Why does Fabio Álvarez admire Philip Glass?

On March 24, the International Institute presents the pianist Fabio Álvarez in concert, performing works by Philip Glass. The concert, Mad Rush: Philip Glass Piano Works – Fabio Alvarez, will take place in the historic auditorium of the Institute.

This year the Institute focuses on minimalist music and late-XNUMXth-century American culture. On the occasion of the presentation at the Royal Nixon Theater in China by John Adams in April, the Institute has scheduled concerts, courses and events that we detail below.

In this upcoming concert, pianist Fabio Álvarez will perform a selection of piano works that captivated Álvarez himself when he lived in New York, studying at the Manhattan School of Music, where he obtained a Master of Music. These works composed by Glass are the subject of Álvarez's latest recording project with Classical IBS, also titled mad rush. The disc is a candidate for Best Classical Album at the Independent Music Awards this year. Congratulations Fabio!


Philip Glass, one of the most influential composers of American minimalist music, just turned 86 on January 31. Glass has received countless awards over the decades. Recently, in 2022, he was awarded the XIV BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Spain for his "extraordinary contributions in the fields of music and opera, which have had a great impact on the history of music of the XNUMXth and XNUMXst centuries." ”.

When Fabio Álvarez moved from his home in Galicia to New York to pursue his studies there, he found the music and legacy of Philip Glass inescapable and inspiring. One of the fruits of Álvarez's experience in New York is this, his latest recording project, which we are delighted to present to the public live.



We have asked Fabio how he became interested in American minimalism and Philip Glass in particular.

When you first moved to New York for your master's degree, did you already know much about American composers?

(FA) The truth is that when I arrived in New York I already knew quite a few American composers thanks to my contemporary piano teacher at Musikene. I especially remember:

  • George Crumb: who would later become the composer to whom I would dedicate my first record ZODIAC MUSICAL and with whom I also had the opportunity to get to know and work on his work.
  • John Adams: of which I interpreted his china gates
  • Steve Reich: from whom I remember a wonderful audition of two of my classmates who interpreted his piano-phase on two grand pianos.
  • Henry Cowell: whose work I interpreted The Banshee.


What attracted you to the compositions of Philip Glass?

(FA) It's hard to explain in words, but I think what attracted me the most to his music is the feeling his music produced in me. A music as he himself says of "repeated structures", but with a considered number of repetitions and with a very specific selection of material to create a sensation in the listener.

I had the opportunity to attend the premiere of his opera akhnaten at the Metropolitan Opera, and it was absolutely brilliant in every way. Leaving the opera I said to myself “I need to record the music of Philip Glass”.


Is there any other American composer that you like a lot?

(FA) Without a doubt my other American composer would be George Crumb. His work shows a mystical and wonderful world that attracted me from the first moment I heard his music. I invite readers to listen to his first two volumes of Makrokosmos: Twelve Fantasy Pieces After the Zodiac for Amplified Piano.


What are your most vivid memories of your stay in New York?

(FA) There are several moments that marked my stay in New York, but if I had to choose, perhaps it would be the graduation of the Master of Music at the Manhattan School of Music, my debut at Carnegie Hall in 2018, and the moment I first met time to whom today is my wife (to whom the last piece on the record is dedicated, a transcription made by me of Knee Play 5).

Fabio Alvarez in New York


Mad Rush (1981) was first written as an organ piece on the occasion of a visit to New York by the Dalai Lama (1935). It was later used by choreographer Lucinda Childs for a dance of the same name. Unlike the Witchita Vortex Sutra, which is entirely in F major, Mad Rush oscillates between F major and A minor in the form of modal music, where the listener isn't sure what the mode is until the very end. In this case, F major is the "dominant" chord, and A minor is the "final."


“The Twenty Studies for Piano were composed during the years 1991 to 2012. Their final configuration in Book 1 and Book 2 was determined by the music itself in the course of its composition. Book 1 (Etudes 1-10) had a double objective: to explore a variety of piano tempi, textures, and techniques. At the same time, it was meant to serve as a pedagogical tool with which I would improve my piano playing. In these two ways, Book 1 was very successful. I learned a lot about the piano and in the course of learning music, I became a better player. New projects arose and interrupted work at the Etudes for several years. Perhaps for that reason, when I started working with the Etudes again, I found that the music was following a new path. Although I resolved issues of piano technique for myself in Book 1, the music in Book 2 quickly began to suggest a series of new adventures in harmony and structure. In this way, Books 1 and 2, taken together, suggest a real trajectory that includes a wide range of music and technical ideas. In the end, the Etudes are meant to be appreciated not only by the listener in general, but especially by those who have the ability and patience to learn, play, and perform the music themselves." (Philip Glass, October 20, 2014).


Wichita Vortex Sutra (1988) takes its title from the poem written by Allen Ginsberg in 1966. Wichita Vortex Sutra (1988) is a haunting and elegant accompaniment to Allen Ginsberg's poem about the Vietnam War. The two friends met at a bookstore in New York's East Village and decided to collaborate. Glass wrote the music to reflect Ginsberg's reading of the poem. Beautiful consonant harmonies are juxtaposed with graphic images of war to create a disarming work.


The Trilogy Sonata (2000) consists of three piano transcriptions of Philip Glass's trilogy of “portrait” operas, Einstein on the Beach (1976), Satyagraha (1979) and Akhnaten (1983). A trilogy or triptych of portraits, with the figures of Albert Einstein in Einstein on the Beach, of Mahatma Gandhi in Satyagraha –“true force” in Sanskrit– and of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten in the opera of the same name (Akhnaten, in the original English) In Through them, Glass deals with the lives of three men (the man of Science, the man of Religion, the man of Politics) who, according to his approach, changed the world through their lives and works, through "the power of the ideas and not from the power of force.

KNEE PLAY 5 from “Einstein on the Beach” (Reworked by Fabio Álvarez)

Knee Play 5 (Reworked by Fabio Álvarez) is an arrangement made by Fabio Álvarez himself for pianist/narrator of the last of the 5 intermezzos or "knee plays" from the opera Einstein on the Beach (1976).

The opera consists of nine connected 20-minute scenes in four acts separated by “Knee Plays”. Five "Knee Plays" frame the structure of the opera and appear between acts, at the same time that they function as opening and closing scenes. Glass defines a “Knee Play” as an interlude between acts and as “the 'knee' which refers to the joint function performed by the anatomical knees of humans”. While the “Knee Plays” helped create the time necessary to change the scenery of the seven sets, these interludes also served a musical function. David Cunningham, a scholar of Glass, writes that the intermittence of Glass's "Knee Plays" between the four acts of the opera serves as a "constant motif throughout the work."

More information and tickets: Mad Rush: Philip Glass Piano Works – Fabio Alvarez.

Fabio Álvarez in front of the Brooklyn Bridge