Throwing stones in Glass houses

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Ninety-six degrees out there and rising. If we didn’t have calendars, that number alone would tell us the festival is drawing to a close and throwing open the door to the dog days of summer. There’s just about 28 hours left in Spoleto Festival 2007 – which means it’s not over yet for this Spoleto Buzz blogger, not by a long shot.

In fact, I have a lot of catching up to do. Yesterday had me at the 5 pm Conversation With Philip Glass, moved to the Sottile Theatre to accommodate the minimalist-besotted masses. An unsuccessful attempt to land a seat in the sold-out-and-then-some Dangerous Strangers of Cabaret Kiki show at 8:30 pm was my own damn fault, having arrived five minutes late. From there, it was to the Gaillard and Act II of Swan Lake, a ginormous, 40-person slice of red velvet cake closing out the Big Festival’s main programming (Incidentally, one of those persons is Spoleto patron services assistant Rachel Greene, dancing her little heart out.) A big blowout

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shindig for Mr. Glass and his ensemble followed, where the champagne flowed, the escargot was scarfed, and takeaway boxes marked “Do Not Open Until Morning” were opened prematurely and found to contain chocolate croissants in the shape of Philip Glass’ head, held in the right light. (A big chuck on the chin to former neighbor Wendy of Mediterra Catering for the spread and the fat digs.)

Glass was charming but mumbley at yesterday’s conversation. Host Martha Teichner noted that in 11 years moderating the series, this was the first time she’d ever seen the festival have to move an appearance to a bigger venue. The 350 or so people in the Sottile were rapt listening to the composer talk about finding his distinctive musical style while living in Paris in 1966 and studying under Nadia Boulanger (the Western stuff) and Ravi Shankar (the Eastern stuff). Teichner squeezed Glass’ reaction to seeing his face everywhere around town for a few laughs, and he observed that when Chuck Close took the photo on which the thumbprint portrait is based, Glass was hanging with sculptor Richard Serra, whose studio was next door to Close’s. “Chuck wanted to do a series of photos of completely unknown people,” Glass said, “and almost everyone he photographed in that series went on to become famous.”

On the topic of the popular perception of his music as being repetitive, Glass was cagey (not John Cage, the other kind). Teichner tried to draw him into the subject several times, and he kept sidestepping it. Finally, she was reduced to the old alien-from-outer-space rhetorical trick: “Well, let’s say a person from Mars came down and listened to your music.” “He’d hate it,” Glass bit off, shutting her down completely. “It’s a cultural product that can’t be learned in a single moment. Just like everything else in our culture.”

Later, at the party in Glass’ honor, it became still more clear that Book of Longing was not everyone’s bowl of punch. Euphemisms abounded, from the succinct (“interesting,” “short,” “memorable”) to the creative (“certainly a product of its cultural moment”) and the dull knife in the back: “good for the festival.”

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