Koyaanisqatsi Live – 2023-10-10, Utrecht

Ten years ago, I was able to attend a brilliant concert in my hometown. At the time I had already traveled to many places in Europe to experience film music concerts, but to have Phillip Glass perform with my hometown orchestra was quite an experience for me. While he was visiting, we enjoyed two evenings with him. During the first evening, we watched the movie Koyaanisqatsi with the Phillip Glass Ensemble, including Glass, and the North Netherlands Orchestra performing the music. The second evening was a meet and greet with Glass, where he also played some piano pieces. When I heard that the Philip Glass Ensemble, without Glass this time, was returning to the Netherlands to perform the music for Koyaanisqatsi, I did not have to think hard about buying a ticket. 

This concert was held in TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht, which is a venue I know by name but have never been to before. When I entered the hall, I noticed two things. The first is that we were apparently extremely late with booking our tickets, because our seats were behind the stage instead of in front of it, resulting in the interesting angle of my pictures. We could see the movie on a second screen, though. The second thing I noticed is that, based on the number of chairs on the stage, we would see the ensemble perform without the support of a small orchestra and choir. Instead, the whole performance would be done by only eight musicians: Five behind a keyboard and the other three playing all kinds of woodwind instruments. Michael Riesman, Glass’s long-time collaborator, also returned this time to conduct the ensemble. Since Glass was not present for this concert, he did so while sitting behind a keyboard, facing his fellow musicians.

Having to sit at an unusual angle to enjoy the concert and having fewer musicians on stage can be seen as a lesser experience at this concert than I had ten years ago. Instead, it gave me a unique perspective. One of the things that frustrates me while watching a movie with live musicians is that I catch myself watching the movie instead of listening to the music performed on stage. With a smaller screen and already knowing what Koyaansisqatsi is about, I found myself focusing more on the musicians themselves instead of watching the screen. 

While I was observing and listening to the ensemble I tried to figure out how they would tackle the problem of not having an orchestra and choir to support them. The solution was quite simple: assigning two keyboard players to focus purely on imitating the orchestral sounds as best they could. What also excited me was that I could see the music sheets from my irregular location. The sheets of the long-time members of the ensemble looked very much handwritten, while the sheets of at least one of the support keyboard players looked very modern.

The absence of a choir was also easily solved by having the ensemble members sing the parts themselves. The only female member of the ensemble deserves some praise for having to do all these rapid vocal jumps for a long time, with just the support of one of the keyboard players to mimic extra female vocalists. The “Koyaanisqatsi” part at the start of the movie was also wonderfully sung by one of the keyboard players. For the choir part near the end of the film, all of the ensemble members grabbed their microphones and started to sing.

I was pretty impressed with the performance. Minimalism is challenging to perform because of the fast repetitive patterns that need to be played consistently. I was also in awe of what could be achieved with just one keyboard. When Riesman started to play fast patterns with his left hand on his keyboard, the hall was filled with bold and gorgeous sounds.

One thing I did not really mention is the movie Koyaanisqatsi itself. This is because the film, which consists of many time-lapses, is open for your interpretation. If you know the movie, you know what I mean but if you are not familiar with this movie from 1982, you should watch it, preferably with the Phillip Glass ensemble performing the music. Like ten years ago I had a fantastic experience and I was happy to share it with friends who had never experienced it before.

Concert information

Where: TivoliVredenburg – Utrecht, the Netherlands
When: October 10, 2023
Ensemble: Philip Glass Ensemble conducted by Michael Riesman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *