My Indian Archive: Philip Glass on the beach (ପୁରୀ 1993)

Puri-Beach

This is Puri. ପୁରୀ.  A rather tiny pilgrim town at the Indian Ocean.  More specific in the Bay of Bengal.  When I worked in Calcutta (1993/94) I spent some weeks there.   Travelled with the Bhubaneshwar Express through the night.   Holiday in Puri. A break from the  work at the Home for Dying Destitutes.  A tiny break from the days in the  white cotton sari world of Mother Teresa. And her sisters and novices.  I remember I brought Tarkovskji’s diary as a treat on the beach.  I remember I lent the biography on Philip Glass  (Faber and Faber) from the British Council Library.  While I read  those wonderful books under the sun I started feeling ill.  After a  weeks – back in Calcutta – I was  hospitalized with severe typhoid fever.

Years later – in 2010 – all this came to my mind. Finalizing the programme of Bergen International Festival.  We were in the middle of a correspondence with Philip Glass’ managment.  About a totally different project.  Suddenly I read in a footnote that Glass’ just had made  an orchestral version of Kooyanisqatsi. World premiere in Hollywood Bowl.  Koyaanisqatsi was a piece that had haunted me for years.  It haunted me even on the  Puri Beach.  It was the  first piece by Glass’ I ever heard. And the first piece i’ve ever heard criticising specifically the global injustice. I remember I watched it with some friends in Haugesund Cineast Society.  Koyaanisqatsi was directed by Geoffey Reggio and fiilled with Glass haunting music.  It did such a deep impact on me in Haugesund.

I kept thinking and dreaming about that piece of music for years. As I did on the beach in Puri too.  Koyaanisqatsi was also the main reason why I brought the Glass’ biography to the beach.   In the festival office all these reminiscenses started to boil… And I thought reading about the premiere in Hollywood: It’d be amazing to premiere it in Bergen too.  The European Premiere.  The main reason wasn’t the merit but the curatorial setting: presenting this film epos about modern civilization and exploitation to oil lords of Norway.  Statoil – the national oil company – is the main sponsor of the Festival.  Statoil funded the royal opening and I suggested that Koyaanisqatsi could be a wonderful opening piece. My colleagues agreed and some months later it was performed live for the oil lords, shipping magnats, ministers at the Royal Festival Opening.  Their Majesties King Harald and Queen Sonja was as always present.  The King even mentioned the film in the opening speech earlier that day:

“I’m told that the Opening Concert tonight is a very special event: it’s the European premiere of Koyaanisqatsi – meaning ”Life out of Balace”.  Accompagnied by Bergen Philarmonic Orchestra and  Philip Glass Ensemble.

Koyaanisqatsi is about human exploitation of nature and the great natural forces.  Koyaanisqatsi is an example of how art experiences are necessary eye-openers  – demonstrating how vulnerable life is.” (http://www.kongehuset.no/tale.html?tid=85732)

I must admit the  performance first of all was a curatiorial understatement in the face of the oil lords.  And secondly it was a deeply personal remembrance from  the days before I got ill in Puri.

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