which leads you to think that something is going on. though it may not literally be people from other planets. It is simplistic to dismiss it derisively. Right now when people get abducted the say “they were from Alpha ('entauri". In the Fifties people got abducted and they said “they were from Mars". Now we all know that life probably doesn‘t exist on Mars. people don't say Mars any more. 'l‘here seems to be to a link between Alpha (‘entauri and Mars. then angels. demons. ghosts — perhaps they are all manifestations ofsome other world that exists but that we are not in touch with on a day to day basis. So each generation tries to explain it in the way that is most accessible and familiar to us. in which case I’I5()s have become the mythology of the late 20th (‘enturyp It's not really hip in most places to say “I saw an angel." '
The collaboration with (ilass continues with llwang writing the libretto for an opera called The l'oyuge for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. (‘ommissioned to commemorate the 500th anniversary of(’olumbus‘s discovery of
‘a living movie‘
America. it will be directed by the linglish National ()pera's David Pountney and staged in 1992. Next year he hopes to direct a movie script that he has already written about an FBI agent who falls in love with the daughter of a man whose death he caused ten years previously.
Still in his early thirties. it would appear that llwang might be in danger of fulfilling all his ambitions too soon. On the other hand. he would probably enjoy the challenge of discovering new ones. It is hard to imagine that enquiring mind switching off even for a second. Preparing to go. our smalHalk drifts from the weather to flowers and bird-watching. Bird-watching'.’ llwang knows no bird-watchers.
Perhaps Americans don‘t like beauty
. . . Watching him head off down Shaftesbury Avenue. an anonymous figure despite the huge .11 Butterfly hoardings. it is almost possible to make out the thought bubbles floating persistently above his head.
I like David llwang. Philip (ilass is I having to grow accustomed to life in the major league. From his early days on the sidelines of the 1960s New York art community. honing his arithmetical compositional method in work for the Mabou Mines experimental theatre group. (ilass's stature has grown to that enjoyed by a tnere handful of living composers. Once again. the err/int! terrible of the past has become part ofthe listablishment. (ilass chuckles. but doesn‘t deny it.
‘I am. actually. to my surprise. I must admit that it is starting to happen. I find it mostly because I‘m discovering a younger generation of composers. who are looking on me as the person who‘s very much arrived. in a way. I began to see it more in younger colleagues than
through anybody else. Not very much from the press or the public — that hasn't changed so much — but other composers and musicians tend to treat me differently. and that's what I’ve noticed.’
l‘or a man who considers his operatic career ’an accident‘ he's done well. Last year seven of his operas were presented around the world. three of them premieres. IOUU .‘Ill'p/(UH'S (m the Rim/has been attracting a great deal of attention as it's toured around Atnerica and Iiurope. Iiv ery new (ilasswork. in fact. is treated as a major event by press and public -— and that public is not confined to classical music buffs = or avant-garde performance art fans. It's just a large and diverse
As a young man Philip (ilass underwent rigorous conservatory training in Paris. and was engaged in trying to break out of the grip that Schoenberg's l2-tone system held on 20th Century music. hoping to find his own personal musical language in the process. At the time deriving more inspiration from films and theatre than the music he was hearing. (ilass found an association with sitar-player Ravi Shankar a revalation. He began a study of Indian classical music. implementing what he had learned at once.
The closest comparison he can think of with his 20-year association with the Philip (ilass linsemble >— with its distinctive sound ofglacial electric keyboards. amplified wind instruments and voices. immaculately arranged. played and produced — is that of ‘the big jaz/ bands of the Forties. the Basie or Ellington band; groups of musicians who stayed together for a long time and worked with one composer'.
The ensemble toured on similarly taxing schedules as well. and produced such highly-acclaimed work as Music in 'I’weli'e Paris. but the turning point came in 197-1 when (ilass‘s musical skills and theatrical background came together with Robert Wilson for the opera lz'inslein on (he Bt‘tlt‘ll. premiered at the Avignon Festival in 1976.
'l‘his was followed by two more operas in what (ilass calls his ‘Portrait' trilogy: .S‘ulyugru/iu. about (ihandi. and Ak/mulen. the Egyptian pharaoh regarded as having been the first in history to initiate a monotheistic society. although to a great amount of opposition. 'l‘he thread linking these with IziiisIei/i is that all three were destined to change the way people thought it'sevenbeensuggestcd that Judaism arose directly out of Akhnaten's ideas.
His work since then has been on different lines. Both lUUtleir/ilunev and his pic'c‘c with Doris Lessing. lltt' Mir/(mg of (he Rep/esenliiliielor Planet 8 have had a more conventional narrative structure (‘though [00!) Airplanes is really a mixed media piece. not really an opera at all').
The List 31 April
,.__J J May l‘lb‘) 11