forced and uncomfortable in their company.”
“Not entirely without structure, with tempos, keys, lyrics and moods cleverly juxtaposed to provide a semblance of forward thrust, Book of Longing is nonetheless a clumsy hybrid with odd, stagey trimmings, neither an entirely musical nor an entirely literary event.”
The last time Glass had a big new work here, it was his opera Hydrogen Jukebox, a collaboration with poet Allen Ginsberg, in 1990. Book of Longing is being billed by Spoleto as Music Theatre. Others aren’t so sure. Quill covers all his bases: “Part chamber-music concert, part theatrical cabaret and part art installation.” In short, expect the unexpected.