EXCLUSIVE: Bruce Brubaker on Philip Glass' Piano, Messiaen at (le) Poisson Rouge and Why We Still Need Experts

By Lisa Helfer Elghazi on Jun 11, 2015 02:32 AM EDT

CLASSICALITE: First, of course, what inspired the making of Glass Piano?

BRUCE BRUBAKER: In Glass Piano, I'm revisiting the very first pieces by Philip Glass that I played. This music keeps changing as it's played and heard more and more. It seemed like a good idea to make a new recording.

C-LITE: And several DJs are working on remixes of the album as a separate project?

BB: Yes. Through the wonderful team at InFiné and Warp Records, there will be another album of remixed versions...I can't say much about it yet.

C-LITE: Well, can you discuss the actual recording of Glass Piano in France at Théâtre et Auditorium de Poitiers?

BB: We worked in the new theater in the center of Poitiers. It's a fantastic acoustical space. There was a really excellent Hamburg Steinway. The goal was a recorded piano sound that wasn't "classical."

C-LITE: You'll be playing one of our favorite downtown New York dwellings, (le) Poisson Rouge, on June 16, but what's on the diary after that?

BB: I'm playing two concerts in China, then LPR, London and Provence at the fantastic festival La Roque-d'Anthéron. Later, there's Los Angeles, Minnesota, several more performances in France.

C-LITE: An international escape, certainly. So, why did you choose music as your profession? 

BB: Often, I feel I didn't have a choice. If there was going to be music on the planet, I wanted to be involved.

C-LITE: In conversation at Princeton with Philip Glass, himself, you noted that technology is returning music to a pre-composer condition--equalizing, blurring the roles of listener, performer, and composer. Why don't you think the old model serves us anymore, and how might this will impact classical music in the future?

BB: We are in the midst of huge realignments in the production of practically everything. Music is available now, all of the time. That was never true before. I believe we still want experts. But instead of categorizing someone as a piano player, I prefer to go bigger: musician, artist, communicator.

C-LITE: The immediacy of purchasing music has certainly changed the landscape, if not exactly "ruining" it per se, as per David Grubbs' lastest book. How do you view multiple-genre experimentation in your collaborations?

BB: Encountering artists working in other forms of art is very useful for music. Even with the performance of well-known classical pieces, it's helpful not to start from knowing "that's how it goes." The most basic questions always need asking.

C-LITE: OK, so what is your favorite, non-Phil Glass piece to perform? Why?

 BB: In recent years, I'm playing more in venues that are unconventional for classical music. It's important. After playing Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time at LPR, I talked with several audience members who hadn't heard Messiaen's music or heard of Messiaen before. But the strong intensity of their response to the music itself can't be denied.

C-LITE: Messiaen, too, would appreciate that--both as a composer and a teacher. In the former's role, who would you consider your inspiration, other than maybe Messiaen or Glass?

 BB: Art is reaction. As a performer, once music is underway, I usually have definite ideas of how to make it better. Each moment leads to what comes next.

C-LITE: As for that latter, be it on faculty at your alma mater, Juilliard, or your present gig as chairperson of the piano department at America's oldest institution of professional musical training--that is, the New England Conservatory in Boston--how does teaching impact your performing?

BB: I'm usually surprised. Teaching or learning music is not different from rehearsing or performing or even composing. Sound is being used to communicate, to allow us to hear consciousness, to hear time passing.

C-LITE: In your opinion, and in, say, 25 words, what is the most important factor in quality musical education?

BB: Craft is necessary, and an exposure to what worked before. We want to be energized by past art and not be constrained.

C-LITE: Lastly, any advice for this semester's graduates of NEC?

BB: All artists need to find what they really want to do, and if it's something that needs doing in the world that's best. For me, music is a transaction.

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TagsEXCLUSIVE, Classicalite Q&A, Bruce Brubaker, Philip Glass, Olivier Messiaen, Le Poisson Rouge

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