In the world of contemporary classical music, Philip Glass is something of a living legend. For one thing, he is an incredibly prolific composer. A partial listing of his works includes symphonies, concertos, solo pieces, and three Academy Award-nominated film scores. Glass is also credited/blamed for pioneering the so-called school of “minimalism,” with others such as La Monte Young and Terry Riley. Yet with all of these accomplishments, Philip Glass’ most famous work is undoubtedly Einstein on the Beach, the opera with which he shares credit with Robert Wilson.
Einstein on the Beach premiered in July, 1976, and its impact is still being felt. Just as an example of how far the word of this work spread, it was the first “non-rock” music I ever purchased. As a teenager, I was so intrigued by what I had heard about it that I shelled out for the four-LP box set on Tomato Records way back in the early ‘80s. I am still not sure if I fully understand the opera, but the box remains a treasured item in my collection.
Having said that, I kind of wish that the Einstein on the Beach Highlights edition had been available back then, because it makes for a marvelous introduction to the piece. The Brooklyn Academy of Music have presented EOTB numerous times over the years, and the new 77:23 Highlights CD is drawn from a 1984 performance.
Due to the inherent time constrictions of vinyl and compact disc, the opera has been edited a few times. The four-LP set I own runs 160 minutes, the 1993 CD version is 190 minutes, while the “complete” opera (only available as a download), runs a whopping 217 minutes. I mention all of this just to give the reader an idea of the scope of the piece, and of how difficult it must have been for Glass to maintain the integrity of the work when faced with the unavoidable time limitations of the various formats.